While traveling in Dublin last week I walked onto the campus of Trinity College and was taken aback when I saw a very familiar sculpture sitting on raised platform in the school’s main courtyard. It was one of the well-known Sphere within a Sphere, or Sfera con Sfera, sculptures by Italian artist Arnaldo Pomodoro, considered one of the greatest contemporary Italian sculptors.
Sfera con Sfera in the Vatican MuseumsI had an instant flash back to the Cortile della Pigna at the Vatican where another version of this same sculpture is also on display. Though I knew other versions existed, for example, in front of the UN headquarters in New York, I had not heard of the one in Dublin. Having retuned home and done a bit more digging I’ve learned that there are in fact something like twelve other Sfera con Sfera sculptures scattered across the globe. Remarkably, almost half are in the United States. Including Dublin, the UN, and the Vatican, other versions can be found in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C, Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio, de Young Museum, San Francisco, Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Hakone Open-Air Museum, Hakone, University of California, Berkeley, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, and Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Tehran.
While the two examples I have seen personally, in the Vatican and Trinity College, appear to be very similar in design (though Trinity’s is significantly smaller), many of the spheres appear quite different. However, all of them share some common features. They are all made of bronze and they have all been treated and polished in such a way as to give the bronze a gold appearance. In each, this smooth surface gives way to a view of the interior of the sphere; a world of a very different quality than its shining exterior. Suddenly we are peering into a complicated mesh of cogs or what some describe as the inner workings of a clock, piano keys, or the intricate components of an alien machine (our Trinity guide described it as looking akin to the Death Star from Star Wars or a Zombie Pac-Man, which, one must admit, it does). It will not surprise most that before becoming a sculptor, Pomodoro studied geometry. In fact, in many of his works we are confronted with seemingly simple shapes that then yield to much more complicated worlds within.