Emilio Greco

Emilio Greco, Title Unknown, Date Unknown, Ink Drawing Detail, The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London

Strongly influenced by Etruscan, Greek and Roman art, Emilio Greco is best known for his powerful portrait busts and sensual nudes, often characterised by perfectly rounded heads. However, while such subjects dominate his collected works, Greco also received important religious commissions during his career. One of the artist’s first major works was his 1953 “Monument to Pinocchio”, the base of which differed markedly from Greco’s subsequent figurative style in its abstract, spiralling forms.

Having been awarded prizes at both the 1952 Rome Quadriennale and the 1956 Venice Biennale, Greco began to work on a set of monumental bronze doors for Orvieto Cathedral in 1962. He was initially unenthusiastic about the commission as the proposed themes left him uninspired, but his attitude altered dramatically once the subject matter was changed.

“When, finally, the Corporal Works of Mercy – those capital commands of human behaviour – were suggested to me, I accepted immediately because I felt strongly that this theme was congenial to my beliefs. It is an eternal theme, perpetually occurring, not only an historical one; a human theme, not only one connected with the Church.”- Emilio Greco

Completed in 1964, Greco’s doors reveal debts to Renaissance masters such as Donatello in their subtle bas-relief modelling. However, they also exhibit more modern tendencies, as in the two lateral doors depicting angels in flight set against a geometric-abstract background. The following year, Greco was commissioned to create a monument to John XXIII for St Peter’s in Rome, representing the Pope visiting the city’s Regina Coeli prison.

Greco’s drawing style is extremely sculptural in its evocation of volume, and its concern with defining the spaces and relationships between forms. Conversely, the surfaces of Greco’s sculptural heads are often scored with lines recalling the cross-hatching characteristic of his vigorous yet elegant ink drawings.

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