Inge Manzù has confirmed the authenticity of this sculpture.
Situated in the region of Lombardy, Manzù's hometown of Bergamo had long been a center of Catholic devotion. The priest who presided over the parish of Bergamo while Manzù was growing up would later become Pope John XXIII. It was not uncommon to see cardinals and bishops solemnly processing through the town's street. Bergamo's central square was built around the 13th century Basili Santa Maria Maggiore and the splendid Cappella Colleoni, designed by Antonio Amadeo in 1470, and within the old city walls there were other notable church buildings. Manzù's family life was closely linked with the Church; his family lived in an apartment in the nunnery, he served as an altar boy, his father was a sexton and his mother was very pious. Manzù drew heavily on these childhood experiences for his sculpture. John Rewald notes, "Their visual impression became an inspiration for him, a problem of artistic creation" (Manzù, Salzburg, 1966, p. 59).
Because of the relative poverty of his family, Manzù was forced to work as an apprentice, first as a wood-carver and later as a gilder and stucco-worker, and it was through this work that he was introduced to the world of the decorative arts. At the age of fifteen he came across a book on Aristide Maillol in a bookstore and purchased it with his meager savings. Though Manzù had begun to draw and model on his own during the period of his apprenticeships, he had been ignorant of the modern sculptors. He was instantly attracted to Maillol and began to attempt in his own work to "capture the human body in its full roundness, representing it with the utmost simplicity and an innate sense of form" (ibid., p. 11). During this period, Manzù also became acquainted with Greek and Egyptian sculptures as well as the religious reliefs of Donatello through reproductions in books. While striving to develop his own vocabulary he always remained conscious of the classical traditions that proceeded him.
The Cardinal theme first appeared in a drawing dated 1934 and it was thereafter recurrent throughout Manzù's oeuvre. The first Cardinal sculpture followed four years later and in 1949-1950 he modeled the first large-sized Cardinal. With the exception of the sculpture Seated Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro (coll. Basilica San Petronio, Bologna), Manzù never sculpted his Cardinals after specific models, preferring instead to idealize their facial features. "For a long time the mitred priests enveloped in canonicals had ceased to be connected with his personal religious beliefs; his youthful memories were only concerned with the picturesque garments...clothing was not only 'picturesque' but also eminently 'statuesque'" (ibid., p. 59). The Cardinal's robes have been simplified to their essential forms and the only sign of ornamentation is the hood-like galero on his back. With the exception of the hands and face of the figure, the body's shape and features are completely hidden from the viewer and are suggested only by the stylized folds of the garments. By emphasizing the impersonality of his subject's features and creating a monumental presence, Manzù fashions a veritable rock of a figure, tantamount to the unshakeable foundation of the Church.