pasquino2From the end of the 16th and for most of the 17th century, certain statues became a focal point for cutting satires and other works by unknown writers.

The so-called “Talking Statues” were those positioned on the city’s busiest roads, which were secretly posted at night with satirical verses or humanistic dialogue directed at people in power, very often the pope himself.

The malcontent of the people expressed in such a way was also used as propaganda to fight protected adversaries.

In a short time, Romans started to name these statues. “Madame Lucrezia,” the female bust which perhaps depicts a vestal, for example, got her name from a lady who lived in the same Piazza San Marco where the statue is located.

Il “Facchino” (the porter), which depicts a man pouring water from a barrel was initially located in Palazzo De Carolis but is now in via Lata. There was also “Abate Luigi” (Friar Lawrence) and the “Babuino” (the baboon), but the most famous of all is the “Pasquino” (Pasquin), from which the name for these celebrated anonymous lampoons was taken, “Pasquinate.”

Since 1501, this statue has been located in the piazza to the rear of Piazza Navona, which is now called Piazza Pasquino. It is a male bust probably dating back to the 3rd century BC. It is difficult to discern the true subject due to its battered state, but it is most likely an ancient Greek hero or king. Even the origin of its name is uncertain but it could have been derived from the fact that he was found in a barber’s shop or tavern, the owner of which was named Pasquino.

One of the best known “Pasquinate” was directed at Pope Urban VIII of the Barberini family, who had pillaged metal from the Pantheon to construct the altar canopy or baldachin in St. Peters. It read, “quod non fecerunt Barbari, fecerunt Barberini.” (What the Barbarians did not do, has been done by the Barberini).

Another famous statue to the rear of the Pasquino is that of “Marforio” (the reclined figure of the river god Oceanus). It is currently housed in the courtyard of Palazzo Nouvo in the Capitoline Museums.

The Papal authorities did not tolerate Pasquinate for long and soon guards stood night and day to prevent their display along with severe penalties for the authors, though none were ever convicted.

During the 19th century, the statutes had a period of silence, but their protests returned during Hitler’s visit to Rome. 
“Poor Rome, my travertine city! They have dressed you in cardboard packed up in readiness for your next owner.”

And again when Gorbachev visited the city.
“I can’t swallow Perestroika; it goes down but comes back up. What do you reckon to letting it go and start looking around you?”