Silvio Gazzaniga, Milan, 23 January 1921 - Milan 31 October 2016
It’s not easy to tell the professional and personal story of the Milanese sculptor Silvio Gazzaniga in a few lines.
From a young age the passionate artist and designer devoted himself to the art of design, painting and sculpture. In addition, he excelled in the elite art of medallions, creating innumerable works of religious, sporting, historical and commemorative themes.
He also designed cups and trophies commissioned by several national and international sports federations: incessant requests that saw him working every single day from the age of 16 to over 90.
Even though he’s now remembered, and always be, as the “Creator” of the football World Cup, thought up, designed and created in 1971. FIFA has decided to maintain this Cup until 2038 at least, given the great appreciation and affection that football lovers, the media, and others, have for it.
Spanning a career of almost eighty years, the Master – a title that was given to him very early on – never stopped and, during the celebration of 150 years of the Unification of Italy, he enthusiastically accepted the task of designing and donating the trophy which was presented to the winners of the Italian Cup, the 108th Giro d’Italia and the Italian Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2011.
A great connoisseur of contemporary art, eclectic creator, master of sculpture, bas-relief, and general all-rounder, Silvio Gazzaniga is one of the most important exponents of the contemporary Italian artistic scene, whose career was launched with works of a decidedly international level.
Silvio Gazzaniga was born in Milan on January 23rd 1921. He trained as a sculptor in the school of art and design in the principle city of Lombardy while the avant-gardes period was in full swing during the 30s and 40s.
He attended the “Humanitarian” School of Applied Art and the Arte del Castello Sforzesco High School with great success and qualified as a goldsmith and jeweler.
During the dramatic period of World War II, as a very young man, he began his artistic career as a medal, cup and honour sculptor for various clients. In 1953 he started a stable collaboration as Art Director and Master Sculptor with the Bertoni company.
1970, however, brought a change to his professional life and he gained international fame as an extremely reserved artist. After Brazil’s third World Cup victory in a row in Mexico, they were definitively awarded the Rimet Cup in line with the regulations of the time. FIFA therefore had to create a new trophy.
A competition open to all artists around the world was launched and, from 53 proposals, Silvio Gazzaniga’s was chosen as the winner. The new World Cup both represents and is symbolic of the joy, exultation and the greatness of the athletes in victory: two stylized footballers who support the whole world in their moment of happiness and triumph. With the creation of this trophy, Silvio Gazzaniga reached the peak of success and artistic fame.
On the wave of this international success, his production of sports-related works took off and he received many direct commissions for the trophies of important national and international football competitions, including the UEFA Cup and the European Super-Cup. He also created the Baseball, Bob and Volleyball World Cups and medals for important international events of other sports such as basketball, swimming, skiing and many more, always contended by the sport Federations of many countries.
During the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy, Silvio Gazzaniga was contacted by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers which, under the great patronage of the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, asked him to design and create a trophy that would be presented alongside the most important Italian sports competitions of 2011. The Milanese sculptor enthusiastically accepted and paid homage to the State in the draft of the Cup.
He was always extremely attached to Milan and, on December 7 2003, he received the honour of the Certificate of Civic Merit, Ambrogino d’Oro, conferred by the Milan City Council and presented by the then mayor, Gabriele Albertini, for being “ one of the most prolific representatives of the contemporary art of our city”.
He also received international awards. On October 14th 2011, during a plenary session of the Vicenza Numismatic International Fair, he received the “International Career Award” from the International Numismatic and Medalist Association with the following motivation: “ The great artist, in his long career, has distinguished himself in the elaboration of coin and medal drafts and, in particular, he has been able to represent various themes with rare skill”.
The most important testimony to his abilities came on June 2nd 2012 when he was awarded with the honour of Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic by the then Prime Minister, Mario Monti, and President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, for artistic and cultural motives.
