Originally located in different places in the city of Rome, the so-called talking statues are perhaps one of the best expressions of that genuine roman soul, naturally inclined to satire and bearing an irreverent attitude towards the power and its ostentation. Their story started during the Papal era, when the people began to hang libels at the neck of these satirical sculptures.
If today the famous Pasquino is the only survivor, once the list was longer and included statues that have often given their names to the places in which they were found (this is the case of Piazza di Pasquino or Via del Babuino). The other statues are Marforio in the courtyard of the Capitoline Museum, Madama Lucrezia in Piazza San Marco, the Abate Luigi in Piazza Vidoni, the Facchino in Via Lata, and the Babuino in Via del Babuino.
Our Pasquino is a statue of the Hellenistic period (dating back to the 3rd century BC), and what remains of it is actually a fragment of two bodies, one of which probably depicting a Greek Warrior, possibly Menelaus, supporting the body of the dying Patroclus. It seems that originally the statue, discovered in 1501 as a result of nearby excavations, was on display in the stadium of Domitian, i.e. the present Piazza Navona. It was eventually moved to the current location, that is the old Piazza di Parione (which is also the name of that district) and that today is known as Piazza di Pasquino.
The name of the statue is as mysterious as its origins and so is what it represents. There are different tales about and the most accredited tells that the name Pasquino was that of a craftsman of Rione Parione (a Barber or a tailor or a shoemaker), famous for his satirical vein. According to others it is that of a restaurateur who was exhibiting his own verses in that square. Finally, other versions speak of teachers of Latin grammar and characters from the Boccaccio’s Decameron. I like to think that a statue so popular, that gave voice to the Roman people so cleverly, took its name from one of the most humble member of the community, a shopkeeper, an artisan or a restaurateur addicted to poetry and the mind full of irreverent satire.
The cartels and satirical posters that were hung around the neck of the talking statues began to appear during the so called Papal age as invective, jokes and poems against representatives of the temporal power of the papacy. The Popes were often the target of bitter satires, and more than one Pope tried to have the statue of Pasquino removed, but always advised against doing so by those who knew the Roman people and its possible, uncontrollable reactions in the event of such censorship. At times, guards were placed at night to watch the talking statues but this did not stop anonymous to keep on hanging billboards behind their backs.
Later in history, the statues were often used as a billboard for the “electoral campaigns” during the election of new Popes or as a free space for propaganda against political opponents. The activity of this popular form of communication was momentarily interrupted following the defeat of the papal army and the annexation of Rome to the new Kingdom of Italy. Also in more recent times the people of Rome have seen new actions by Pasquino related to current events, either international or local. Anyhow, the period of “silence” that followed the breach of Porta Pia was never total and sporadic outbreaks would occur to renew one of the traditions that best tell what the Romanesque invective has always meant to the people of Rome.
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