In the Piazza Matteotti, just a few metres from the Porta Nuova in Bergamo’s New Town you come across the very moving and poignant Partisan Monument by the local, Bergamo born, sculptor Giacomo Manzù (the pseudonym of Giacomo Manzoni (22nd December 1908 – 17th January 1991).
It depicts a nearly naked, young anti-Fascist Partisan fighter hanging upside-down, having been tortured to death by the Italian Fascists or the German Nazis. Alongside him stands a young woman – presumably his girlfriend/bride – looking sadly at the broken body but unable to do anything to help him. The work of art was presented to the city by the sculptor and unveiled on 25th April 1977
On the reverse of the obelisk from which he is hanging is a short poem, by Manzù, a translation of which says:
I saw you hanging.
Only your hair moving
gently on your forehead.
It was the evening breeze
that subtly crept,
and stroked you
as I wanted to do.
Manzù was one of those hybrids which you find in Catholic countries, a believing Roman Catholic as well as calling himself a Communist. It’s been difficult, in the short time available, to find out a great deal of his life but whatever he may have called himself politically he was able to survive, even thrive, during the period of Mussolini’s dictatorship.
He was appointed to the chair of sculpture in the prestigious Accademia de Brera in Milan, a position he held until 1954. During the war he concentrated on religious sculptures, drawing the parallel between the suffering of Christ on the Cross with those who were suffering during the Second World War and but even this attracted the ire of some of the Fascists in 1942.
He survived this, possibly due to his relationship with the Catholic Church in Rome – many of his works were commissioned by the Vatican – and also his close personal friendship with Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who was later to become Pope John XXIII (who was also born close to the city of Bergamo).
After the war he continued to produce works for religious buildings, the most important of which were the doors for Saint Peter’s in Rome and Salzburg Cathedral.
And the religious influence that coloured all of his work can be seen in this representation of the young partisan – who could well have been an atheist Communist. He’s hanging upside-down but this is to all intents and purposes a crucifixion scene with the young woman standing in for one of the two Marys.
Fêted by the Vatican Manzù was also hailed in the Revisionist Soviet Union, being awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1965.
This is a very moving monument commemorating those who fought against Fascism and won’t be visited by many tourists even though it’s in the centre of the new town and not that far from the Teatro Donizetti. Anyone close to the important transport intersection of the Porta Nuova and with a few minutes to spare could do much worse than visit this quite unique modern sculpture.
Being a local boy there’s a small collection of some of Manzù’s smaller sculptures in the Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea.