A few months ago Michael and I were having lunch at an enoteca, Cul de Sac, in Piazza di Pasquino near the south end of Piazza Navona. A statue named Pasquino lives on one corner of the Piazza di Pasquino, and as we were eating, a band of people wandered down the street and began to hang notes and signs all over every inch of him and his base. Come to find out, Pasquino is one of six talking statues in Rome. People talk to the statues, and the statues talk to each other, or at least they used to. I love the idea of them! I love them! I love them almost as much as the madonnelle, but not quite.
According to Wiki, in 1501 an ancient statue was found during road construction and set up in Piazza di Pasquino. Soon thereafter citizens began to post anonymous poems or notes critical of political and religious authorities and the tradition of the talking statues began. This political and religious expression continues to this day, as we saw the day we were having lunch. Recently a board was set up next to Pasquino to encourage people to post their remarks on the board rather than gluing them to Pasquino, although some people obviously pay no attention.
Wiki says the following (with some edits by me): One story says that the statue was named to honor a local resident named Pasquino. A tailor by trade (in some versions of the story he was a barber or schoolmaster), this man’s career took him to the Vatican, where he learned behind-the-scenes gossip. He then spread this gossip, with acerbic commentary, for the entertainment of friends and neighbors. When Pasquino died, the statue was named after him, and people began posting on the statue commentary similar to Pasquino’s gossip from the Vatican. Pasquino became so famous that his name was turned into an English word—pasquinade—which means a satirical protest in poetry.
Wiki also says the following: Some popes, who were often the butt of criticism from the statues, sought to limit the posting of commentary. Adrian VI planned to have Pasquino thrown into the Tiber River but was dissuaded when told that like a frog, the statue would only croak louder in water. Another probably apocryphal story told that a reward was offered to the anonymous writers if they came forward. One man responded and his hands were cut off. Eventually the authorities settled for posting guards by the statue to prevent the posting of more commentary.
When guards were posted by Pasquino, political agitators moved on to Pasquino’s fellow talking statue Marforio, and soon a “discussion” began between the two. Posts on one would be answered by posts on the other. Marforio is believed to be a statue of a river god, and he dates back to the first century AD. He has moved several times and now lives quietly on the Campidoglio in Palazzo dei Conservatori. I didn’t want to buy a ticket to enter the Capitoline Museum to see him yesterday, so I was thrilled to peak through a gate, and there he was! He’s in the best shape of all of them. And he’s quiet as a mouse—no posts! The guard wouldn’t let me get close enough to take much of a photo, so you can see only his head and torso. The guard probably worried that I was going to post political commentary on Marforio!
A few blocks away from Pasquino in Piazza Vidoni (just off of Via del Corso) lives another ancient talking statue: Abbot Luigi. He, like Marforio, has moved around Rome before being hidden away in a corner next to the Basilica di Sant’Andrea della Valle in 1924. The inscription on the base of the statue reads: “I was a citizen of ancient Rome. Now everybody calls me Abbot Luigi. 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.” Unfortunately Abbot Luigi hasn’t ever been safe for long, and pranksters have removed his head several times! When I took his photo yesterday, he was headless again, poor thing! Like Marforio, Abbot Luigi can’t talk too well today because he has been fenced off—probably to protect him from vandals.
A few blocks up the street from Abbot Luigi and across the street from Marforio lives Madama Lucrezia, the only female talking statue. She’s quite large, but she, too, is hidden away in a corner of Piazza di San Marco, to the left of the entrance to the Basilica di San Marco. Piazza di San Marco is just off Piazza Venezia—to the right as you walk toward the Vittorio Emanuelle II Monument. Wiki says that Madama Lucrezia was the subject of competing verses from Pasquino and Marforio. Today the sweet old thing sits quietly alone in her corner. No commentary is posted on her, and no one stops to visit.
A few blocks north on Via del Corso from Madama Lucrezia is the Fontana del Facchino (facchino means “the porter”). As you leave Madama Lucrezia, turn left from Via del Corso onto Via Lata, and there Facchino sits). Unlike the other talking statues, Facchino is a mere baby—he was sculpted in 1580.
Last but not least, a couple of blocks north of the Spanish Steps on the left side of Via del Babuino lives Il Babuino (the baboon). He is one ugly statue—half man, half goat. Wiki says that he was named Il Babuino because the people of Rome “considered the ancient statue ugly and deformed, like a monkey.” As recently as 2002 the wall behind Il Babuino was covered with postings and graffiti and the Fontana del Babuino was considered an eyesore. So the wall was painted with a kind of paint that prevents graffiti and keeps Il Babuino from talking. The wall was as clean as a whistle when we passed by it in April, so apparently the paint works.
Sadly, the faces of all of the statues except Marforio are broken and bashed, probably because they talked so much. But, hey, they’ve been talking for 500 years! Never let them silence you, my friends!