Art | May 3, 2021 2:41 pm

How Constantine the Great Got His Finger Back, in Statue Form

The missing digit was discovered at the Louvre

A bronze statue of Constantine the Great with his finger returned at the Capitoline Museums
When giving someone the finger is a good thing.
©Musei Capitolini/Photo: Zeno Colantoni

If you’ve ever visited the Capitoline Museums in Rome, you might have seen a statue of Constantine the Great. It’s hard to miss: the statue is just a bit more than life-size, and when complete stood 39 feet tall. As one might expect from something dating back to ancient Rome — Constantine was emperor around 1,700 years ago — the statue isn’t exactly intact these days. Still, the fragments give a good sense of its scale and aesthetic.

And now, there’s one more piece of the statue that’s been found — a few countries away, as it turns out. ARTnews reports that one of Constantine’s fingers was discovered at the Louvre, where it had been misfiled until recently. And while that might sound like the plot of a borderline-absurdist piece of metafiction — paging George Saunders — it is very, very real.

In 1913, the missing digit was classified in the Louvre’s system as a toe. The error persisted for over a century. Finally, in 2018, a doctoral student named Aurélia Azéma uncovered the error, prompting the Louvre to reach out to the Capitoline Museums.

After the discovery, a 3D-printed version of the finger was attached to the statue. According to ARTnews, the genuine article was reattached last week. It’s one of the rare instances where giving something the finger is a gesture of good will.