~ Curious And Unusual ~
- 2 -

Rome's Talking Statues


Pasquino, Marforio, Facchino, Madama Lucrezia, Abate Luigi, Babuino... Rome's 'talking statues'!
In times when the pope ruled over the city with an iron fist, the powerful trembled in hearing the nicknames of these popular heroes carved in stone, as if they had been paladins made of flesh and blood, but most of all their feared they bitter tongues.
In fact, these statues are the means by which Rome has always opposed arrogance and corruption of the ruling class with great sense of humour.
Since the early 16th century, late at night, satirical posters were hung to these statues, which stood on busy spots, so that in the morning everyone could read them (or have them read by someone, since a great majority of people were illiterate!) before they were taken away by the police. The six statues were also called all together 'the Congress of the Witty'.
The posters sometimes featured a poem, sometimes a joke; in most cases their satire was addressed to the pope. And the authors, of course, always remained obscure.
The six personages, which spoke on behalf of the people, were given popular nicknames.

The most famous of Rome's talking statues was, and still is, Pasquino. Since 1501, this figure stands in a small square at the back of piazza Navona; the square itself is now named after the curious statue.

"Pasquino' in an old etching
Pasquino is the torso of a male figure, probably dating from the 3rd century BC; it is so badly preserved that it is impossible to tell whom it represents; several hypotheses have been made (a gladiator, a god, a hero), although it most likely featured king Menelaus in a classic group of traditional Greek sculpture, several specimens of which are known to be consistent with Pasquino (see picture below left).
Also the origin of the nickname remains a mystery; it is commonly said that the statue was once discovered near an old barber parlour (or according to others, a tavern), whose owner was called Pasquino.

This talking statue remained popular through the centuries, and the jokes left nearby or hung to its neck were known as 'pasquinate'.

Pasquino today, still with some satirical posters
One of the most famous ones was against pope Urban VIII (a member of the Barberini family), who had the surviving bronze parts of the Pantheon removed by Bernini and used for the making of the huge canopy over the main altar in St.Peter's (1633): quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini ("what barbarians did not do, the Barberini did") was Pasquino's remark.
Another pun was directed at Alexander VIII (Pietro Ottoboni, from Venice), who was pope only from 1689 to 1691, yet being corrupt and a money waster: «Allegrezza! Per un papa cattivo abbiamo Otto-Boni» ("Rejoice! For one bad pope we have Eight Good ones", a play on words of the pope's family name, cunningly split into Otto Boni = "eight good ones")..


Instead, by the end of the pontificate of Clement XI (1700-21), who reigned for twenty years, as his death approached, the statue pleaded for the intervention of the heavens: «Dacci un papa miglior, Spirito Santo, che ci ami, tema Dio, né campi tanto» ("Give us a better pope, Holy Spirit, who will love us, fear God, and not live as long as this").

How much the popes hated and feared Pasquino can be told by the fact that the cantankerous Hadrian VI (1522-23), the only Dutch pope in history, even gave orders to hurl the statue into the river Tiber... But his early death enabled the popular hero to remain steadily in place. And by the national German church of Santa Maria dell'Anima, where the pope was buried, located no more than 200 metres off the spot where the talking torso stands (indeed, a curious coincidence!), the following verses appeared: «Papa Adriano è chiuso qui. Fu un tristo: con tutti ebbe a che far, fuorché con Cristo». ("Pope Hadrian is in here. He was a fiend: he dealt with anybody, except Christ").

← Menelaus drags away Patroclus (Florence, Loggia dei Lanzi):
the parts highlighted in red are consistent with Pasquino

Another popular statue is Marforio, a long, bearded reclining figure that decorates the courtyard of Palazzo Nuovo, a wing of the Capitoline Museums.
It likely represents the allegory of a river (the Tiber?), or maybe Neptune, the god of seas. It once stood in the Roman Forum (image below), but unlike most other remains it was not buried, thus remaining visible throughout the Middle Ages. It was removed from its original location in the late 16th century. For more details about this statue see Fountains, part III, page 8.
The name Marforio, variously explained, apparently comes from the expression Marte in Foro ("Mars in the Forum"), having the statue been found by the ruins of the Temple of Vespasian, which during the Renaissance age was believed to be the Temple of Mars. another interpretation is mare in Foro ("sea in the Forum"), referring to the allegorical personage featured.

Marforio, in the courtyard of Palazzo Nuovo (Capitoline Museums)
Marforio was considered Pasquino's partner, as in some of the satires the two statues spoke to each other: usually, one asked questions about social problems, the pope's government, and similar themes, and the other one replied with a joke.

etching of Marforio in its original location and before being restored, c.1550
For instance, when pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) was elected, having been born from a humble family of peasants, his sister Camilla started acting disdainfully, giving herself airs. Marforio asked: «Alas, Pasquino, why are you so dirty? Your shirt is as black as that of a coalman». And Pasquino replied: «What can I do? My washerwoman has turned into a princess!»

