Florence: When Florence unveiled a large sculpture inspired by Dante on the 700th anniversary of his death, it triggered a sea of ironic comments on social media, critical of the artwork by renowned Italian sculptor Giuseppe Penone.
Many linked the leafless ‘Abete’ – the largest public installation ever hosted in the centre of Florence – to the much-maligned Christmas tree in Rome that made headlines around the world a few years ago.
“We didn’t know Spelacchio was on tour,” or “They have sent us Spelacchio,” people wrote on social media, likening the 22-m high sculpture to the unfortunate Christmas tree which Romans nicknamed Spelacchio due to its “manginess.”
Curated by the Uffizi Gallery in collaboration with the city, the conceptual sculpture by Arte Povera master Penone was inspired by the lines “l’albero che vive de la cima / e frutta sempre e mai non perde foglia” from Paradiso in Dante’s epic The Divine Comedy.
The towering fir tree, made of stainless steel with bronze elements, is located temporarily in Piazza della Signoria before being moved to the Uffizi as part of an exhibition by the celebrated Turin artist this summer.
To be sure, the work also has its fans, including the mayor Dario Nardella, however they risk being drowned out by a wave of ironic comments such as: “It’s missing the vultures and condors on the branches,” or “At first glance it seemed like an abandoned antenna.”
“It looks like my Christmas tree in March when I finally decide to take it down,” commented another.
Penone is best known in Rome for his sculpture Foglie di Pietra [Leaves of Stone] outside the fllagship Fendi store off Via del Corso, comprising two bronze (leafless) trees with an 11-ton marble block suspended five metres over the pavement.
As Penone’s Abete continues to attract comparisons to Rome’s Christmas tree, it should be remembered that Spelacchio was also lampooned in the capital when first unveiled, even being unkindly compared to a giant toilet brush.
However Romans soon swapped their mockery for genuine affection towards poor Spelacchio, defending the unfortunate tree and covering its threadbare branches with declarations of love and solidarity.