The Culture First Look

Sculptor creates odd-looking Cristiano Ronaldo bust, and Internet notices

The sculptor of the bust unveiled by Portugal's president and prime minister on the island of Madeira said it took him 15 days to create the statue.

A bust of Cristiano Ronaldo is seen before the ceremony to rename Funchal Airport as Cristiano Ronaldo Airport in Funchal, Portugal, on Wednesday.
Rafael Marchante/Reuters
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Over the past 15 years, Cristiano Ronaldo has become one of soccer’s most decorated players, racking up multiple records and awards and a reported net worth of $400 million. But not even his blend of wealth, athletic prowess, and dashing looks has always translated into great art.

Real Madrid’s star player has been making the wrong kinds of headlines since Wednesday, when Portugal’s Madeira islands renamed their main airport after Mr. Ronaldo, one of their best-known sons. The ceremony included an unveiling of a bronze bust of Ronaldo.

Around the world, fans howled that the bust bore little resemblance to the Portuguese player; its toothy grin and bulging eyes invited less favorable comparisons, from Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight to Sloth in The Goonies. AFP sports correspondent Tom Williams spoke for many when he tweeted, "For a very handsome man, Ronaldo has had some appalling luck with statue-makers.”

Tweets like these – along with memes and Photoshopped images – mark the latest round of supercharged, Internet-driven art criticism.

Sculpture is not an easy art form, and bronze can be an unforgiving medium,” wrote Victor Mather for The New York Times on Thursday. This has been known since at least 1401, when a famous bronze sculpting competition determined that Lorenzo Ghiberti, rather than Filippo Brunelleschi, would forge new doors for Florence’s Baptistry.

In the 21st century, patrons and the general public remain opinionated about the public art they have to live with on a daily basis – and the internet has provided a forum for them to critique an artist’s vision. Denver has been learning this lesson since 2008, when Blue Mustang, a 32-foot-tall horse statue, was installed outside the city’s international airport.

Its late sculptor, Luis Jímenez, intended it to represent the “‘wild’ spirit of the old American West.” But its angry face, cobalt color, and glowing red eyes soon earned it the nickname “Blucifer” and prompted calls for its removal.

And when artists don’t give celebrities the treatment fans think they deserve, the reaction can be even harsher. A sculpture of actress Lucille Ball installed in her Western New York hometown was quickly dubbed “Scary Lucy,” for her grimacing facial expression; a campaign to replace it eventually succeeded, and secured an admission by the original sculptor that “I came up short and was not able to rise to the challenge.”

So far, the man behind the new bust at Aeroporto Cristiano Ronaldo, Madeiran artist Emanuel Santos, has stood by his work – and likened himself to other visionaries who drew criticism in their time.

“It is impossible to please the Greeks and Trojans. Neither did Jesus please everyone,” the Guardian quoted him as saying. “This is a matter of taste, so it is not as simple as it seems.” He also insists that Ronaldo himself approved of the bust.

This isn’t the first time that a sculpture of the footballer has drawn criticism. But so far, he’s distanced himself from the controversy, and thanked his hometown for the recognition. On his Facebook page, all he posted was, “Happy and honored to have my name given to the Madeira airport!”

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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