Pope John Paul statue slammed by critics

ROME Fri May 20, 2011 4:22pm BST

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ROME (Reuters Life!) - An unconventional new statue of the late Pope John Paul II, showing a giant hollowed out figure, has attracted harsh criticism from experts and the Vatican newspaper.

The inauguration of the imposing bronze sculpture by Oliviero Rainaldi outside Rome's central rail station was meant to round off celebrations to mark the beatification of John Paul, which moves him a major step closer to sainthood.

The statue is a representation of the pope opening his cloak with a welcoming, outstretched arm.

But the four meter (yard) high figure provoked dismay and angry reactions from newspapers and art critics, who say it fails to capture the essence of the man.

"The face bears only scant resemblance to the pope. And altogether the result does not seem up to scratch," the official Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano said, comparing it to a tent or a military sentry box.

Art critic Achille Bonito Oliva told La Repubblica daily that the harsh edges of the sculpture had left him perplexed and did not reflect John Paul's gentle, caring nature.

But he added "we'll get used to it over time."

Rainaldi said he had not aimed for the sculpture to resemble John Paul exactly but wanted to capture the Polish pontiff's welcoming nature.

He told Il Messaggero daily that he had portrayed the pope the way he remembered him.

John Paul died in 2005 and his path to sainthood has been given fast-track treatment by his successor Pope Benedict. A beatification ceremony earlier this month attracted the largest crowd in Rome since his funeral six years ago.

(Reporting by Catherine Hornby; editing by Barry Moody and Paul Casciato)

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