Cast in bronze in 1989, Giacomo Manzù’s Grande Cardinale Seduto reinvigorates a conventional religious motif through the subtle language of abstraction. Towering above the viewer at over seven feet, the cardinal’s hieratic imposing posture, coupled with his impersonal demeanour, produces a powerful monumental vision. Stripped of any ornamentation, the subject’s solemn facial features are described in uncomplicated geometric forms. His statuesque garments are reduced to sharp planes subtly animated by stylized folds. These liturgical vestments envelop the cardinal in a pyramidal silhouette that billows with a sweeping movement into the viewer’s field of space. Despite his religious subject, Manzù remains interested in the cardinal’s visual presence rather than his spiritual connotations, maintaining that his sole concern lies in ‘not the majesty of church, but the majesty of form’ (G. Manzù, quoted in J. Rewald, Giacomo Manzù, London 1967, p. 60).
The subject of the cardinal has remained a recurring theme within Manzù’s oeuvre. During a visit to Rome in 1943, Manzù, at the time just twenty-six years old, was struck by the powerful sight of Pope Pius XI seated between two cardinals. Manzù’s interest in cardinals simultaneously draws from his experience as a child growing up in Bergamo – a longstanding centre of Catholic devotion – where curious vestiges of cardinals and bishops processed through the town streets. Within a practice devoted to exploring historical and religious themes through sculpture, lithography, etching and painting, the Cardinali continue to stand among Manzù’s most definitive works.