Sunday, July 20, 2014

Talking Statues 2: Marforio and Madama Lucrezia

Marforio, in the Musei Capitolini

In Part 2 of this three-part post on the Talking Statues of Rome, we will talk about Marforio and Madama Lucrezia.  For the background to this post, see the previous post here, or if you're in a hurry, make do with

The Short Recap: 

In Renaissance Rome, poetry was a weapon.  Free speech was not exactly a commonly-held value in those days – at least not by the people in charge – but the Roman people had plenty on their minds, and it tended to come out in the form of scurrilous, anonymous verse  

Around the beginning of the 16th century, these entertaining but not-very-polite poems started appearing on a statue.  In time, this first “talking statue” was joined by five others in various parts of town.  Together, they became known as the “Congregation of Wits.”  The messages were posted in the dead of night, and next morning people would cluster around to read them. 

For all those hundreds of years, the people in charge have wished they could silence the talking statues, but at least some of the statues are still finding ways to “speak,” and their barbs have been felt by leaders as recent as Berlusconi and beyond.



This elegant reclining statue, known to the Romans as Marforio, was the conversational partner of Pasquino, the first of the talking statues (discussed here in last week's post).  Somehow these two, although distant from one another, got into the habit of exchanging comments or asking each other questions.  In one famous exchange, Marforio plays straight man to Pasquino as they poke rhyming fun at Pope Clement XI (1700-21) and his obsession with revitalizing the city of Urbino:

Marforio:  Dimmi, che fai, Pasquino?

Pasquino:  Eh, guardo Roma, che non vada a Urbino.

(Tell me, Pasquino, what are you doing?  I'm watching Rome, so it doesn't get moved to Urbino.)

Marforio, a colossal statue of -- possibly -- a river god, has had quite a variety of homes in Rome.    Originally found near the Arch of Septimius Severus, he was already a landmark in Rome in the late 12th century, but once he started speaking his mind, he wasn't going to be allowed to stay there.  Too accessible, too public.

Marforio's original neighborhood
In 1588, Pope Sixtus V (I've always loved that name...) moved Marforio to Piazza San Marco.  Then in 1592, our loquacious hunk of marble moved on to decorate a fountain in the Piazza del Campidoglio, on a wall of the Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, facing the Palazzo dei Conservatori.

But even then there was to be no rest for a talking statue.  Finally, in 1679, Marforio moved one last time, inside the Palazzo Nuovo di Campidoglio, where now he languishes, an inmate of the Musei Capitolini.  The excuse was preservation, but many believed it was to remove him from Rome's lively street conversation.

Marforio's name, by the way, may have derived from an inscription near where he was originally found, which said "mare in foro" (the sea in the forum).  It may also have derived from the Marioli (aka Marfuoli) family, who owned property in the area.  And at various times he's been thought to represent Oceanus, Jupiter, Neptune, and the Tiber. 

Madama Lucrezia

The only female member of this chatty Gang of Six is the redoubtable Madama Lucrezia,  the colossal bust of a statue of a priestess of Isis (or possibly of Isis herself, or, some say, of the Empress Faustina).  The lady is located in a corner near the Basilica di San Marco and the Palazzo Venezia.  

She emerged from the ground near a Temple of Isis, in the vicinity of the Chiesa di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (near the Pantheon).  Dating from about the 3rd century BC, she fell into the hands of King Alfonso V of Naples, who then presented her to his mistress, Lucrezia d'Alagno, and it was for this lady that the statue was named.

Lucrezia (if it isn't Vittoria Colonna)
 After Alfonso's death in 1458, Lucrezia found it prudent to relocate to Rome, where she lived in the neighborhood where her namesake now dwells.  

Pie di Marmo
Some say this rather large foot, the famed Pie di Marmo (foot of marble), may once have supported Madama Lucrezia when she was whole, but no one is sure.

In the 18th century, May Day celebrations involved decking Madama Lucezia with necklaces of onions, garlic, carrots, and ribbons -- a perfect mix of festive and edible.  The poor people of the neighborhood then danced the Ballo dei Poveretti (dance of the poor people) around her.

 Madama Lucrezia took an unfortunate tumble in 1799 (perhaps that's what happened to her nose), when unrest among the people over Napoleon's invasion of Rome toppled her from her plinth.  To add insult to injury, she was promptly given a sign that translates, colloquially, to "I just can't stand it any more."  

But her most famous comment was a dig at Pope Urban VIII, of the Barberini family (pope from 1623-1644).  He had used the bronze tiles of the Pantheon for the canopy of St. Peter's, apparently not a popular choice in Rome, and this was the result:

Quod non fecerunt Barbari fecerunt Barberini.
 (What the barbarians did not do, the Barberini did.)

This couplet is sometimes ascribed to Pasquino, as if a female statue was not capable of coming up with such wit.  That reminds me of a little verse by Dorothy Parker, which goes like this:

Oscar Wilde
If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

Next time, we'll finish up with the final three talking statues:  Abate Luigi, Il Facchino, and Il Babuino.

Images in this blog are in the public domain, thanks to the generosity of their creators or to expired copyright, except for the Pie di Marmo photo, which is licensed to Lalupa via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, Wikimedia Commons.


Anonymous said...

These posts are sooo much fun Tinney! Thank you again. Eagerly awaiting part 3.

Tinney Heath said...

Thanks, Midori. This topic is really not in my usual time period, but I find the whole idea of these statues just irresistible.