Pietro Consagra

The Unknown Political Prisoner

1952

Sorry, copyright restrictions prevent us from showing this object here

Original title
Prigioniero politico ignoto
Medium
Bronze on marble base
Dimensions
Object: 502 x 267 x 286 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1953
Reference
N06166

Display caption

This maquette is a unique cast. It was acquired in 1953, directly from the exhibition at the Tate Gallery of a selection of the entries for the international competition 'The Unknown Political Prisoner'. The interlocking spiky limbs refer both to barbed wire and to a man striving to free himself from whatever holds him entrapped. Consagra conceived it as placed in the centre of a square. The monument was intended to have a height of about six metres and a base of one metre.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

Pietro Consagra born 1920

N06166 The Unknown Political Prisoner 1952

Inscribed 'CONSAGRA' near bottom
Bronze, 19 ¾ x 10 ½ x 11 ¼ (50.3 x 26.5 x 28.5) on marble base; height including base 27 (68.5)
Purchased from the International Sculpture Competition (Grant-in-Aid) 1953
Exh: International Sculpture Competition: The Unknown Political Prisoner, Tate Gallery, March-May 1953 (46); Pietro Consagra, Palazzo dei Normanni, Palermo, February-April 1973 (14, repr.)
Lit: Giulio Carlo Argan, Pietro Consagra (Neuchâtel 1962), p.103, repr. pl.11
Repr: Numero, December 1952 (Anno IV, Serie III, No.3), facing p.22

A maquette for the International Sculpture Competition: The Unknown Political Prisoner. This competition, which was financed by an anonymous American and organised by the Institute of Contemporary Arts, was designed to promote interest in contemporary sculpture and 'to commemorate all those unknown men and women who in our time have been deprived of their lives or their liberty in the cause of human freedom'. After a preliminary selection had been made by the national juries, 140 entries were exhibited at the Tate Gallery in March-May 1953; the first prize of £4,500 was awarded to Reg Butler. The maquettes were small-scale models from which larger works could be made.

Other maquettes acquired by the Gallery at the same time were those by Gilioli [N06167], Minguzzi [N06165], Pevsner [N06162], Roszak [N06163] and by the British sculptor F.E. McWilliam [N06164]; the one by Gabo [T02187; see also T02186] was later presented by Gabo himself [see also Heiliger (T03897) and Butler (T02332 and L01102)].

The artist has written of this work (letter of 14 June 1973): 'I wished to allude to prongs of barbed wire and to a man striving to free himself from whatever holds him entrapped. The heroic figure is part of my early group of works of a totemic style (after which my sculpture became frontal). This sculpture is moreover three-dimensional, in order to give it the monumentality required by the theme (to stand in the middle of a piazza - I conceived it placed like the statue of Giordano Bruno in Rome). The monument was intended to have a height of about six metres and a base of one metre.

'The only bronze cast is the one in your possession, but there is also a copy in aluminium (artist's proof) in my private collection.'

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.130, reproduced p.130