Artist Emanuel Santos at work. Photographer: Hugh Mitton (all photos courtesy Bleecher Report)

There are few second chances in life, especially if you’re the artist responsible for ruining the face of the world’s most popular (and attractive) soccer star: Cristiano Ronaldo.

Last year, Emanuel Jorge da Silva Santos unveiled his bronze bust of the Real Madrid forward outside the Madeira International Airport to honor the transport hub’s rechristening as the Cristiano Ronaldo Airport. The popularity of Santos’s original sculpture was certainly overwhelming — if not for all the wrong reasons. As Hyperallergic reported back in 2017, many on social media thought the bust looked like Jim Carrey in The Mask, the clay head from Art Attack, Chuck, or some horrid combination of Vanilla Ice, Johnny Bravo, and Mr. Incredible. Others compared Santos’s bastardization of Ronaldo as the sports version of the now-infamous Beast Jesus foible.

One year later, Santos, 41, has unveiled a revised version of the Ronaldo bust meant to quell mockery and redeem the artist in the eyes of soccer fans worldwide. The sports publication Bleacher Report initially approached the artist, asking if he wanted a redo on the sculpture. The bust’s subsequent reveal on the website was accompanied by a 10-minute mini-documentary produced by the company.

Santos’s original sculpture, which still sits outside the Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport (photo by Hugh Mitton)

Delving into Santos’s backstory, the documentary frames the artist as a hobbyist who jumped at the rare opportunity to showcase his talents. In fact, Santos was working for an airport cleaning company when he learned about the Madeira Airport’s renaming. Tracking down the associate director of airports of Madeira, Santos successfully pitched his idea for a sculpture. “The objective was to pay homage to Cristiano Ronaldo,” recounted Armanda Gouveia, Santos’s wife, on the verge of tears. “And I also thought this was going to be a launch pad in a supposed career as a sculptor.”

As we know, Santos’s career didn’t exactly take off after the original bust’s reveal. According to an information technology company contracted at the airport, there were over a million comments on social media about the bust in 24 hours — mostly negative. But Santos is clear in defending his original work: “People have to understand that art is a form of expression. It’s not an exact science.”

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While his statement about art may be true, Santos has definitely erred on the side of caution with his new bust. He has made significant changes to Ronaldo’s pose that make for a more traditional sculpture with less challenging — let’s say idiosyncratic — features. With the original bust, everything followed the mouth. And because Santos had given Ronaldo a crooked smile, everything else became crooked: his cheekbones, his eyes, and ears. (Looking back, that’s probably why many online commentators asked if Ronaldo had bended it like Beckham a little too far.) Santos has instead averted disaster by given his new sculpture a closed-lip smirk, allowing Ronaldo’s face to fall in perfect symmetry — save the inclusion of one sassily arched eyebrow.

There’s no word yet if Santos’s second Ronaldo will ever grace its namesake airport. Currently, it is on display in the Bleacher Report’s London offices. But let’s face it, wouldn’t the new fixed sculpture be a bit of a letdown next to the (secretly loved) original?

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Zachary Small

Zachary Small was the senior writer at Hyperallergic and has written for The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Nation, The Times Literary Supplement, Artforum, and other publications. They have...

4 replies on “Infamous Botched Bust of Cristiano Ronaldo Gets a Facelift”

  1. Why should this portrait look like Ronaldo when Michelle Obama’s portrait didn’t look like her?

  2. “Aired” on the side of caution…. am i missing something or is this article as serious as the “sculpture”?

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