Stefan Giftthaler
Stefan Giftthaler

Italy’s Myriad of Statues is a Symbolic Tribute to its Own Heritage

Photographer Stefan Giftthaler captures the seemingly random placement of ubiquitous statues scattered throughout Italy’s contemporary landscape.

A nation famed for its historical contributions to the world of art, Italy’s deeply rooted artistic tradition goes back centuries. For any art junkie, a trip to Italy was never in question, as Italy means just as much to art as art does to Italy. However while the nation’s contributions as a cornerstone of Western art continue to be celebrated and studied, this artistic spirit has also carried over in other fascinating ways.

Stefan Giftthaler

Away from the renowned masterpieces and Renaissance architecture found in textbooks, this arts culture has manifested itself into the everyday life and setting of present-day Italy. For photographer Stefan Giftthaler, the most conspicuous example was the abundance of mass-produced statues that seem to be scattered everywhere from private gardens to everyday public spaces.

Although most are cheap replicas of famous works, these ubiquitous plaster casts provide an interesting character that peculiarly complements ordinary public spaces. Whether it’s well-known classical masterpieces like Michelangelo’s David, Ancient Greek gods or religious figures, the seemingly random placement is both odd and intriguing at the same time.

“I’ve always loved this contrast between popular, everyday culture and higher examples of art or spirituality, even if we’re talking about industrial copies,” Giftthaler tells LYFSTYL“It creates a very interesting effect, somehow funny and kitsch; but in a certain sense it also conjures something different from everyday life.”

As Giftthaler drove from Emilia Romagna along Italy’s coasts through, Marche, Abruzzo, Puglia, Calabria, Basilicata, Lazio and Tuscany, the roads began to highlight a cohesive sense of place and shared way of life. While the food, weather and authentic locals make for a dreamy adventure in its own right, Giftthaler was bewildered by the lack of logic behind the placements of many statues.

These ubiquitous ornaments make for a fascinating sight and cheeky contrast to Italy’s modern landscape. It might even be seen as quite comical–the chiseled Ancient Greek gods that now stand mightily among quiet supermarket lots and Jesus Christ himself arms wide at a remote hillside gas station.

“They represent the relationship that humans have always had with the imaginary world and the unknown.”

“In our society this seems to have no rational meaning and often what has no rational meaning is just ignored or considered useless,” Giftthaler observes. “But I think the fact of having a statue in a garden somehow goes back to a magical and almost sacred tradition in the relationship with places, that now is something forgotten and done unconsciously.”

At the same time it’s also seen as a tribute to Italy’s own heritage and the present locals’ unconscious connection with the past. Southern regions that once upon a time were colonies of Ancient Greece often displayed copies of models from that bygone era. “They represent the relationship that humans have always had with the imaginary world and the unknown,” Giftthaler adds. “The history of Italy is deeply rooted in that time and I felt I was somehow connected to that.”

At first glance these ubiquitous statues might be dismissed as cheap or worthless, but the clever juxtaposition playfully shows both the harmony and disorder of contemporary life and cultural heritage. Often labelled as “low culture” products, the white marbled figures seem to belong to a time period that modernity has tried to leave behind. The preservation of art within the public realm, however, goes well beyond simply the most famous masterpieces, whether we realize it or not.

“These objects then represent a common symbolic heritage, a connection to our inner world, parallel to the everyday life,” Giftthaler concludes.

Words by Braeden Alexander – Discover more of Giftthaler’s work here.