New Pope Statue "Bombs" in Rome, Angry Vatican Art Critics Say

New Pope Statue "Bombs" in Rome, Angry Vatican Art Critics Say

When the Vatican set eyes on a new sculpture of Pope John Paul II that has been installed outside of the Termini train station in Rome, the Holy See did not like what it saw. In fact, it became outraged. Created by artist Oliviero Rainaldi, the abstracted bronze statue is meant to portray the late pontiff in the act of opening up his cloak to lovingly encircle his followers, though the only part of the sculpture that can be read as human is the pope's head, which balances atop. The Vatican, never a fan of contemporary art to begin with, is fulminating that the statue doesn't really bear any likeness to the recently beatified Catholic leader. "The statue's sin," the Vatican has stated, is that it's "hardly able to be recognized." 


While the culture commission of the Vatican originally approved sketches of the sculpture, it is now arguing that the "mantle almost looks like a sentry box, topped by a head of a pope which comes off too roundish." L'Osservatore Romana, the main Vatican newspaper, described the statue as looking like it had been exploded by a "violent gash, like a bomb" had struck. According to the Associated Press, various passersby have even noted that the Rainaldi's artwork rather resembles Italy's former dictator, Benito Mussolini.


The statue was funded by the charitable Silvana Paolini Angelucci Foundation, and not by the city of Rome, but mayor Gianni Alemanno has nonetheless weighed in on the debate, telling the AP that he will not rush to give in to the Catholic Church's discontent. "There's an ancient saying: 'Vox populi, vox dei'" — voice of the people, voice of God— "and from this point of view we cannot help but take into consideration the opinion of the public," he said. "If public opinion consolidates around a negative opinion, we'll have to take that into consideration."


While the statue is hardly as inflammatory as "La Nona Ora" — Maurizio Cattelan's 1999 sculpture of Pope John Paul II getting hit by a meteor — dissenters are steadfast in their criticism of Rainaldi's new public artwork, with one Roman cleaning woman pointing out to the AP that the sculpture raised practical concerns as well as artistic ones. "With the shape of a cape, sooner or later the homeless people at the station will sleep inside it, and in no time, it will be full of bottles of beer," she said. Does this mean that the meek will inherit the art?