Controversial pope statue gets new look

Face redone, 'sentry-box' cape narrowed after 'eyesore' claims

Controversial pope statue gets new look

(ANSA) - Rome, September 18 - A controversial statue of late pope John Paul II at Rome's Termini Station has been given a new look after experts and the public called for it to be taken down as an eyesore and it was used by street people as a refuge. The face has been melted down and "remodelled completely", Rome council officials said Tuesday. The cloak, which had been so wide and rigid it was dubbed a "sentry box", has been moved closer into the body so that it "drapes more naturally", they said. Greenish blotches on the statue have been eliminated and the bronze colour has been buffed up. The stature has also been raised up. It will be surrounded by a larger flower garden than before and will be under round-the-clock CCTV surveillance when it is unveiled at the start of October, the council said. 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 small flowerbed outside Rome's main station, the original five-metre-high bronze monument, which swiftly oxidized into a green hue, was unveiled on May 18, on what would have been the late pope's 91st birthday. In its original form it was 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 resembled a sentry box and that its head was "excessively spherical". Rainaldi was at pains to specify that his work was not being replaced, claiming that the changes were "minimal". "The statue was not redone," he 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 thought the giant artwork looked 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. Rome Mayor Gianni 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 a statue revision panel earlier this year, 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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