The Italian Almanac

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cows parade

Cow Parade

A cow dressed as a Roman centurion and another wearing the colours of the AS Roma soccer team are among life-size models popping up in Rome's streets and piazzas for the capital's first CowParade exhibition. Herds of the fibreglass cows have been positioned around the city for the now world famous public art charity event, which has already visited some 40 cities worldwide including New York, Paris, Tokyo and London.

"CowParade is a significant exhibition for the city of Rome," said Rome Culture and Sport Commission President Federico Mollicone. "It's an avant-garde event which underlines Rome's bent for contemporary art and makes it a protagonist at an international level." The cows on show were chosen and created from among hundreds of designs submitted by established and wannabe local artists, many of whom took their inspiration from the Italian capital to give the cattle a distinct Roman feel.

Two small babies sit underneath one cow positioned on the central Via del Corso in a nod to the legend that the city's twin founders, Romulus and Remus were suckled and brought up by a she-wolf. The Roman centurion cow, complete with red cloak, helmet, dagger and fetching leather sandals now stands guard in a shopping centre in the capital's eastern suburbs after a brief photo shoot in front of Constantine's Arch. The AS Roma cow, dedicated to captain Francesco Totti, will soon be placed in front of the team's Trigoria training ground.

While most of the cattle are in the traditional grazing, reclining or standing positions, the Rome show also includes a cow in Piazza del Popolo rearing up on its hind legs out of a huge espresso cup, hooves in the air. Other bovine models on show include a cow astronaut, a Spiderman cow, and a completely white heifer that children are invited to colour in as they see fit. Organisers say up to 100 cows will have gone on show throughout the city by July 4, when the exhibition ends, and Rome and Lazio region tourism board ATLazio are meanwhile distributing 20,000 copies of a map to help visitors track the cattle down.

The first CowParade was held in Zurich in 1998 and was the brainchild of sculptor Pascal Knapp and his father Walter, who had asked his son to design a standing cow to serve as a unique, three dimensional canvas for artists participating in a Zurich art exhibition. The idea proved a great success and since then the initiative has become what organizers boast as "the world's largest public art event".

Despite the level of the artists who now take part, the CowParade is by no means intended to be high art, but first and foremost a public art exhibit accessible to all. Each cow has an official sponsor, to cover costs, and at the end of the event the cows are auctioned off for charity. The highest-selling cow so far in the parades' history was a model covered in Waterford crystal by fashion designer John Rocha from the 2003 Dublin event which went under the hammer for $146,000.

Among the proud owners of a CowParade creation are Elton John, George Bush Sr., Queen Rania of Jordan, Nelson Mandela, Ringo Starr and former Czech president Vaclav Havel.