Luciano Minguzzi

The Unknown Political Prisoner: Figure within Barbed Wire


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On loan

Kunsthaus Dahlem (Berlin, Germany): Competition for the Monument of the Unknown Political Prisoner

Luciano Minguzzi 1911–2004
Original title
Figura fra i reticolati
Bronze on wooden base
Object: 630 × 700 × 350 mm
Purchased 1953

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This small sculpture is a model for a larger scheme. It won an Honorable Mention in the Unknown Political Prisoner competition. The artist was an Italian who had spent time in Paris after World War II widening his experience of contemporary art. He described the sculpture as an attempt to render homage to the prisoners who have suffered in all concentration camps. The work shows a figure lying down surrounded by barbed wire, as if in a confining cage. The finished work would have been very large and was designed without a base in order to rest directly on grass.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Luciano Minguzzi born 1911

N06165 The Unknown Political Prisoner: Figure within Barbed Wire 1952

Inscribed 'M' on figure in centre
Bronze, 22 ½ x 26 x 13 (57 x 66 x 33) excluding wooden base; height including base 24 ½ (62.3)
Purchased from the International Sculpture Competition (Grant-in-Aid) 1953
Exh: International Sculpture Competition: The Unknown Political Prisoner, Tate Gallery, March-May 1953 (50, repr.)
Repr: Numero, IV, December 1952, facing p.22; Carola Giedion-Welcker, Contemporary Sculpture (New York 1955), p.217; Marco Valsecchi, Luciano Minguzzi (Bologna 1975), pl.51

This maquette won an Honourable Mention of £275 in the International Sculpture Competition (for particulars of which see the note on the maquette by Consagra [N06166]). Minguzzi described his model as follows:

'In the conception of the maquette for the monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner, I have attempted to render homage to the prisoners who have suffered in all concentration camps.

'My work consists of a figure lying down in the middle of a network of barbed wire which interact architecturally.

'The form of a cage which is derived from this, confines the figure within well defined limits which casts the figure in a shadowy aereo-play.

'The material used is bronze and the monument should rise from a large lawn, and be implanted directly upon the grass without a base. In this way the spectators can take part in the work itself.

'I have pictured this monument in a height and width of 20 metres.'

He subsequently suggested the subtitle 'Figura fra i Reticolati' (Figure within Barbed Wire) to distinguish it from the other maquettes acquired by the Gallery.

In 1959 he made a second, more abstract version 40 x 41 x 19cm, with a form rather like a paper dart in the centre (instead of a recognisable human figure). This second maquette served as the basis in 1961 for a large-scale sculpture of monumental proportions known as 'Prisoner', 190 x 192 x 80cm, which has been installed on a high pedestal in a public square in Skofde, Sweden. (Both are reproduced in Valsecchi, op. cit., pls.53 and 55 respectively). He considers that his later series of 'Men in a Concentration Camp' also stems directly from the 'Unknown Political Prisoner' theme.

The Tate's sculpture is a unique piece and was cast by the lost wax process.

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.522, reproduced p.522

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