But no one was spared: when the city was under the French occupation (1808-1814) and Napoleon Bonaparte began looting Rome's treasures of art, as usual Marforio asked his companion: «Is it true that the French are all thieves?» Pasquino's answer was: «Not all of them, but a Large Part is» (again making a pun out of the French emperor's split surname, Bona Parte = "a large part").


Among the minor 'talking statues' of Rome are the Facchino, Madama Lucrezia, Abate Luigi and the Babuino.


the Facchino fountain
The Facchino ("the porter") is a small fountain representing a male figure, whose face is very poorly preserved, in the attitude of pouring water from a cask; its robe is the typical costume that used to be worn in the 1500s by the porters guild, whence the figure's name.

The statue once decorated a building along via del Corso, about a hundred metres or yards off the present piazza Venezia, which in the early 1700s was replaced by the much larger Palazzo De Carolis, presently known also as the Palazzo del Banco di Roma, a work by architect Alessandro Specchi. The small fountain survived the lost building, and in 1874 it was moved to via Lata, very close to its original location.

two images of water-sellers, from
illustrations of the 16th-17th centuries
The Facchino dates back to the second half of the 16th century; according to a popular tradition, it was inspired by a water-seller, i.e. a man whose work was to draw water from the river or from the very few extant fountains and sell it, door to door, moving around the city with a pair of casks like the one featured on the fountain, carried by a donkey or a mule.

Nobody knows exactly who carved the Facchino; being a fine work, despite its present condition, even Michelangelo was (wrongly) included among the range of authors credited for its making.
More likely, it was designed by Jacopino del Conte, a renowned painter active around the mid 16th century; he often teamed up with the famous architect and fountain-maker Giacomo Della Porta, by painting projects of city fountains created by the latter (see also the Fountains monography, part III). For a certain time, Jacopino was the owner of a smaller building that once stood in place of the aforesaid Palazzo De Carolis, from which the Facchino originally hung.

Another statue is known as Madama Lucrezia ("Madam Lucretia"), and stands in a corner of Palazzetto Venezia, in piazza San Marco, a small square adjoining piazza Venezia. This huge marble bust, about 3 metres (10 feet) high, comes from a temple dedicated to Isis and likely represents the goddess herself, or one of her priestesses.
Actually, Madama Lucrezia was Lucrezia d'Alagno, a noblewoman who lived in the 15th century. She was the mistress of the king of Naples Alfonso V of Aragon, who was already married. For this reason in 1457 she came to Rome and pleaded with the pope to let the king divorce, but no permission was given. One year later the king died. Because of the hostility of his successor (his legitimate son Ferrante) towards her, the lady moved to Rome; her residence was close to the the spot where the statue stands, whence its nickname.

Madama Lucrezia



Abate Luigi
FUI DELL'ANTICA ROMA UN CITTADINO
ORA ABATE LUIGI OGNUN MI CHIAMA
CONQUISTAI CON MARFORIO E CON PASQUINO
NELLE SATIRE URBANE ETERNA FAMA
EBBI OFFESE, DISGRAZIE E SEPOLTURA
MA QUI VITA NOVELLA E ALFIN SICURA
I WAS A CITIZEN OF ANCIENT ROME
NOW EVERYBODY CALLS ME ABBOT LOUIS
WITH MARFORIO AND PASQUINO I CONQUERED
ETERNAL FAME IN URBAN SATIRE
I RECEIVED OFFENCES, MISTREATMENT AND BURIAL
BUT NEW LIFE HERE, AND SAFE, AT LAST

This short epitaph can be read on the base of the statue called Abate Luigi ("Abbot Louis") standing in piazza Vidoni, not far from piazza Navona, on the left side of Sant'Andrea della Valle's church. It features a standing figure wearing clothing in the late Roman fashion. Its nickname was probably chosen after the sacristan of the nearby Sudario church, who - according to a popular tradition - resembled very much the statue.
Piazza Vidoni was the original site of the Abbot, but through the years it changed location several times, poorly cared for, until in 1924 it was taken back to the original square.

The Babuino, archaic Italian for babbuino = "baboon", is a small statue of a reclining silenus (a Greek mythology woodland deity, similar to a satyr), now standing by the church of St.Athanasius of the Greeks, in the central via del Babuino. It acts as a decorative element for a very simple fountain, once used as a drinking-trough (see Fountains, part II page 2), on whose rim the old figure has been perching since the age of Renaissance.
The grinning figure was given this name because of its look, now even more grotesque because rather worn out by time.

up to the late 1990s the wall behind the Babuino
used to be completely covered with graffiti (picture below),
maybe as a consequence of the 'talkative' nature of the statue,
which today seems to have chosen meditation (right →)

Nowadays most of Rome's talking statues seem to have lost their speech. Only Pasquino is still faithful to tradition: his base always carries a selection of scorching poems, typically against the establishment. Obviously, the authors of the satirical verses no longer risk to land in jail, as they did in earlier times, but it is still a custom for them to leave the poems unsigned. As well as it is customary for passers-by of all ages to stop and read Pasquino's latest scorching remarks.