The talking statues in Rome
The hidden itineraries in Rome are full of surprises and funny stories. Do you know about the “talking statues”?
It all started in the first half of the XVth century when the popes gained direct authority over the government of Rome and they assumed the dual role of spiritual and civil leaders. This dual role was later on formalized in the sentence In Nome del Papa Re (in the name of the Pope King).
In his role as a king, the pope was exposed to criticism and this was soon voiced by the Romans through very short compositions in verse ridiculing or blaming the behaviour of the popes.
In 1501 Cardinal Oliviero Carafa put up the torso of a statue representing Menelaus with the body of Patroclus near Piazza Navona. Each year on April 25th the Cardinal chaired a sort of Latin literary competition and poems were posted on the statue. This gave life to the first of the “talking statues”. In this way Pasquino (the name given to the statue) became the first talking statue of Rome and it’s still used to post messages and claims. From its name, the word pasquinata (pasquinade) was born, meaning “short satire exhibited in a public place.”
The target of the pasquinade was Pope Urban VIII Barberini (1623-44) who had used the bronze tiles of the Pantheon for the Canopy of St Peter’s. The only one of the talking statues which is not from the ancient Roman time is Il Facchino (The Porter). It was later called called L’Acquaiolo (The Seller of Water). It portrays a Renaissance seller of water with his little cask. This trade declined at the end of the XVIth century when Pope Sixtus V started reactivating the ancient Roman aqueducts. The statue is located in Via del Corso near Palazzo Decarolis.
The last talking statue is a mutilated marble bust (3 meters!) and it represents the Egyptian goddess Isis. It is located near the S. Marco Church, close to Venice Square. It was a gift for Lucrezia d’Alagno so it became known as Madama Lucrezia. It finally provided a female character to the little choir of the talking statues, also called il Congresso degli Arguti (the Shrewd Congress).