When a 16-foot bronze statue of Blessed Pope John Paul II commissioned by the city of Rome was presented to the public last year, it was met with almost universal bewilderment and derision. Passersby who were asked to guess whom it depicted were nonplussed:
“Mussolini?” ventured Pavel Michenko, from Moldova, who stopped to scrutinize the sculpture as commuters rushed to catch trains, taxis whizzed by and buses belched fumes into the early autumn air. “(Former Soviet leader Nikita) Khrushchev?” suggested Russian visitor Dimitry Filimonov, when prodded to hazard a guess after being told it represented a historical figure.
The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano observed that the statute looked like a bomb had hit it:
The artist, Oliviero Rainaldi was disappointed by the negative reaction, and defensive. “Even Michelangelo was criticized” for his work on the Sistine Chapel, he told the Associated Press in an interview at the time. Rainaldi was given a do-over, and the revamped statue was unveiled today:
The revisions unveiled Monday focus on the pope’s face: he smiles now and has a neck and more defined chin rather than a stern expression on a bowling-ball-shaped head. His outstretched arm — with his cloak opened in a gesture of welcoming and protection — is straightened out.
The bronze’s greenish hue is also evened out, the dark brown stains that marked the head and cloak mostly removed. And the statue now has its own enclosed pedestal rather than the patch of grass and bush that surrounded it previously.
Umberto Broccoli, Rome’s superintendent of cultural heritage, said it was only natural that the work would elicit a range of opinions, saying Italy is a country of 50 million soccer referees, 50 million art critics and 50 million politicians.
“With contemporary art, you have to wait for years to pass before judging it,” he told reporters at the site, located in front of Rome’s main train station.
Hard to improve on the judgment of commuter Alberto Donella: “[John Paul II] was joyful. He was nothing like this here. For me it still looks like a refrigerator.”