Enzo Plazzotta (Italian, 1921-1981)

Enzo Mario Plazzotta was born at Mestre, near Venice, on May 29th 1921. Having enrolled at the Accademia di Brera in Milan, as a pupil of Messina, Plazotta’s studies were abruptly interrupted by Italy’s entry into the Second World War. He volunteered for the Bersaglieri, a corps known for its tough selection process, and was sent to North Africa. A brave and courageous soldier, he won the Silver Medal for military valour; however on his return he broke with the Fascist regime, and formed a partisan group in opposition to government troops. Betrayal by an infiltrator led to his capture, and for sixth months he was held in a POW camp, experiencing the extreme privations of solitary confinement. From this he escaped—while in transit to the infamous concentration camp at Mauthausen—and crossed into Switzerland, where he became an intermediary for the Partisans and the Allies. In the closing months of the War he returned to Italy to participate in the final struggle for national liberation.

After the war Plazzotta returned to the Brera to complete his studies. On graduating he was commissioned by the Italian Committee for National Liberation to create a sculpture of David, one that would symbolise the ‘Spirit of Rebellion’, a representation of the Italian Resistance Movement. In 1947 Plazzotta accompanied General Cordorna to present the figure to the British Special Forces in London, as a symbol of the unity of their work with the Partisans. Drawn to the English way of life he decided to settle in London. Initially finding work as a portrait sculptor, he went on to create a commercial art agency in London, specialising in importing Milanese art & design. It was not until the early sixties that Plazzotta felt sufficiently secure financially to take up sculpting again, and, aware that returning to sculpture in his forties was not ideal, he embraced the challenge with gusto. His prolific output, in such a relatively brief working span, attests to his underlying sense of urgency. He was conscious that financial difficulties had thrown an obstacle in his path in the past, bringing to a halt what he felt deeply to be his true vocation.

In December 1969 the Acquavella Galleries in New York held the first major retrospective of his bronzes, exhibiting works created from 1962 onwards. From this show emerged three new themes: his dynamic images from the ballet, tumbling and galloping horses, and the delectable female nudes.

The works that best exemplify the theme of the Ballet are the seated ballerina entitled Young Dancer, now sited opposite the Opera House in Covent Garden and the leaping sculpture inspired by David Wall entitled Jeté sited next to the Tate Gallery on London’s embankment.

In 1976, in recognition of his services to Italian art, Plazzotta received the title of Cavaliere from the Italian government. In the same year, he moved into the Garden Studio in Cathcart Road, built by Sir Charles Wheeler as a working sculptor’s studio. The abundance of space and light, together with the legacy of a wealth of mechanical equipment, encouraged Plazzotta to start producing more life-size pieces and enabled him to bring to fruition projects that he had conceived years earlier. The last of these was the monument to an individual whom he greatly admired—Leonardo da Vinci. Sadly he was only able to complete the maquette for this project, before falling ill with cancer in 1981; he died within the same year. Through the determination of his sponsor—and the application of his assistant, Mark Holloway—the monument was completed posthumously in 1982, and erected outside the Italian Institute in Belgrave Square in 1984.

Homage to Leonardo, Enzo Plazzotta

Jeté, Enzo Plazzotta

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