Silvio Gazzaniga died in his Milan home on October 31st 2016 at the age of 95. Condolences from the Mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, and the President of the City Council, Lamberto Bertolé, were conveyed in their decision to give him an official commemoration at the opening of the City Council on November 14th, 2016.
On November 2nd, 2017, his name was engraved on the Famedio of Cimitero Monumentale in Milan, beside the names of other deserving citizens who gave prestige to the city of Milan.
For over 60 years, the sculptor was married to his wife Elsa, the other great love of his life along with art. Together they had two children, Gabriella and Giorgio. In addition to sports, he was passionate about design, sports cars and planes, and he couldn’t be without his walks in the mountains, photographing nature – an important font of his inspiration - to recharge his artistic batteries.
Silvio Gazzaniga is the creator of the most coveted football trophy, the FIFA World Cup. The Cup took shape both in his mind and his hands in 1971.
From that time, he saw his creation pass through the hands of several personalities. Franz Beckenbauer was the first to present it with pride to the world in 1974; an honour which then went to Daniel Passerella in 1978, Dino Zoff in 1982, Diego Armando Maradona in 1986, Lothar Matthaus in 1990, Carlos Dunga in 1994, Didier Deschamps in 1998, Cafù in 2002, Fabio Cannavaro in 2006, Iker Casillas in 2010, Philipp Lahm in 2014 and Hugo Lloris in 2018.
The history of the Fifa World Cup
At the dawn of the football World Cup in 1928, the title was named after Jules Rimet, the FIFA President who established it. At that time, there was a rule that stated that the first team to win the World Cup three times would “take away” the Cup.
Indeed the Rimet Cup was definitively given to Brazil at the Mexico World Cup in 1970 after their third win following an historical battle with Italy, who were also fighting to bring the Cup home having previously won two World Cups.
Following this, FIFA needed to create a new trophy that would last over time. On April 5th 1971, a specially appointed committee and a jury of experts met in the headquarters of FIFA in Zurich under the supervision of Sir Stanley Rous, then FIFA President. An international contest for the creation of the new cup was then announced.
The Master immediately set to work, closing himself for a week in his studio on via Alessandro Volta, situated in the artistic quarter of Milan, close to the Brera Academy and Sforzesco Castle.
He prepared the draft and, being aware of how difficult it can be to fully appreciate a simple design, a semi-definitive three-dimensional model in plasticine which would be later “formed” with a plaster case.
The risk of creating a work with a three-dimensional model in its destined size without having received any confirmation or reassurance of winning the contest paid off. Indeed the physical presence and possibility to touch and “challenge” the work convinced the FIFA managers of the beauty and photogenic nature of the sculpture. They approved the model that would become the World Cup from 53 projects from all over the world (25 nations). The Cup was immediately fused in gold, refined and rendered official by FIFA in January 1972.
The cup, fused using the ancient “lost wax” technique used in the creation of the most famous metal statues for millennia, is made of 18 carat gold and, though hollow, weighs 6,175 grams. It has a height of 36.8 centimeters and a base diameter of 13 centimeters. The base is made of two bands of green malachite and the names of the nations that have won the World Cup since 1974 are engraved in their respective languages on panels around and under the base.
Contrary to the Rimet Cup, this cup will never be definitively assigned to the team that wins three times, but will continue to be up for grabs until all the possible spaces for the engraving of the winning nations have been filled, so at least until 2038.
Starting from 1974, the trophy has been won by Germany three times (1974, 1990 and 2014), twice by Argentina (1978 and 1986), Italy (1982 and 2006), Brazil (1994 and 2002) and France (1998 and 2018), and once by Spain (2010).
Starting from the 2006 World Cup in Germany, FIFA decided that the original trophy would no longer be given for safe-keeping to the winning nation. Previously the winner kept the cup in their federation headquarters for four years, restituting it only during the sorting ceremony of the next World Cup. Today it’s only handed over for a few hours to the captain of the winning team during the prize-giving ceremony for a quick celebration after the final match. FIFA gifts the winning federation with a copy of the original.
