By Peter Finney Jr.
NEW ORLEANS (CNS) – We all know Rome wasn’t built in a day, but LEGO architect Rocco Buttliere had three months, which definitely gave him a good start on Julius Caesar.
Working quietly from his Chicago-area home during the pandemic lull in 2020, Buttliere tinkered with 67,000 tiny plastic LEGO pieces to create an incredibly realistic 3D replica of the Vatican City State.
The 1: 650 scale model is so faithful to the cobblestones shaded by Bernini’s colonnade that it even includes a small red tile marking the top floor window of the Apostolic Palace from which Pope Francis recites the Angelus every Sunday .
For a kid who started playing with his two older brothers’ LEGO sets and even brought his LEGOs to college while studying architecture, those 800 hours he spent last year were the cornerstone of one of his greatest artistic achievements.
“What inspired me is simply the fact that there are almost 4,000 years of human history represented in architecture, museums and the artefacts themselves,” said Buttliere, 26. .
His LEGO artwork from the Vatican City State and another from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge were two of the main attractions of BrickUniverse, a multi-city LEGO exhibit that took place in the New York region. -Orléans from August 14 to 15.
“This level of spiritual resonance was something that really made me want to tackle the whole (city-state),” he told the Clarion Herald, the Archdiocese of New Brunswick newspaper. Orleans.
Ever since he started tinkering with LEGO sets – taking the sets apart and using loose bricks to create his own works – Buttliere has created over 60 different models and has managed to make a full-time living from traveling and commissioned exhibitions.
He was close to completing his most ambitious work to date – a first-century 1: 650 model of Jerusalem – for a museum in Brazil. This work consists of 114,000 pieces and lasted eight months.
“I started New Years Eve 2020 and I have one box left to ship to them,” Buttliere said. “It’s like the project will never end. But I’m so grateful to have clients like this who will pay me to do what I love.
The most difficult aspect of the Vatican piece was figuring out how to create the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, Buttliere said. His knowledge of everything LEGO drew his mind to a box of rare sandstone blue dinosaur tails, which he skillfully reused in the dome shell.
“It really got the ball rolling,” he said. “These dinosaur tails have appeared in so many different colors over the years, and blue is the hardest one to track down.”
Buttliere only visited Rome once – there was a LEGO convention in the Eternal City – and only spent half a day touring the Basilica and the Vatican Museums. He spent much of his time sitting inside the Sistine Chapel (although Michelangelo’s interior frescoes are not visible on his room, even if someone had to peel off the roof).
He tackles a vast project in sections, starting with the most difficult, in this case the basilica. It draws on 3D images from Google Earth and then layouts the landscapes in AutoCAD, a design software, to draw construction lines.
“The medieval walls kind of follow an irregular pattern and then you kind of go up and move towards the back of the landscape,” he said. “The colonnade is an oval, and LEGO likes to adapt to squares very well, so anything that has a curvature is going to be inherently difficult. In this case, it uses a combination of those square and circular parts to get the curvature of the” ovato tondo ”.
Of the 67,000 pieces in the Vatican’s work, around 1,300 are “one-off” pieces, which means they are rarer and are only included in certain LEGO sets.
“If you buy a LEGO set off the shelf, even the largest tend to only have 100 to 150 unique items,” Buttliere said. “As far as my own work is concerned, Vatican City is the most differentiated and stylized, but that makes sense when you consider that it represents a landscape made up of different buildings over millennia. “
For ease of movement, the Vatican room can be subdivided into 13 subsections. The only collateral damage from the last trip to New Orleans was a few broken tree branches in the Papal Gardens.
“But I always bring in replacements for fragile things like that,” Buttliere said. “Everything except the trees are stuck.”
Since his models are built to essentially the same scale, Buttliere said a little-known fact becomes evident: “You could put the whole country of Vatican City under the mid-span of the Golden Gate Bridge. “
This would not have pleased Caesar.