It may not be authentic, or even very old, at all.
But the colossal statue of a 4th-century emperor, Constantine the Great, is at the very least a newly erected monument in Rome: a tribute to the grandeur of the ancient city and its infinite capacity to remake itself.
In this case, the redesign was literal.
Towering over visitors, the 43-foot seated statue was painstakingly reconstructed by a Madrid-based digital art group, Factum Foundation, from the 10 known fragments of the original sculpture. The reconstructed statue was installed this week in a garden at Rome’s Capitoline Museums, near where the Temple of Jupiter, the most important temple in ancient Rome, once stood.
“Seeing Constantine, on top of Capitol Hill, looking out over all of Rome, he feels extraordinary,” said Adam Lowe, founder of the Factum Foundation, which originally created the statue for a Exhibition 2022 at the Prada Foundation in Milan.
The head and most of the other fragments of the colossal statue were discovered in 1486, in the ruins of a building not far from the Colosseum. They were transferred to what eventually became the Capitol collection, and nine of these ancient fragments – including a monumental head, feet and hand – are on permanent display in museums.
The fragments became famous as soon as they were excavated, said Salvatore Settis, an archaeologist and one of the curators of the Prada exhibition. “They were engraved by leading artists starting in the 15th century,” he said, adding that the sculpture also attracted the attention of more modern artists like Robert Rauschenberg, who photographed these pieces in the 1950s.
Five hundred years and many more technological advances later, a team from the Factum Foundation spent three days using photogrammetry, a 3D scan with a camera, to record the fragments in the Capitol courtyard. Over the course of several months, the high-resolution data became 3D prints, which were used to cast replicas in acrylic resin and marble powder.
These were then integrated with other body parts – those missing from Constantine – which were constructed after historical research and discussions with curators and experts. A statue of Emperor Claudius as the god Jupiter, which stands today on the ancient Roman altar known as Ara Pacis, served as a model for the pose and drapery, which were originally in bronze.
“It was through the evidence from these fragments, working a bit like forensic scientists, with all the experts from different disciplines, that we were able to reconstruct something that is absolutely impressive,” Lowe said, adding that the New technologies offered museums new avenues of research and dissemination.
“We’re not trying to build a fake object,” he added. “We’re trying to build something that engages you physically and emotionally and stimulates you intellectually.”
Recent studies of the statue suggest that the statue of Constantine was itself reworked from an existing colossus, possibly representing Jupiter. Irrefutable signs of retouching are particularly present on the face of the colossal statue, according to Claudio Parisi Presicce, Rome’s top municipal art official, director of the Capitoline Museums and an expert on the colossus.
Indeed, some experts hypothesize that the sculpture was originally the cult statue of a temple dedicated to Jupiter – the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus – which would mean that the facsimile of Constantine eventually returned home .
“We can’t be sure it’s the same statue, but it’s possible it is,” Mr Settis said. Constantine, the first emperor to convert to Christianity, may have specifically chosen a statue of Jupiter to turn into an icon of himself. “It’s a hypothesis,” he said. “This would mark a shift in Western Europe from pagan to Christian empire.”
The statue will be on display in the Capitol grounds at least until the end of 2025, authorities said. Where it will go next, and whether it will withstand the ravages of time better than its fractured original, remain open questions.
But its creators at least tried to make it solid.
“Everything will be as good as anything outside,” Mr. Lowe said. “We hope. Of course, even at the opening there were pigeons sitting on his head. I’m afraid there’s not much you can do about that.»