Inge Manzù has confirmed the authenticity of this sculpture.
The series of cardinals that Giacomo Manzù executed from 1938 to his death in 1991 are the most distinctive and renowned sculptures in his oeuvre. The artist grew up in the town of Bergamo during the time when Father Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, was serving as secretary to the bishop there. The ceremonial processions of church prelates were a frequent event and made a lasting impression on Manzù. During a visit to Rome in 1934, the young man witnessed the striking sight of Pope Pius XI flanked by two cardinals in St. Peter's Basilica, a memory that subsequently inspired the cardinal motif that became pre-eminent in his work. Manzù always maintained that it was not his faith that motivated him to focus on this theme. Rather, it was the impressive silhouettes and the grandeur of their attire that attracted him to the cardinals as a subject. They represented for him, as he claimed, "not the majesty of the church, but the majesty for form." John Rewald observed that the cardinals "represented for him more the character of still-life" (in Giacomo Manzù, London, 1967, pp. 59 and 60).
Manzù's oeuvre contains nearly three hundred sculptures of cardinals in bronze, alabaster and marble. The most familiar of these, as seen here, depict them seated and clad in a highly stylized version of their traditional garments, which creates the overall shape of a pyramid, with the traditional miter as the peak. Manzù has emphasized the simplicity of the liturgical robes, generously draping their massive folds while omitting the embroidered decoration on the material. This pared-down approach to form is also apparent in the depersonalized features of the cardinal's face, which Manzù usually presented in a generalized manner, for he rarely based these figures on specific cardinals. The anonymous face and hieratically stylized body lend this sculpture a distinctly monumental and universalized aspect.
The sense of volume in these figures is heightened by Manzù's subtle indication that a solid and powerful body lies hidden beneath the pyramid of draping robes. In the present sculpture, this substructure is implied only with a slight bump which suggests the seated cardinal's knees. Rewald has written:
"The large planes are never lifeless, the folds are never rigid; by means of extremely sensitive modeling the surface is made to vibrate. Following the contours of the body, the folds swing sometimes as if sharply etched, sometimes softly rounded, their shadows always regulating the parts exposed to the light. This subtle animation of uniform planes and the amazing freedom of conception earned the artist the respect of many sculptors whose own paths had led them toward abstractions. More than they valued the sensitivity of execution they admired the boldness of invention which, within the framework of fidelity to nature, rids the form of all that is inessential" (ibid, p. 60).