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Virginia Beach Area Features

Neptune Rising: Creating the Iconic Statue

  By: Jacquelyn Eurice
Photo Credit: Paul DiPasquale, Sculptor, Richmond, VA

Neptune—brother of Jupiter, ruler of the ocean and protector of the seas and islands. The ancient Romans originally revered him as the god of fresh water. Over time, he began to possess traits of Poseidon, the god of the sea in Greek mythology, who was commonly depicted with his trident and a dolphin. By 339 BCE, Neptune began to appear in art with similar characteristics as Poseidon. Today, we still celebrate the story of this ancient deity and the waters of the earth under his command.

Across the Roman Empire, statues were erected in honor of Neptune. Those fashioned out of bronze or marble, of any size, were considered to be the most valuable and were collected by persons of affluence. However, due to the persistent demand for metal throughout the centuries, nearly all of the bronze statues were eventually melted and repurposed. Those made out of marble and stone had a better chance of surviving to modern times—and many did. Over the years, many pieces of art have been carved in Neptune’s likeness, however, none compare in mass to the Neptune statue in Virginia Beach.

In 2003, the city of Virginia Beach initiated a project. Sculptors from around the world competed to win the contract to design a new statue of Neptune for display on Virginia Beach’s oceanfront. When the sculpture committee realized that no one from Virginia had submitted an entry, Paul DiPasquale from Richmond was contacted by the Director of the Contemporary Arts Center in Virginia Beach, Cameron Kitchin, and invited to submit a design. His was the only submission that portrayed a 15-foot-high Neptune on top of a 12-foot base. Other designs proposed statues that were a total of 15 feet high. Therefore, DiPasquale’s proposal showed a colossal figure more than three times the volume of the others. At a total of 34 feet high (the extra height comes from the trident he carries), it is believed that Virginia Beach possesses the largest statue of Neptune in the world.

Constructing the massive Roman god was not an easy undertaking—his head alone is 6½ feet tall and he weighs 12½ tons. There were multiple problems that required unique solutions. Due to the statue’s size, it was nearly impossible to find a foundry in the United States that could meet the deadline and bring Neptune to life without doubling the cost. Plus, the limited budget was completely derived from the sale of approximately fifty 22” bronze maquettes and private donations received through fundraising at the Neptune Festival (an annual event with festivities that celebrate Virginia Beach’s seaside heritage).

To solve the foundry problem, DiPasquale reached out to Evergreen Enterprises, a Chinese-American company where he had previously worked as a consultant. Evergreen Enterprises challenged three Chinese companies whose facilities could take on this project, to build smaller clay maquettes of DiPasquale’s Neptune. The winner of the subcontract was Zhang Cong, who was in charge of the foundry that ultimately cast Virginia Beach’s bronze Neptune. When Zhang unilaterally altered the pose and width of Neptune’s torso, there were barely any funds available for the extra copper, the increased labor, and the required stainless steel braces needed inside the statue. Even the price of Chinese-subsidized copper, an important component of bronze, had doubled only two months into production. Suddenly the foundry was 30% over budget, could not afford any more bronze or pay workers, and was nearly bankrupt.

Moreover, the statue no longer fit inside the shipping containers. To ensure the project continued and that Neptune had enough interior structure for transit to Virginia, Zhang borrowed the funds to purchase scrap metal for the temporary frame and cut Neptune into more pieces than the three that were originally anticipated. And once Neptune arrived in Virginia, more money was needed to replace the scrap metal frame with stainless steel and to weld Neptune back together. Ultimately, photos of the final clay model DiPasquale sculpted in China were used to impassion supporters, engineers, and volunteers of Neptune Festival, who donated additional time, money, and resources towards the completion of Neptune. In the end, it all came together and Zhang was reimbursed. According to DiPasquale, “The many donors to the Neptune Festival made the Neptune statue happen as a timeless gift to the city.”

On September 30, 2005, the Neptune statue was finally unveiled to the public during the Neptune Festival, then in its 32nd year. Now, Neptune maintains vigil over the Virginia Beach Boardwalk at 31st Street, welcoming visitors and protecting the sea behind him, his kingdom. His dominating presence reminds us all that the earth’s water is to be cherished and respected. Yet, his stare communicates, as the artist intended, his displeasure with our lack of environmental concern for one of our most precious resources—the ocean.

Neptune Facts:

  • Height (statue & base): 34 feet
  • Head: 6½ feet tall
  • Shoulders: 12 feet across
  • Weight: 12½ tons
  • Dolphins (2): 17 & 15 feet
  • Loggerhead Turtle: 11 feet long
  • Octopus: 8 feet
  • Casting Process Materials: 80 tons of clay, 25 tons of plaster, 7,500 grinding and sanding discs
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