This Europe: Wanted: Statuesque beauty to celebrate Tuscan civic pride

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More than a hundred Tuscan women will take part in a "beauty contest" on Sunday to find a muse for Matthew Spender, the British sculptor and longtime Tuscan resident.

The sculptor, whose villa and lifestyle inspired Bernardo Bertolucci's film Stealing Beauty starring Liv Tyler, has been asked by the town of San Giovanni Valdarno, just south of Florence, to create a 21-foot statue.

The council has set up a contest to find the right model. Rules stipulate that she must come from San Giovanni. Spender says he would like a woman with "lots of beautiful hair, beautiful hands and feet, and, yes, a beautiful face. She'll be walking so she needs to be taller than average ... there'll be no bikini parade."

About 120 women have applied. Of these, Spender will choose a shortlist of six, yielding the final choice to the local council.

The monument will bear its subject's name, so the council demands that it must have a romantic lilt. It will owe something to the work of Masaccio, the Renaissance master who was born in San Giovanni in 1401, but is also likely to have a slightly Egyptian feel. Unusually for Spender's work, it will bear close visual resemblance to its model.

The contest was conceived through a desire to endear the monument to the local community.

Spender explains: "The idea is to create a bridge between the artist and the public. When a public work of art arrives out of nowhere, the reaction of the local population is often quite hostile."

The statue will stand on a roundabout that divides the two rival towns of San Giovanni and Montevarchi. Carved of Travertine stone from nearby Rapolano, it is due to be finished in September.