Initially believed to be a toe, researchers have revealed a massive bronze index finger of ancient Roman provenance. Originally dated from circa 4th century AD, the finger was a part of the hand of an almost 40-ft tall colossal statue of Emperor Constantine, the remnants of which are kept in the Musei Capitolini in Rome. To that end, the Capitolini’s collection includes the huge head of the statue, along with a sphere, a left forearm, and hand – which is missing the palm (that held the sphere), a segment of its middle finger and most of its index finger. Interestingly enough, 12th-century archives also make mention of a crown that is now lost from the museum’s trove.
The collection of the statue parts rather coincide with the history of the Musei Capitolini, with the segments, originally kept in the Pope’s collection in the Piazza de Lateran, were gifted as exhibition pieces to the Capitolini when it started out as a museum in circa 1471 AD (under the patronage of Pope Sixtus IV ). As for the index finger in question here, it was sourced from Louvre which acquired the object in the 1860s (under the auspices of Napoleon III) from the trove of the famous (and later disgraced) Italian art collector Marquis Giampietro Campana.
Oddly enough, the object was registered simply as a ‘Roman toe’ in the early 20th century. However, a recent analysis kick-started by Aurelia Azema, a student who was working towards her doctorate on ancient welding techniques for the manufacture of large bronze statues, and is now a member of the National French Museums’ laboratory, brought forth the possibility of how the ‘toe’ could, in fact, be an index finger, based on its size (38 cm or 15 inches) relative to the length of the 40 ft statue.
Later on, Benoît Mille, a specialist of ancient metallurgy at the laboratory and Azema’s thesis director, continued with the assessment of the piece for an exhibition planned at the Louvre. Yet another researcher at the museum’s laboratory – archaeologist Nicolas Melard, was successful in reconstructing a replica of the anatomical segment by using 3D modeling techniques. And finally, a collaborative effort from Musei Capitolini and Louvre resulted in the revelation of how the finger, previously thought to be a toe, was a perfect fit for the hand of the Roman Emperor.
As for the historical side of affairs, the study of this index finger shed light into its hollow cast, which rather conforms to the statue’s indirect lost-wax casting process, and showcases stylistic similarities with the pieces kept in Rome. And since we brought up history, in an interesting twist, there are a few scholars who believe that the statue actually represents Constantius II, who was the successor to Constantine and bore a physical resemblance to him.