Vatican hosts major Santiago Calatrava exhibition

First Vatican exhibition dedicated to living architect

The work of celebrated Spanish architect, structural engineer, sculptor and painter Santiago Calatrava is the subject of a major exhibition at the Vatican's Braccio di Carlo Magno, the left wing of St Peter’s Square, from 5 December to 20 February.

Entitled The Metamorphosis of Space, the exhibition features marble, bronze and wooden models of Calatrava's signature projects as well as his geometric portrait paintings, watercolours and sketch books. Among the highlights of the 140 works on show is Calatrava’s model for the St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at the Ground Zero site in New York – on public display for the first time – as well as plans for the Cathedral of St John the Divine, also in New York.

Significantly, it is first time that the Vatican honours a living architect with an exhibition and follows the Holy See's inaugural pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, the world’s most prestigious contemporary art gathering. The Vatican's participation at the biennale was spearheaded by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the dynamic head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, which is behind the Calatrava exhibition and which, in 2011, appointed Calatrava to the five-year renewable post of "cultural consultor."

The exhibition reflects "the continued opening of the Vatican and the church to the art of our time”, according to Micol Forti, the head curator of contemporary art at the Vatican Museums and curator of the Calatrava show.

Based between Zurich and New York, Calatrava is best known for his distinctive sculptural bridges – often cantilievered or cable-stayed and almost always in his signature white – in major world cities.

In Rome Calatrava is behind the Città dello Sport di Roma, a grandiose project which began in 2005 and which has since foundered. Located in Rome suburb Tor Vergata, the sports complex was originally designed for use during the World Swimming Championships in 2009 and construction work began under the administration of former mayor Walter Veltroni. However the project soon ran out of funds and was abandoned during the tenure of Veltroni's successor Gianni Alemanno. Now something of a white elephant, efforts are being made to obtain from private investors the roughly €500 million funds necessary to complete the project.

Elsewhere in Italy, Calatrava is responsible for the new state-of-the-art railway station Medio Padana, the only stop on the high-speed Milan-Bologna line. Situated about halfway between Parma and Bologna in northern Italy, the white steel and glass wave-like station was inaugurated in June.

Calatrava also designed the Ponte della Costituzione over the Grand Canal in Venice. Prior to its 2008 inauguration the arched truss bridge caused controversy, chiefly over concerns that its modernist-minimalist design was incompatible with the city's architectural heritage, but it has since become accepted to such an extent that it is referred to locally as the “Calatrava Bridge.”

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Address Braccio di Carlo Magno, Piazza S. Pietro, Vatican.

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Vatican hosts major Santiago Calatrava exhibition

Braccio di Carlo Magno, Piazza S. Pietro, Vatican.