ROME – The city of Rome unveiled a revamped statue of Pope John Paul II on Monday after the first one was pilloried by the public and the Vatican.

Artist Oliviero Rainaldi said he was pleased with the final product, saying it matched his original vision. He blamed workers for a botched assemblage the first time around.

When the larger-than-life statue was first unveiled in May 2011, it was widely criticized by passers-by as looking more like Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini than the beloved Polish pope. The Vatican’s own art critic wrote that it looked like a “bomb” had landed.

That few could recognize it as honoring John Paul was a “sin,” critic Sandro Barbagallo declared.

Rome’s mayor quickly assembled a committee of art experts, culture officials and scholars to work with Rainaldi to make the sculpture match what had been approved in his sketches.

Rainaldi said the work involved “small corrections” to the “errors” made during the initial assembly.

The revisions unveiled Monday focus on the pope’s face: he smiles now and has a neck and more defined chin rather than a stern expression on a bowling-ball-shaped head. His outstretched arm — with his cloak opened in a gesture of welcoming and protection — is straightened out.

The bronze’s greenish hue is also evened out, the dark brown stains that marked the head and cloak mostly removed. And the statue now has its own enclosed pedestal rather than the patch of grass and bush that surrounded it previously.

Umberto Broccoli, Rome’s superintendent of cultural heritage, said it was only natural that the work would elicit a range of opinions, saying Italy is a country of 50 million soccer referees, 50 million art critics and 50 million politicians.

“With contemporary art, you have to wait for years to pass before judging it,” he said.

‘Queen’ gets VIPs to shake hips a little

WASHINGTON – Aretha Franklin says “it was fabulous” to have first lady Michelle Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder attend her show in Washington, D.C.

The Queen of Soul sang for them — as well as for about 3,000 fans at DAR Constitution Hall on Saturday night.

Afterward, Franklin said it was great to see her VIP guests relax and “shake their hips a little,” especially after a tough re-election campaign.

Franklin has performed for the first lady before — at the inauguration of President Obama.

Franklin also said she doesn’t think there will be an encore in 2013, though if invited she “would certainly come and would love to sing.”

Franklin also paid tribute to the late Whitney Houston, singing “I Will Always Love You.”

Spielberg sensed Lincoln as a friend

GETTYSBURG, Pa. – Two-time Academy Award winning director Steven Spielberg expressed a sense of humility Monday as he delivered the keynote address during ceremonies to mark the 149th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.”

“I’ve never stood any place on Earth where it’s easier to be humbled than here,” said Spielberg, whose biopic about the 16th president is currently in theaters.

His remarks were made at the annual event at the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg, near the site where Lincoln gave the famous oration amid the American Civil War in 1863, four months after the battle in which the Union turned back an invasion of the North by Confederate troops under Gen. Robert E. Lee.

After spending seven years working on his new movie “Lincoln,” Spielberg said the president came to feel like one of his oldest and dearest friends, and he sensed he was living in the presence of what he called Lincoln’s “eloquent ghost.”

“Lincoln wanted us to understand that equality was a small ‘D’ democratic essential,” Spielberg said.

– From news service reports