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Controversial John Paul statue looks set for makeover

Artist ready to make some alterations

29 August, 16:02
Controversial John Paul statue looks set for makeover (ANSA) - Rome, August 29 - A statue of the late Pope John Paul II at Rome's main train station looks set to be modified after causing a wave of disapproval.

Its author, Italian sculptor and Pontifical Culture Commission member Oliviero Rainaldi, said he is willing to make small alterations to the statue's head and neck, amid reports that a city commission wants a makeover. Rising in the middle of a flowerbed outside the Termini station, the five-metre bronze monument, which has now oxidized into a green hue, was unveiled on May 18, on what would have been the late pope's 91st birthday. It is an abstract rendering of a disembodied Pope with a minimalist cloak billowing out, symbolizing the beloved late pope's all-embracing nature.

Openly criticized across the political spectrum, on social networks and by commuters, the statue has also brought dim views from the Vatican's daily newspaper itself. L'Osservatore Romano said it ''resembles a sentry box'' and that its head is ''excessively spherical''. The city commission has listed several points it sees in need of intervention. Among them are the statue's face, the head's welding and inclination, the arm, the cloak, and the shoulder.

The artist is careful to specify that any changes ''will be minimal. The statue is not being redone.'' ''Substituting the statue would have been too drastic,'' said Culture Undersecretary Francesco Giro, who praised the artist's ''generosity'' in allowing his work to be altered. Some critics called for the statue to be removed, or at the very least to be repositioned so it does not turn its back on people arriving in Rome by train. Rainaldi told Italian media that people had ''misunderstood'' his concept.

''I wasn't thinking of getting a resemblance but a work that could synthesize, in the posture of the head and body and the draping of the cloak, the way the pope went out into the world,'' Rainaldi said.

Some Romans and tourists think the giant artwork looks more like Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

''That bullet-like head on top, it reminds me of Mussolini,'' said Enrico, a 42-year-old computer programmer who commutes from Latina south of Rome.

American tourist Sandra Hillhouse, 24, from Arizona, said: ''I don't understand it at all. He looks more like one of those weird creatures from Star Trek''.

A station cleaner, Maria Colacelli, 46, added a practical objection to the aesthetic ones.

''That cape will be a magnet for street people. I'll be sweeping out their beer bottles and trash every morning''.

To which the artist reportedly replied ''If a street person needs a place to sleep and found it under my statue I'd be glad.

I'm surprised people still say such things''.

The statue got the green light from a Vatican culture commission last year, which approved a sketch of the work.

Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno has since been facing calls from political and cultural figures to ''do something'' about a statue some think gives visitors an embarrassing impression of Rome's contemporary cultural scene.

He said he would bow to popular opinion.

''If public opinion coalesces around a negative view, we'll have to take that into consideration''.

The statue was donated by a charitable institution, the Silvana Paolini Angelucci Foundation, which has so far declined to comment on the controversy.

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