A brief history of Rome's talking statues.
The tradition of Rome's talking statues dates back to the 16th century when the city's resident began to show their discontent against the oppressive power of the papacy with anonymous epigrams and satirical verses poking fun at religious and civil authorities.
These irreverent notes, written as if spoken by the statue, were affixed at night to avoid the author getting caught, and were read with hilarity by passersby the next morning before being removed.
Stendhal noted on his visit to Rome in 1816: “what the people of Rome desire above all else is a chance to show their strong contempt for the powers that control their destiny, and to laugh at their expense.”
The best known of Rome's talking statues is Pasquino, near Piazza Navona, which remains in use to this day and is regularly plastered with political messages and even small advertisements. However there are five other statue parlanti among the so-called "Congregation of Wits".
Located in the piazza of the same name, this damaged statue from the third century BC probably came from the Stadium of Domitian in what is today Piazza Navona. The caustic verses that Roman poets and thinkers attached to Pasquino were hugely popular and resulted in the term "pasquinade".
The popes of the day were irritated at being the butt of criticism, with Adrian VI allegedly talked out of his plan to have the statue thrown into the river Tiber, while Pope Benedict XIII took a harder line in 1728 by issuing an edict condemning anyone caught posting pasquinades on the statue to death. Pasquino was eventually put under surveillance at night to stop the practice, prompting Romans to seek other statues to vent their frustration and sarcasm.
Rome's only female talking statue, Madama Lucrezia is a large Roman bust, probably representing a priestess of Isis or even the goddess herself. The three-metre high statue sits on a plinth in a corner of Piazza S. Marco, just off the central Piazza Venezia.
It is thought that the badly-disfigured statue got its popular nickname in reference to the noblewoman Lucrezia D'Alagno, the mistress of Alfonso d'Aragona, King of Naples. She moved to Rome after the king's death in 1458 and lived in the present-day Palazzo Venezia outside which the statue is located today.
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