Not only Pasquino: the talking statues of Rome

Youth Committee of the Italian National Commission for UNESCO

By the 16th century, the power of the Papacy had become oppressive and the people of Rome wanted greater freedom. They therefore invented a new way to express their discontent without being “caught”: they began to anonymously publicise their criticisms by posting epigrams and short satirical verses on some statues. The most famous of these is Pasquino, just a short distance from Piazza Navona. However, several more can be found throughout the city of Rome.

The statue of Pasquino is what remains of a work from the 3rd century BC that probably adorned the Stadium of Domitian in present-day Piazza Navona. The “Pasquinades”, normally posted at night, were often composed by poets and thinkers familiar with metre and Latin, and the people of Rome could enjoy a good laugh the following morning before the messages were removed by the authorities. Strict laws were enforced to put a stop to this practice and Pasquino was placed under surveillance. Pope Adrian VI (1522-23) even threatened to have Pasquino thrown into the Tiber, and Benedict XIII issued an edict in 1728, condemning anyone caught posting “pasquinades” on the statue to death, confiscation and infamy.

Of Pope Urban VIII, who reused the bronze of the Pantheon for St. Peter’s basilica, he said: “Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini” (What the barbarians did not do, the Barberini did).

Not only Pasquino
Pasquino is not the only talking statue in Rome. The capital has a tradition listing a series of sculptures that formed the “Congregation of Wits”, free thinkers carved in stone and characterised by the mordancy of their messages to popes and noblemen.
Abbot Luigi
On a side wall of the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle there is a headless statue of a man holding a scroll, probably a Roman magistrate or orator, from the late imperial era. It was nicknamed Abbot Luigi by the people, perhaps because of a resemblance to the sacristan of the nearby church of the Madonna del Santissimo Sudario. The statue has an inscription on the front of its marble pedestal: “I was a citizen of ancient Rome | Now they all call me Abbot Luigi | Along with Marforio and Pasquino I conquer| Eternal fame for urban satire | I received offenses, disgrace and burial | till here I found new life and finally safety.”
Madama Lucrezia
A stone’s throw from the Altare della Patria, there is an immense marble bust probably representing a priestess of Isis or even the goddess Isis herself. Here too, a nickname was given by the people, in reference to a noble lady of the 15th century, Lucrezia d’Alagna. The noblewoman was the mistress of the king of Naples, Alfonso of Aragon, and lived near present-day Palazzo Venezia, where the statue is located today, on the corner with Piazza San Marco.
Pie' di marmo
Although irreverent messages were sometimes found there, the Pie’ di marmo is not included among the “Congregation of Wits”. According to some, it was the foot of the statue of Madame Lucrezia: this is indicated by the size and quality of the marble, and the robe and the sandal, which are typical of the priestesses of Isis. The foot was found in the 16th century and was placed in the street that now bears its name. In 1878, it was moved to the corner of Via Santo Stefano del Cacco in order not to obstruct the funeral procession of King Vittorio Emanuele II.
Fontana del Babuino
Resting on a porphyry fountain beside Palazzo Grandi, the statue of the Babuino probably depicts a Silenus, a deity that was half man and half satyr. According to tradition, the popular nickname is due to its grotesque appearance. Another theory links the nickname with the term “babbione” (from the Latin “bambalio”: old scoundrel). The satires of the Babuino gained such attention that for a certain period that they stole the limelight from Pasquino and earned themselves the name “babbuinate”.
Fontana del Facchino
The Fontana del Facchino (“The Porter Fountain”) was probably sculpted by Jacopo del Conto towards the end of the sixteenth century and depicts an “acquarolo” of the Confraternity of the Acquarenari, who sold water from the public fountains from door to door. The popular nickname is perhaps due to the appearance of the clothing, which is very similar to the typical attire of the guild of porters, or else to an epigraph that is now lost.
Dating from the first century AD and now located in the courtyard of Palazzo Nuovo at the Capitoline Museums, the statue represents a river god and probably came from the temple of Mars in the Forum of Augustus. The name “Marforio” is thought to derive from “Mare in Foro” or, according to others, from the Marfuoli family, who resided near the Mamertine prison, where the statue was found. Marforio was considered as Pasquino’s “straight man”: each answered the other’s questions with a mocking tone. One of the most famous satires was centred on Camilla, the sister of Pope Sixtus V, who came from peasant origins but began to adopt a noble attitude. To Marforio’s question: “Hey, Pasquino, why is your shirt so dirty? You look like a coal merchant!” Pasquino replied, “What can I do? My washerwoman has been made a princess!”

Far from being a strictly Roman phenomenon, the term “pasquinades” also spread to other European cities, indicating satirical, political, ecclesiastical or personal compositions and lampoons.

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Exhibition edited by Youth Committee of the Italian Commission for UNESCO - Lazio: Antonio Geracitano, Marco Anzellotti, Vittoria Azzarita, Andrea Bangrazi, Ilaria Cacciotti, Francesca Candelini, Giovanni Cedrone, Carlotta Destro, Caterina Francesca Di Giovanni, Alessandra Feola, Paolo Ianniccari, Marta Lelli, Laura Leopardi, Ginevra Odone, Dario Saltari, Paolo Scipioni.

Youth Committee of the Italian National Commission for UNESCO

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