John Paul II sculptor defends his work
Oliviero Rainaldi speaking to CNA at the Vatican's press office
Oliviero Rainaldi speaking to CNA at the Vatican's press office
By David Kerr

.- The sculptor of a much criticized statue of Blessed John Paul II has defended his work and suggested it could, one day, be regarded as “a classic.”

“Naturally, I understand that is it not conventional, and the proposal might create a different look to what was expected,” Italian artist Oliviero Rainaldi told CNA in his first media interview since the row surrounding the statue’s unveiling in May.

“But there are so many beautiful photographs. Why do we need a photographic resemblance?”

At the time of its unveiling, the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano described the 12-foot bronze statue situated outside Rome’s Termini train station as having “little resemblance’’ to Pope John Paul.

“The result is not what was intended and his face on the top of the statue bears little resemblance and already there has been much criticism … it makes him look like a tent … it looks like a bomb has hit,” the paper said.

The President of Rome’s Cultural Commission, Federico Mollicone, went further, calling it “a permanent and sacrilegious mud stain on his memory.”

Meanwhile, a poll in the Italian La Repubblica newspaper found that 87 percent of the general public also disliked the statue. But Rainaldi is unfazed by such negative reactions.

“When Michaelangelo's David was first taken into the Piazza della Signoria in the middle of the night, everything, including the dimensions, were different from what they (people) expected.”

“I'm just making an example, not to draw strange comparisons. But we need to make comparisons like this. Then, over time, they became classics,” said the 55-year-old artist whose modernist work has gained him success in both Italy and the U.S.

Certainly the Vatican is in no rush to cut artistic links with Oliviero Rainaldi. In fact, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi—the head of the Pontifical Council for Culture—has asked the Italian sculptor to be one of 60 artists that will create a work to honor the 60th anniversary of Pope Benedict’s ordination to the priesthood this month.

Richard Rouse, also of the Pontifical Council for Culture, observed that Rinaldi is “somebody who’s been criticized but is continuing to work and that’s a wonderful thing.”

Although his sculpture has received a lot of criticism, Rinaldi said he put real thought into the Pope John Paul II statue.

“The man within was more interesting to me than the man outside” describing a man who was “lacerated” inside “not only by his infirmity but also by his mission.”

“These are often things that even the people who are close to you, and love you, don't want to see. Often we want to (see) that they are strong, beautiful - but it is not always the case. This man showed he was beautiful for others reasons beyond his appearance.”

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