Silvio Gazzaniga tells his FIFA World Cup
“To create a universal symbol of the harmony of the sports world, I took inspiration from two fundamental images: the triumphant athlete and the world. I wanted to obtain a plastic representation of the effort that could simultaneously express harmony, sobriety and peace. The figure had to be linear and dynamic in order to draw attention to the protagonist, the footballer, a man that victory has transformed into a giant, without taking on the role of super-human. This sports hero should encapsulate all of the efforts and the sacrifices that are daily required from his brothers and become a universal character of the sport as a challenge and freedom, holding the world in his arms.
“I freely created the form. The trophy represents two players that are reaching their arms up in the triumphant joy of victory. It holds within it dynamism, strength, speed of action, sport and emotional effort, and the exultation of finding yourself on the top of the world. The athlete is the absolute protagonist of the work and lifts the world in the happiness and enthusiasm of victory. Whoever wins such a difficult and prestigious competition becomes a giant in the moment of victory and their prize, the Cup, needs to express all of this”.
“With the two athletes raising their arms, I wanted to signify the joy and triumph in the moment of victory. The sphere above them, modeled in relief with a faithful image of the continents, brings the world to mind and the ball at the same time. In their juxtaposition the lines between the two almost mirror-like human figures express a dynamic movement that is typical of the sport. The rough material between the two opposing faces of the trophy expresses the vigour, energy and toughness of football, and the intense commitment to sport”.
“Momentum is gathered and gained from the base a helicoidal movement of lines, which rise and expand until reaching the world. From the compact sculptural mass, from the remarkable dynamic tensions, the profiles and the figures of two athletes in the exciting moment of the victory emerge”.
“Were I to ever redo it, I wouldn’t change a thing. The fact that the trophy has resisted time and new fashions, with the highest appreciation, is a testimony to the fact that I was inspired by aesthetic and symbolic principles that are universally understood”.
Other football cups
Among the other cups linked to the world of football, Silvia Gazzaniga designed and created the UEFA Cup, the European Super-Cup, the Under 21s and Under 23s UEFA Cups and many others both for the Football Federations of various countries and for other sports.
Created in silver and 67 centimeters tall, the cup is formed by a base with two onyx discs in which a band with the flags of the countries with federations that are members of UEFA is inserted. The lower part of the sculpture symbolizes the stylized footballers and is surmounted by a hand-embossed slab. Gazzaniga stated: “A choral set of athletes in dynamic movement supports the slender hexagonal cup with slender cusps that are elongated upwards””.
Under 21s Cup
Among the “extra-European” works, always in reference to the world of football, he also designed the African Cup and various gold trophies for local championships in some Arab and Mediterranean states.
The story of the 150th Anniversary of the Unification of Italy cup
In the first months of 2011, the Master received a call from the Presidency of the Council of Ministers. The Government and the President of the Republic had decided that the 150 years of the Unification of Italy would be remembered with a special cup that underlined the importance of the anniversary. Silvio Gazzaniga accepted the challenge with his usual enthusiasm and generously decided to offer his creativity free of charge to the Republic. Among the proposals that the sculptor sent to the representatives of the Institutions was the design which would later be chosen and created thanks to its representation of the sense of unity, energy and common will that united Italy and created the Nation. Three copies of the Cup were immediately created. One was presented at the Giro d’Italia for cycling, one at the Italian Football Cup and the third at the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monza.
Silvio Gazzaniga tells about his cup for the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy
“The 150th Anniversary of the Unification of Italy Cup, made of silver, represents the thrust of eight stars that increase in size upwards, united and tied at the bottom by a ring bearing the Presidential logo of the 150th Anniversary of the Unification of Italy. The trophy was competed with a turreted crown that hangs over and unites the stars, and that again proposes the theme of unity. The blue of the ring and the base brings to mind the national colour”.
