Giant Finger of Emperor Constantine Found At Last
Experts at the Louvre Museum in Paris have made a rather important but strange discovery. They have discovered that an apparent bronze toe, is in fact a finger, and it belongs to a famous statue of the Roman Emperor Constantine. The identification of the finger is helping to add to our knowledge of the famous colossal bronze statue of Emperor Constantine in the Capitoline Museum in Rome, one of the most world-renowned of all statues from Antiquity.
Emperor Constantine: the man who changed Rome
Emperor Constantine was perhaps one of the most important but somewhat controversial men in Roman history. He was a ferocious general and under his leadership, he re-unified the Roman Empire and ended the experiment of Diocletian rule by four Co-Emperors.
Constantine is perhaps best known for legalizing Christianity in Rome after he received a vision the night before the great Battle of Milvian Bridge (323 AD). The Emperor was also a great builder and he laid the foundation for the city of Constantinople and in doing so, laid the foundations for the Byzantine Empire, a power in the Mediterranean for over a thousand years. He also established a new dynasty, the Constantinian, which ruled the Roman World until 364 AD.
Colossal marble head of Emperor Constantine the Great, Roman, 4 th century, located in the Capitoline Museums in Rome. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The Bronze Finger of the Emperor
The Art Newspaper reported that the newly identified finger belongs to the famous bronze statue of Constantine that once stood in Ancient Rome at an unknown location. It has long since been torn down, but extensive fragments of the masterpiece are kept in the Capitolini in Rome. They were donated by a Pope in 1471 with other great works from Ancient Rome such as the famous She-Wolf. The head of the giant bronze of Constantine is almost intact and it is believed to give a good likeness of Constantine I, but some experts claim that the statue represents his grandson Constantine II.
The newly identified finger, that was once mistaken for a toe, is 38 cm in length. How the finger arrived at the Louvre from Rome is something of a mystery. It was first catalogued in 1860 and probably belonged to the ‘collection of the Italian Marquis Giampietro Campana’, according to the Archaeology Magazine. The object was not registered for many years and it was only in 1913 that it received a reference number and was presumably mislabelled as a toe. No-one suspected that it belonged to the famous bronze statue of Emperor Constantine in Rome.
The discovery that the finger was not a toe was due to the work of Aurelia Azema. She began ‘to study the object for her doctorate on ancient welding techniques for the manufacture of large bronze statues’. Azema noticed that the length of the object was probably too long for a toe. She then related the length of the finger to the dimensions of the statue of Constantine, which was an impressive 12 meters tall (39.3 feet). The researcher argued that the bronze object was a missing index figure from the statue of the renowned Emperor.
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The head, hand and sphere from the colossal bronze statue of Constantine I in the Capitoline Museums in Rome (Andy Montgomery / flickr)
To definitively prove that the object belongs to the bronze of the Emperor, it was decided to see if a replica of the finger would fit with the existing fragments of the Capitoline’s statue. In the Louvre’s laboratory, an expert employed a 3D modeling process to produce a replica of the finger. After a replica of the bronze finger was created it was taken to the Capitoline Museum in Rome, by a team of scientists and curators from the Louvre. The replica was an exact fit with the bronze fragments. This proved the thesis of Azema beyond any doubt.
The discovery of the index finger is encouraging experts to re-evaluate the bronze statue. It is helping them to better understand the original statute. Perhaps most importantly it might lead to other researchers looking for fragments of the bronze colossus of the Emperor who transformed the Roman Empire in the 4 th century AD. However, questions about the statue will endure such as the exact original location of the bronze figure.
Top image: The hand missing its index finger from a monumental bronze statue of Constantine. Photo ©José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC by SA 4.0.