Page 27 - Studio International - January 1966
P. 27

'To live is to defend a form' Hölderlin
                                 One day Giacomo Manzú will be acclaimed as one of   Hölderlin's view is the hall-mark of Greek art. It is
                                 the masters of absolute art in our age. Where others,   the unity of artistic means by which the work comes
                                 even the most famous, have gone astray, relying on   into existence and by which it makes its impact.
                                 their powers of deliberation to cross the turbulent   Let us venture into the field of music. Although it was
                                 waves created by their attempts to conjure up some-  Schoenberg who invented a new musical form, Anton
                                 thing entirely new and radically different from the past   Webern was the composer who, needing it as a
                                 as reflected in Europe's cultural history, Manzú has  catalyst for his creative powers, produced the purer
                                 relied exclusively on the powers that come from   art. Similarly, although it was Picasso who is acknow-
                                 within, on the wholeness of mind and soul, of feeling   ledged as the radical innovator of art, Manzú was one
                                 and form, of content, technique and doing. He has   of the very few who have saved human content and
                                 aimed at balance of spirit, matter and expression, again   dignity from all the distortions of dissection, paraphrase
                                 and again returning to it when he had temporarily  and persiflage. By virtue of this, although only a
                                 lost it, and his only anxiety as an artist was to be able   handful of people are aware of it, he can be considered
                                 to find the form for the changing human content which   one of the cornerstones of a new human art. For what
                                 filled his soul at various times of his life—the agonies,   is absolute art but art which conveys a complete
                                 the doubts, the joys, and the crowning privilege—  congruence of form and meaning ? And what other
                                 creation. This is his secret. It happens before our eyes,   art than the absolute has a veritable raison d'être?
                                 for it is unmistakable in his works. It is registered there   Opus 23  of Anton Webern distils beauty into form
                                 with the honesty of a seismograph recording the   in such an overwhelmingly quiet and crystalline manner
                                 slightest tremor of the earth's crust or an electro-  that the whole universe seems to be condensed in its
                                 cardiogram revealing the irregularities of the heart beat.   three songs----love and nature and God, nostalgia and
                                 But how many could diagnose its true meaning ?    mystery, human resignation and divine fulfilment. This
                                  In his notes on the translation of Oedipus, Hölderlin   is presented in one mood throughout—not, as with
                                 wrote: 'Compared with those of the Greeks, other   Beethoven, by way of violent baroque changes, but
                                 works of art lack reliability, or at least one might say   cast in one, a  pianissimo expressivo  as it has been
                                 that they have been judged hitherto more through the   called. And how true it is ! What else can we hear of
                                 impressions they make than from the point of view of   the soul in a time filled by such intensive noise as ours,
                                 calculations that obey laws or the other ways of   by its loud advertising mania, except the pianissimo?
                                 producing the beautiful.' Let us say here that Manzú   Rilke spoke of 'der Rausch des Leisen', the Intoxication
                                 considers The Fates by Phidias, from the tympanum of   of Stillness. As in the work of Webern, there is a
         * British Museum, London   the Acropolis, as the greatest work of sculpture.*   universe in what may be considered the most
                                  In Manzú's own work something miraculous has  sophisticated and at the same time most veracious
                                 happened for modern art. Here is an artist who has  work of sculpture of our day, created by a spirit which
                                 struggled for decades to discover in the end that the   is lyrical and yet relates drama and tragedy to faith
                                 only compass, the only measuring rod by which to   and fate, confronting reality and truth with great inner
                                 measure the veracity of his art, the only guarantee for   courage. Here too one basic state of mind prevails—
                                 the message it has to convey, is his own heart. Behind   the poetical approach.
         Below left              this is hidden an artistic discipline of extraordinary   Standing in front of Manzú's  Door of Death  in St.
         Detail from the panel                                                      Peter's Church in the Vatican City, so called because
         depicting the death of Mary   rigidity, fierce encounters with his own conscience,
                                 ceaseless attempts to reach the simplest and most  the front of it depicts the various ways of death and
         Details from the lower panels—
         Centre                  direct form to express his experiences as both man and   dying, and symbols of death—an owl, a dormouse, a
         The death of Pope John XXIII   artist. In the case of Manzú man and the artist are one.   raven, a tortoise with a snake, a hedgehog and a dead
         Death on earth          In his work he achieves that 'reliability' which in   bird—as well as the symbols of the Eucharist (wine
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