“Symbolic beams of light are projected by the golden stars and create an interesting and dynamic game of lines that rise towards the sky with the ring at the base that reunites them. This energy is gathered at the top in a turreted gold crown, which is the symbol of our nation”.
The innovative fingerprint of the sculptor
There’s a notable underlying leitmotif in all of the cups that the Milanese artist created, which makes them truly unique. Cups in the past were commonly made of polished slabs. Those created by Silvio Gazzaniga are, instead, of modelled metal, which needs to be worked and fused like works of art, like the statues of Ancient Greece on.
Often the models represent a choral image of athletes, as in the case of the UEFA Cup, the Under 21s Cup and the Football World Cup. This “fingerprint” of the Milanese sculptor underlines the artistic character of the modeling juxtaposed with the simplicity of polished slab, allowing for the expression of dynamic physicality and movement, and at the same time, the conveyance of the values and team spirit, fundamental in a sport like football.
In the course of his industrious career, Silvio Gazzaniga produced numerous sculptural, numismatic and pictorial works of religious, historical, sporting and commemorative themes. From portraits of Popes to those of sovereigns, from effigies of scientists to well-known figures of the economy or theatre. Without geographic barriers: from Europe to Africa, from the Middle East to the US.
Although the prolific nature of his works is expressed with greater resonance in sport, he created countless medals, trophies and, most of all, cups. These were created for all of the Olympic disciplines and commissioned by National and International Sports Federations, including for volleyball, rugby, baseball, swimming, basketball and many others. He designed the World Cup for sports such as bobsleigh, volleyball and baseball. But it is football that definitively lifted him to the glory of posterity.
He didn’t deny himself other artistic experiences such as when he was asked to create special works like the Monument to Fallen Motorcyclists in Civenna and the Saint Anthony of Padua Reliquary.
Monument to fallen motorcyclists in Civenna
The project was commissioned by the Italian Motorcyclists Federation in 1959 and created in 1961 in Civenna (CO). The monument consists of a column-based form decorated with helical reliefs, symbolizing the birth and evolution of the sport on a path that culminates in the overlying stylized flame, which celebrates the Fallen of the sport and brings to mind an asphalt ribbon that rises to the sky. The spiral helical band which, as in a modern Roman column, moves upward with a laurel band, depicts motorcyclists from every era, from the very first to today’s. At the end of the spiral, an athlete holding a torch represents the sporting spirit.
The balance of classic, modern and universal styles, the internationality and timelessness of the message without spatial limits, the vast world of motorcycle fans, made up of riders, champions and mechanics, but also of a simple love of the road is evident. A world of men in constant movement which, notwithstanding the victories, losses, falls and unfortunate mortal accidents, always takes off again towards new technical and record challenges. Gazzaniga comments:
“A spiral of figures depicting motorcyclists, mechanics, tourists, regulars, runners. Allegorical figures represent athletes which, even when they fall, keep high the flame of passion and sport at the end of the spiral. The helical representation of the history of motorcycling, from the first years of the pioneers, expresses the yearning and spirit which has been carried over the from generation to generation of motorcyclists, culminating in the flame that moves up to the sky and never goes out”.
Saint Anthony of Padua reliquary
Thanks to Gazzaniga’s rich production of religious-themed medals, in 1955 the artist was commissioned to create the reliquary of Saint Anthony of Padua, which is situated in the so-named museum next to the Basilica del Santo in the Venetian city.
The reliquary is made of lost-wax cast silver and decorated with gilded leaf. In 1994, during the 800th anniversary of the birth of the Portuguese Saint that is so dear to the Faith, the reliquary made a two-year pilgrimage that reached all five continents and millions of believers around the world.
Silvio Gazzaniga confided: “I can say with pride that the Saint Anthony of Padua Reliquary and the Football World Cup are two of my works which have really travelled across the globe and will continue to do so even after me” .