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Controversial pope statue to get 'new look'

Monument to John Paul II sparked derision

13 January, 18:05
Controversial pope statue to get 'new look'

(ANSA) - Rome - A controversial statue of late pope John Paul II at Rome's Termini Station is to get a new look after experts and the public called for it to be taken down as an eyesore.

"The statue will get a new head, the cape will be modified and the outer coating of paint will be touched up," a panel appointed by Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno has decided.

"The major intervention will be on the patina," the mayor's office said, adding that the statue will be raised by 30 cm, better lit, and the surrounding grass plot will be "cleaned up".

The statue's author, Italian sculptor and Pontifical culture commission member Oliviero Rainaldi, said he was prepared to change his creation after its scathing reception last summer.

Rising in the middle of a flowerbed outside Rome's main station, the five-metre-high 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 pontiff 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 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 previously listed several points it saw in need of intervention.

Among them were the statue's face, the head's welding and inclination, the arm, the cloak, and the shoulder.

The artist was careful to specify that any changes would be "minimal". "The statue is not being redone,'' Rainaldi said.

''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 practical objections 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''.

The artist replied ''If a street person needed 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.

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

Announcing the revision panel, he said he would "bow to popular opinion".

The statue was donated by a charitable institution, the Silvana Paolini Angelucci Foundation, which will bear the costs of rebranding the monument, the mayor's office said Monday.

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