ROME, Italy — Nearly 200 years after their original commission and creation, Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statues of Christus and the ancient 12 apostles are enjoying a homecoming of sorts.
Crafted in Rome by the renowned Danish/Icelandic sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen in the early 1800s, the original 13 statues were commissioned for the historic Church of Our Lady, in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Digital reproductions of the 13 works of art have been carved out of marble quarried in Carrara, Italy, the site of the marble used for the originals, with the modern replicas in position at the visitors’ center adjacent to the LDS Church’s Rome Italy Temple.
MormonNewsroom.org — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ official media site — released an update and video Wednesday about the long-since-announced statues at Rome’s temple site. In actuality, the statues have been in position since last fall.
President Russell M. Nelson previously toured the temple construction site, and part of his visit included a review of the Christus and apostles statutes in the visitors’ center.
The Rome temple and video were part of a broader Mormon Newsroom post, updating the statues of LDS temples on three different continents — Europe, North America and South America.
With Saturday’s placement of the iconic Angel Moroni statue atop the tallest, eastern spire of the twin-tower Rome Italy Temple, 14 prominent statues key to Mormon doctrine now stand in place as the temple and other buildings continue their homestretch construction toward completion.
A completion date has yet to be announced, and all involved — LDS leaders in Salt Lake City, local leaders in Italy and construction supervisors at the temple project site — are extra-cautious not to allude to any possible timetable for completion, open house or dedication.
The Rome Italy Temple was announced by LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson at the faith’s October 2008 general conference, with President Monson presiding at the October 23, 2010 groundbreaking ceremony.
The original Christus statue and accompanying 12 statues representing the apostles were originally crafted in Rome by renowned sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, who was born in 1770 and grew up in humble conditions in Copenhagen. At age 11, he was admitted to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and later finished his art education in Rome, living in Italy for much of the final four decades before his death in 1844.
In 1819, when he returned home to Copenhagen, he was commissioned to create the statues for the Church of Our Lady, which was being rebuilt after having been destroyed by a British naval bombardment in 1807. Thorvaldsen provided a plaster cast of the Christus statue for the cathedral’s 1829 dedication, with the marble version being installed in 1833.
The statues of the 12 apostles followed over the next decade-plus. The Apostle Paul replaces Judas Iscariot, who betrayed the Savior, among the 12 statues, as is generally depicted in similar collections of the apostles in Rome and throughout Italy.
Thorvaldsen’s works can be found not only throughout Europe, but across the world. The master sculptor is also credited with crafting the tomb of Pope Pius VII in St. Peter’s Basilica.
FOCUS ON CHRIST
“One of the things that was important to us was to do something that would make this part of the country but more importantly for recognizing the Savior, Jesus Christ,” Mark Lusvardi, director of public programs for the LDS Church’s Missionary Department, said in the Mormon Newsroom video.
While little attention was initially given Thorvaldsen’s work, an American textbook in 1896 credited the Christus as being “considered the most perfect statue of Christ in the world.”
Prominent use of the Christus by the LDS Church began in the 1960s, including a replica of the statue at its exhibit for the 1964 New York World’s Fair and an incorporation of an 11-foot-high Christus statue in Salt Lake City’s Temple Square Visitors’ Center (now the Northern Visitors’ Center) in 1966.
The latter was a 1950s gift to LDS President David O. McKay president of the church at the time, from his then-first counselor President Stephen L. Richards.
Similar Christus reproductions can be found in LDS visitors’ centers from London to Los Angeles; from Mesa, Arizona, to Mexico City; and from New York’s Hill Cumorah to Hamilton, New Zealand. The piece is also featured prominently in official LDS Church media, both online and in print.
CRAFTING THE REPLICAS
The craftsmanship on the 13 statues is linking the past with the high-tech present.
Stone for the statues came from the quarries near Carrara, Italy, where master sculptors and builders went in search of the white and blue-grey marble of highest quality. At least 650 marble quarry sites are located in the Apuan Alps above Carrara, with the area having produced more marble than anywhere else in the world.
Carrara marble has been used to produce signature works such as Rome’s Pantheon and Michelangelo’s David statue. The marble for the LDS replicas was quarried from the original Michelangelo cave in Carrara.
The large Christus statue and the life-sized apostles statues were digitally mapped in Copenhagen, as church officials there allowed the LDS Church team to digitize the dimensions and details of the original statues.
High-pressure water jets were used to cut marble slabs into the basic shape of each statue, with craftsmen and apprentices from the Studi d’Arte Cave Michelangelo then completing the detailed work by hand.
As such, the replicas for the Rome Italy Temple visitors’ center will be the most precise reproductions ever made. A video of the process — available in Italian on that country’s version of Mormon Newsroom — shows the quarry and process of reproducing the statues.
Once finished at the studios and transported to the Rome temple project site, the statues were positioned in the under-construction visitors’ center, with cubed ice placed underneath the statues and bases. As the ice settled and then melted, workers were able to delicately fine-tune the positioning of the statues in relation to facing the taller Christus statue, each other and the walls.
LDS temples differ from meetinghouses, with temple worship, instruction and religious rites therein only allowed for church members in good standing.
However, the visitors’ center — and the 13 Thorvaldsen replicas — will be open to the public. While the temple stands as an edifice of eternal rites and ordinances for Mormon faithful, the statues and the rest of the exhibits in the visitors’ center provide a more public message, not only in Rome, but worldwide.
“That’s also part of the message of the whole visitors’ center here,” said Lusvardi. “We’ll learn not only about Christ and the calling of the original Twelve, but we know that we have prophets and apostles today.”