The joy of reunification seems short-lived: the Louvre only lent the bronze finger for the next five years.
The Capitoline Museums in Rome house the head, hand and globe – symbol of imperial power – of a colossal statue of Emperor Constantine the Great (273 – 337 AD). On the bronze hand of about a meter and a half, the entire index had been missing for centuries, in addition to a few knuckles. The Louvre had incorrectly categorized the finger as a toe.
In 2018, French scientist Aurelia Auzema was researching welding techniques when her eye fell on the toe. She made the connection with the ancient statue of the Roman Emperor, after which the Louvre sent a replica of the coin to Rome. The bronze finger of no less than 38 centimeters long turned out to be exactly suitable.
The antique index has long belonged to the private collection of 19th-century Italian banker and art collector Giampietro Campana. He owned one of the largest collections of Greek and Roman antiquities until it fell out of favor around 1860. The Louvre purchased various art treasures from its collection, after which the index disappeared in the deposit.
The finger was proudly received this week at the Capitoline Museums, celebrating their 550th anniversary this year. The director of museums, Claudio Presicce, told the Italian newspaper The messenger that the finger was “perfectly” restored on Wednesday “using a non-invasive, reversible and invisible system”. Reversibility is important because it is a temporary restoration. The finger has been loaned to the museum for the next five years, but will remain in the Louvre’s possession.
Artistic treasures regularly cause tensions between Italy and France. Italian politicians from the far-right Lega party argue that the masterpieces of artists such as Raphael and Da Vinci belong to Italy. At the end of the 18th century, the French Emperor Napoleon plundered much of Italian art, with the aim of making Paris the artistic capital of Europe. Shortly after Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, the Pope demanded the restitution of the works, but most of the confiscated pieces are still in the Louvre.