'St. Peter's - Guide to the Square and Basilica'
The first door on the left is called the Door of Death because at one time it was the exit for funeral processions. The scenes sculpted between 1961 and 1964 by Giacomo Manz¨ (1908-1991) in accordance with the wishes of John XXIII (1958-1963), express the Christian meaning of death in ten episodes. Above right: the Death of Jesus; the death of the Just who redeems and saves us; above left: the Death of Mary who is immediately borne to heaven, a sign of the sure hope of resurrection for all humankind. In the center, a vine branch (left) and some ears of wheat (right). From the ground grains of wheat and the pressed grapes are made the bread and wine which in the Eucharist become the bread of life and the drink of salvation. Below left: the Violent death of the innocent Abel, for whom God asks his brother Cain to account, and the Serene death of St. Joseph, patron of all who desire a holy death; the Death of the first Pope, St. Peter, hanging on a cross, but upside down, since he felt unworthy to die like his Lord, and the Death of Pope John XXIII, the good parish priest of the world whose death deeply affected people of all religions and nationalities; below right: the Death of the Protomartyr, St. Stephen, killed by those who had killed Jesus and, who like Jesus, prayed for and forgave his executioners; and the Death of Pope Gregory VII, who died in exile because he "loved justice and hated irreverence", defending the Church against the emperor's claims. Finally, Death improvised in space and the Death of the mother at home in front of the child she abandons. Under the panels are six creatures: a blackbird, a dormouse, a hedgehog, an owl, a tortoise and a raven. On the inside of the door can be seen the impression of Manzu's hand and a portrayal of John XXIII receiving the bishops on the first day of the Second Vatican Council, October 11, 1962.
'St. Peter's Basilica - A Virtual Tour' by Our Sunday Visitor
In fact, Pope John appears in the work, like the scene in which he embraces bishop Rugambwe on the papal throne, with incisive physionomical features. It is also easy to recognize his friend and adviser Don De Luca, who died in 1962 and to whom Manzu' officially dedicated the door in the inscription with the Pope's consent.
The episodes of death, including violent events, express painful suffering, since they are represented after they have occurred, and thus extol through the catharsis of repentance. Manzu' is able to express his view of humanity quite spontaneously, focusing on its culminating moment, thanks to the simple freshness of the images and their sculptured transposition in delicate and light projection, with a constructive luminism that pervades the forms.
Six zoo-morphical symbols that allude to Death are inserted at the bottom; in the center, the two essential symbols of Christianity, a vine shoot and a bundle of wheat spikes, act as handles. The soft and suffuse plastic-luministic effect of the bas-reliefs is the result of "the quality of the bronze alloy, specially studied and developed by the artist together with his founder," as Orienti said.
From: 'The Companion
Guide to Rome' by Georgina Masson
Manz¨ and his portal for St Peter's by Peter Selz, Sculpture, December
Although a master of bronze, Manz¨ did not allow the medium to dictate the message. Not a formalist, he recognized the social purpose of art and considered it to be more than a form of self-referential expression. He was well aware that art, especially public sculpture, has the potential for shaping ideas and beliefs. But he had no desire to present his message as propaganda, the style so popular with the Fascists who had terrorized Italy during his youth. He knew that art that is implicit in connotation is art that is most memorable, functioning on a deeper level. In this sense, he is indeed our contemporary.
Produced during the
years following the death and destruction of World War II and the total
terror of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, the Door of Death on the west fašade
of St Peter's is a metaphor for human suffering and dying. The door also
marks the artist's rejection of the reification of modern life that puts
the human being in danger of becoming nothing more than another material
object. In creating the Door of Death, Manz¨ showed his contemplation
of man's ultimate predicament. The great portal can be seen as a dialectical
play between the sacred and profane, performed in bronze.
Perhaps the most intensely moving relief is Death on Earth on the bottom right - the final work in this narrative on the theme of mortality. An exhausted and anonymous woman leaning on a falling chair meets her end under the eyes of a child, frightened and crying in pain as he witnesses the death of his mother. The gentle delicacy of the modeling by the master's hand infuses the experience of death with a compelling gravity. A void separates the child in his rectangular window frame from his mother whose figure sweeps diagonally across the lower area. We are reminded of the cogent statement by the Italian-American artist Rico Lebrun that "pain has a geometry of its own."
The Door of Death is far from being a depiction of violence. It is, rather, a work that stands out for its gentle tenderness in the face of death, evoking sorrow. Manz¨'s friend, the anti-Fascist writer Carlo Levi wrote of the portal: "Deprived of sin and therefore redemption, Death appears in that unique moment, that fixed instant in which the violence of nature turns to harmony: a unity of expression which embraces the dead and the living, the victims, the witnesses, and the killers."
After 16 years of
work on the doors, Manz¨ signed the work with the imprint of his right
hand. When Pope John XXIII died in 1962, Manz¨ cast the death mask of
the pontiff's face, as well as the hand that had signed the great encyclical
Pace in Terris.