Pasquino and the Talking Statues
On Wednesday I introduced the topic of Talking Statues, some of my favorite curiosities of Rome.
Six in all, these ancient marble social commentators gave average citizens the opportunity to criticize the government and the pope in a time when freedom of press was a distant dream.
Legend has it that a tailor named Pasquino was the first to post a witty comment on the pedestal of an ancient marble statue near Piazza Navona. The battered remnants of the sculpture of Menelaus with the body of Patroclus--or so it is believed to be--was moved to its present position from the site of Domitian's Stadium (now Piazza Navona) in 1501. Shortly thereafter, it became a magnet for any well-worded jab at the powers that be, and whether or not this tailor was indeed the one to start the trend, the statue eventually took the name Pasquino, as did the triangular piazza where it still sits today. Five other talking statues are dotted around the city, including my favorite, Il Babuino.
In addition, Abate Luigi, a late Roman statue of a man in a toga, was discovered near the ruins of the Theatre of Pompey, and now resides in Piazza Vidoni. Besides serving as a posting board for political satires, the unfortunate senator has had his head removed several times by pranksters.
Madama Lucrezia, in actuality a fragmant from an ancient colossal statue of Isis that can be found today in Piazza San Marco, not only "talked" but went so far as to converse with fellow talking statue, the hunky Marforio. Given her options, I don't blame her for chosing him. Easily recognizable as a river god by his position, he was found in the Forum of Augustus, also called the Forum of Mars, hence the name Marforio. Today he can be found in the courtyard of the Capitoline museums.
The final talking statue, Il Facchino, is not an ancient sculpture, but rather part of a 16th century fountain representing a water porter. It is hidden away on the little Via Lata, and very easy to miss.
Only Pasquino has maintained his purpose as a bulletin board for social and political criticism. Posts come and go frequently, and the names Berlusconi and Ratzinger are among the most commonly seen, although it is difficult for me, as a foreigner, to grasp the meaning of many of the satires as they are often written in dialect. Some do seem senseless however, for example several years ago I saw the lyrics to Micheal Jackson's Billy Jean posted in block letters for no apparent reason. The most famous of all pasquinades was written in Latin on the occation of Pope Urban VIII Barberini's decision to remove and melt down the bronze of the Pantheon in order to complete his Baldacchino for St. Peter's:
Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini!
What the barbarians didn't do, the Barberini did!