The colossal statue of Roman Emperor Constantine lost its finger after 500 years

Constantine's index finger has returned.  Photo of the Environmental Protection Agency
Constantine’s index finger has returned.Photo of the Environmental Protection Agency

The joy of reunification appears to be short-lived: the Louvre only introduced the bronze finger over the next five years.

The Capitoline Museums in Rome include the Head, Hand and Globe – a symbol of imperial power – of a colossal statue of Emperor Constantine the Great (273-337 AD). On the one-and-a-half-meter bronze hand, the entire index finger has been missing for centuries, as well as a few phalanges. The Louvre Museum incorrectly classifies the toe as the toe.

In 2018, French scientist Aurelia Auzema was researching welding techniques when her eye fell on the ‘toe’. It was attached to the antique statue of the Roman Emperor, after which the Louvre sent a replica of the piece to Rome. It turns out that a bronze finger at least 38 cm is quite suitable.

The antique index finger has always belonged to the private collection of the nineteenth-century Italian banker and art collector Giampietro Campana. It owned one of the largest collections of Greek and Roman antiquities until it fell out of popularity around 1860. The Louvre purchased many art treasures from its collection, after which the index finger disappeared in the warehouse.

The finger was proudly received this week at the Capitoline Museums, celebrating its 550th anniversary this year. The director of the museums, Claudio Pricic, told the Italian newspaper Prophet The finger was restored “completely” on Wednesday “using a non-invasive, reversible and invisible system.” The reversal is important because it is a temporary restoration. The finger was loaned to the museum for the next five years, but it will remain in the possession of the Louvre.

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Art treasures regularly cause tensions between Italy and France. Italian politicians from the far-right Lega party argue that masterpieces by artists such as Raphael and Da Vinci belong to Italy. At the end of the eighteenth century, the French Emperor Napoleon plundered much of Italian art, with the aim of making Paris the artistic capital of Europe. Shortly after Napoleon was defeated in 1815, the Pope requested that the works be restored, but most of the confiscated pieces remain in the Louvre.

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