Inge Manzù has confirmed the authenticity of this sculpture.
The series of bronze and stone Cardinali that Manzù made between 1938 and his death are among the most celebrated works of the sculptor's oeuvre. A native of Bergamo, long a center of Catholic devotion, Manzù drew heavily on his childhood experiences in these sculptures. The priest who presided over the parish of Bergamo while Manzù was growing up would later become Pope John XXIII, and it was not uncommon to see cardinals and bishops processing through the town's streets. In 1934, at the age of twenty-six, Manzù was struck during a visit to Rome by the powerful sight of Pope Pius XI seated between two cardinals. He recorded the motif in a drawing dated the same year, and it became a recurrent theme of his work thereafter. By the time of his death in 1991, he had sculpted roughly three hundred Cardinali, both seated and standing, in a range of sizes. In all of these sculptures, the figure is almost fully enveloped in liturgical vestments, creating a stylized, pyramidal silhouette that extends from the hem of the robe to the tip of the mitre.
Despite the subject matter, Manzù repeatedly insisted that the works had no religious or mystical significance. Instead, it was the forceful visual presence of the cardinals, particularly their distinctive garments, that captured the sculptor's attention; they represented, he claimed, "not the majesty of the church, but the majesty of form" (quoted in J. Rewald, Giacomo Manzù, London, 1967, p. 60). John Rewald, who interviewed Manzù at length, explains,
When asked, the artist always stresses that the cardinals did not interest him as a typically religious theme but represented for him more the character of a still-life. He even likes to add that he might just as easily have represented matadors. There were, however, no bullfights in Bergamo, whereas the boy often met church dignitaries. Their visual impression became an inspiration for him, a problem of artistic creation which pursued him for years. For a long time, the mitred priests enveloped in canonicals had ceased to be connected with his personal religious beliefs; his youthful memories were always concerned with the picturesque garments, curious vestige of a splendor-loving past. Now Manzù proved with his statues that this clothing was not also 'picturesque' but also eminently 'statuesque' (ibid., p. 59).
The distinguishing feature of Manzù's Cardinali is their radical simplification of form. The robes have been pared down to sharp planes, stripped of all surface ornamentation other except the hood-like galero on the back. Other than the face and hands, the body is completely hidden from the viewer, its shape suggested only by the stylized folds of the garments. With a single exception (a portrait of Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro), Manzù never sculpted his Cardinali after specific models, preferring to give them idealized facial features. The impersonality of his subjects, coupled with their hieratic posture and imposing, pyramidal silhouette, produces a powerful impression of monumentality. As Rewald has written,
In Manzù's hands the Cardinals were transformed into compact, forceful volumes, enlivened by extremely tender modeling and generously draped folds. The massiveness of the volumes is stressed by the economy of lines and the simplicity of plastic means. 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., pp. 59-60).