Friday, 28 October 2005

Statuary Friday #17

My ongoing blog project - documenting Melbourne's open-air public sculpture in words and pictures. Suggestions for future episodes are more than welcome.

#17 Dante's Divine Comedy

La Trobe University, Bundoora

I've been walking past this sculpture four or five times a week for omigod nearly eleven years, and to be perfectly honest, I've never liked it. This morning when I took the pictures you're seeing now was the first time I've managed to refrain from averting the eyes long enough to read the plaques and find out what it's all about beyond being a suspiciously educational-looking triangular object planted in the middle of the scruffy lawn in front of the Thomas Cherry building.

The story as it turns out is mildly interesting. The sculpture - made by Bart Sanciolo to commission - was a gift to the People of Victoria from the Italian Community on the occasion of Victoria's 150th anniversary of statehood in 1987. (It doesn't belong to La Trobe, then, but to All of Us.)

It's made of bronze and is about 10 metres tall, which is a pretty decent height for a bronze, but unfortunately the sculpture is placed in a setting where it has to compete visually with a lot of tall airy eucalypts and a large block-y building and all the shadows those things throw across the ground. My guess is it would look a lot better in a more open space, like an elevated grassy bank (and there are plenty of those around the campus.) The sculpture has mildly strange proportions - it's shaped more like a spire or a tree top than any earthbound thing - and each of the three triangular faces is slightly indented, which creates an optical illusion, as you walk past, that it's tilted off the 90-degree line, and for a pyramid form to look off-kilter in that way creates a slightly seasick feeling in the viewer.

That queasiness I think is the reason why I had never taken a very good look at it until now. It's actually pretty interesting up close. The three sides are decorated with relief mouldings showing Hell, Purgatory and Paradise with people swarming up each surface. Some parts of the images work better than others. The Paradise side is best - I guess the orderly and neat quality of paradise and the large God head at the top made things easier for the sculptor.

It can't have been an easy commission to execute - a sculptural representation of Dante, for heaven's sake. Piecing the backstory together it seems that The Divine Comedy was chosen for a number of telling reasons. Dante represents one indisputable pinnacle of the cultural heritage Italian (mostly Catholic) migrants brought to Australia (and the poet himself being an emigrant and a seafarer.) The uber-classy literary associations lend themselves to the rarefied intellectual atmosphere of the University (ahem!) A message of the poem, of course, and of the sculpture, is of fervent struggling ever upward, which is the unshakeable core of the story of migration and of a 1960s suburban university like La Trobe as well (only it's mostly done with clothes on, IRL.)

Yeah well, it's not a mindblowingly good bit of sculpture, but at least it's got something to say.


The Student said...

where is this thing?

I have never come across it.

Lucy Tartan said...

It's in the general direction of carpark 2 - just beside the road that the bus takes.

R H said...

Well done Miss Lucy, your statue posts are marvellous. But how do you get the sky so blue?

Lucy Tartan said...

I choose nice days to take pictures.

R H said...

Good. That's sound. Prudent
It's never been me.

rhys braun said...

They are all very nice pictures, but perhaps some closeups of hell?

I've seen it a few times in person and up close, had to find it on my own by memory because my friend showed me when he did a course there. I would have taken pictures but it was too bright and I only had my phone which was nearly dead as I had been Skyping my friend whole searching the entire campus. Easily walked 12km before finding it finally...