Today, 21 April, the founding of Rome is commemorated, and it may be nice to tell the story behind the photo of Marcus Aurelius‘ equestrian statue.
The real statue has been removed from the Piazza del Campidoglio in 1981 or so; I don’t know exactly, but when I visited the city for the first time in ’82, it was already gone. The old piece of art had become too vulnerable, needed repairs, and is now in the Palazzo dei Conservatori. For many years, there was only an empty pedestal, but in 1997, a copy was ready, and so we went to the Capitol, to see what would happen. It was 21 April.
A white, plastic drapery covered the new statue, and the idea was that the mayors of several cities in the world called Rome would, together with mayor Francesco Rutelli, unveil the monument. However, the wind caught the drapery, and the emperor’s head was already visible when we arrived on the hill. Soon, an arm unveiled itself, and not much later, the horse started to shake off the cover from its head. Someone urged the people to leave, because the plastic drapery had to be reattached to the statue to allow the television cameras to have some nice footage. Many people protested. They had arrived early to see everything well, and were afraid to lose their front row positions.
At that moment, Mr Rutelli intervened. Clearly improvising his speech, he said that if the emperor himself decided to address his people, it was improper for lower officials to speak. He quoted from the Meditations, someone – perhaps the mayors, I could not see – took away the remaining piece of the plastic veil, and that was the end of the ceremony. I have some nice photos of the partly covered statue, but this one, with the backlighting, is one of my favorites.