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While kings and popes preferred artists and sculptors, the Nicholson Museum commissioned Australia’s only LEGO-certified builder Ryan McNaught to construct its latest masterpiece. The 200,000 brick LEGO model of the Roman Colosseum sits comfortably amidst the museum’s Egyptian artefacts and European antiquities.

Unlike the original which took eight years to construct, the LEGO Colosseum complete with the adjacent Arch of Constantine was built in five weeks. The model shows half the Colosseum as it was at completion and the other half as the ruins we see today. “Lego bricks are square and rectangle but this thing’s oval,” McNaught said. “It made me feel a real appreciation for how the real thing was built.”

As with his other works, McNaught motivated himself by leaving the ‘fun part’ of adding the details until the end. There are helmeted Roman guards, gladiators, animals, spectators and the emperor Titus who opened the Colosseum in 80AD giving a thumbs down presumably following a bloody battle. In one corner of the model is Senator Palpatine from the Star Wars films seated in a popemobile – McNaught’s signature, if you will – revealing a hidden sense of humour.

McNaught spoke at a ‘Meet the Brickman’ talk last week and took questions from young members of the audience who sat circled around the Colosseum. “What’s your favourite style of Lego?” asked one young boy. “The emperor is actually bad,” commented another. It was a heartening sight to see young kids running through the rain towards a museum in the school holidays.

The Nicholson Museum is Australia’s first museum to have a fixed LEGO exhibition. Curator Michael Turner hopes it will inspire people of all ages to take an interest in history and the Roman civilisation. Kids in Australia have been playing with LEGO for over 50 years. Unlike electronic toys and gadgets, “it’s about imagination in a physical sense,” McNaught said. The most rewarding thing for him is to “see the reaction on people’s faces … just like an artist.”

Until Feb 2013, Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney, southern entrance of the Quadrangle, free, 9351 2812, sydney.edu.au/museums