Giant statue of Roman emperor reunited with long-lost finger

Bronze finger found at Louvre is remounted on to Constantine’s hand at museum in Rome

A huge statue of the hand of Constantine the Great in Rome has been reunited with its missing finger after more than 500 years.

The 38cm-long bronze index finger, found in the Louvre in Paris in 2018, was remounted on to the statue at Rome’s Capitoline Museums on Wednesday.

The finger was “perfectly” restored to its rightful place “using a non-invasive, reversible and invisible system”, the director of the museums, Claudio Parisi Presicce, told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero.

The Louvre had mistakenly categorised the finger as a toe until an eagle-eyed researcher, Aurélia Azéma, established that it was the long-lost digit from the hand of the Roman emperor’s 12m-high (39ft) statue, fragments of which had been kept at the Capitoline Museums.

The ancient relic was among a collection acquired by the Louvre from the Italian banker and art collector Giampietro Campana in 1863. Campana, who died in 1880, brought together one of the 19th century’s greatest collections of Roman and Greek antiquities.

In 1913, the Paris museum had categorised the finger as a Roman toe and it was not until 2018 that it was recategorised. Azéma, a doctoral student, made the discovery during her research into ancient welding techniques for large bronze statues. She realised that the fractured finger would fit a statue around 12m tall, leading to the theory that it may be Constantine’s missing index figure.

The missing finger.
The missing finger. Photograph: Hervé Lewandowski/RMNGP (musée du Louvre)

The Louvre’s archaeologist, Nicolas Melard, used a 3D technique to make a replica of the finger, which was taken to Rome in June 2018 by Louvre curators Françoise Gaultier and Sophie Descamps. The copy turned out to be the exact fit.

Among the fragments of the statue on display at the Capitoline Museums are a massive head, a left forearm and sphere. The hand is also missing its palm, which held the sphere, and part of its middle finger.

The index finger is believed to have come off when the sphere was separated from the hand and placed on top of a column standing at the first mile of the Appian Way, the earliest and most important road of the Roman empire, in 1584.

It is unclear where the missing finger was before being collected by Campana, but it was recently brought back to Rome in impact-resistant packaging.

“It’s a good way to mark the reopening of museums,” said Rome’s mayor, Virginia Raggi. Museums in the Italian capital reopened on Monday after coronavirus restrictions were eased.


Angela Giuffrida in Rome

The GuardianTramp

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