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Rome Reports

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Lego artist builds first-ever model of Vatican City State

This impressive Lego model of Vatican City State was built by Rocco Buttliere, a full-time Lego artist based in Chicago. Most of his projects are commissioned for museums and exhibitions. But in 2020, when the pandemic restricted public events, he set out on a personal and rather daunting endeavor: to build an entire country out of Lego.

Lego Artist
I was really inspired to do the Vatican, just based on having been there briefly in 2019, for not nearly long enough. I only spent about half a day there out of the couple days I was in Rome for a trip. But I was really inspired by just the thousands of years of human history, not just in the physical built architecture itself, but also all the artifacts in the museums.

The project took him about 800 hours spread over six months to complete. The digital design process alone took 500 hours. For this first part, Buttliere says he relied heavily on photographs, Google Earth and Google street view to make sure the dimensions of the piece were as accurate as possible. He even got the elevation right.

Lego Artist
Down by St. Peter's Square, that's probably the lowest part of the country, but then you go all the way back to the bastions along the western wall, and there's a pretty significant increase in elevation just due to the fact that Vatican is originally named for the hill that was there. So you've got to really capture that whole topography.

To build the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, Buttliere had to hunt down 16 very rare sand blue dinosaur tails. He says a big challenge is finding all the right Lego parts to accurately recreate complex architectural structures.

Lego Artist
The only two limits that I impose on myself are using actual Lego and then also the scale of my work. My body of work all is a uniform 1 to 650 scale. Along with that, and the fact that I use existing Lego elements with really no customization at all, forces me to make creative decisions that I otherwise don't imagine I would have been forced to make.

The Vatican City piece just wrapped up a tour in the United States, but will hit the road again in 2022. It's a priceless addition to Buttliere's collection of skyscrapers, famous landmarks and even a model of first-century Jerusalem.

Rocco Buttliere
Up: JM