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Public Sculpture

I am at a complete loss to understand why, as a race, we are so hypocritically prudish

On a recent visit to Oslo, I was struck by the number of bronzes that abound in the city – not only in the Vigeland Park, with its enormous avenue of bronzes that culminate in an obelisk of bodies in hard stone, but literally at every street corner and in every square. I did, in fact, conclude that Oslo seemed to have more statuary than the Vatican Museum – which is saying something.

Vigeland Park, OSlo

I find the lack of inspired statuary in Malta to be disconcertingly inexplicable. It seems as if we produced only a couple of sculptors: Sciortino and Apap. As for the rest…? Sciortino’s Christ the King is fascinating in its austerity, while Apap’s Tritons especially, now after their restoration – are stunningly beautiful. I remember going to the unveiling of Attard’s super-heroic Aeneas down in the Lower Barrakka and wondering why this statue was relegated to an enclosed garden behind a copse of trees and then, of course, realised that it is possibly because it is a male nude.

I am at a complete loss to understand why, as a race, we are so hypocritically prudish. Is it because we profess to be the last bastion of Catholicism? That’s total rubbish, as we now have the most liberalised laws in Europe, if not the world, and anyway, Rome – which for centuries was the capital of the Papal States – abounds in male nudes in every square and at every street corner and no prelates seem to have had a problem with it, even though a few fig leaves do still exist…

Our monuments are now reduced to men in suits. Is this a sign of the times? On the polar opposite, the statuary in the popular festas are as imaginative as ever, even though we know that they are as ephemeral as the papier mâché fromwhich they are made. Judith and Esther, Athena-like figures symbolising the Church, angels and seraphim, popes and martyrs, prophets and patriarchs all come out of storage every summer in a plethora of flapping drapery and heroic pose.

Why have these never translated into something more permanent? The statues of the titular saints and Madonnas by Carlo Darmanin and Andrea Imbroll – and even Melchiorre Gafa – abound, but none of them were ever cast.

There is the Vilhena statue and the bust by Troisi, the former badly damaged by insensitive – or rather insane – restoration and relegated to the side of St Anne Street. That statue has been shoved from pillar to post over the years and it should be housed in the Museum of Fine Arts and a cast made of it. The new bronze copy should be placed on the traffic island in front of the War Memorial adding to the majesty and drama of the approach to Valletta.

Aeneas should be rescued and placed on the other side of St George’s Square: he symbolises our Latin heritage, of which we are very proud.

Also, poor La Valette – or de Valette – must be placed in front of the gap in the walls of Valletta that serves as its entrance and ennoble it by proclaiming the founder of our capital city, the saviour of Christendom and the man who changed our nation’s history forever. His present position does not reflect this, and the low plinth on which he stands – reducing the proud warrior and haughty aristocrat to a genial grandpa with children sprawling all over him taking selfies – is simply an insult to his memory.

Austin Camilleri’s Ziem, once at City Gate, Valletta, Malta

I am also at a loss as to why Austin Camilleri’s Ziem was removed from in front of Parliament, when it looked so noble and majestic there. Now we have the cow pyramid, but that’s part of a temporary installation so why not have a gorgeous bronze placed there permanently?

We need to make the most of the little we have by way of statuary and, hopefully, we will inspire young artists to work on innovative and attractive monuments and works of art to enhance our open spaces.

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