Tuesday, August 30, 2022

La Bocca della Verità

The Mouth of Truth is a 1300kg Pavonazzo [Phrygian] marble mask said variously to represent Oceanus, Tiberinus, Faun, Triton, Mercury, or Jupiter Ammon.

It dates back to the 1st century AD [1] and is thought to have originally been an ancient Roman fountain decoration or a cistern cover.

At some point, the mask was moved to the Piazza Bocca della Veritá, which was the site of a Roman forum and commercial center.

Piazza della Bocca della Veritá

The mask was supposedly kept within the Temple of Hercules Invictus, until it was moved to its current location at the Basilica di Santa Maria de Schola Graeca in 1632.

Santa Maria de Schola Graeca

Legends surrounding the Mouth of Truth were propagated during medieval times through the Marvels of the City of Rome and other texts. The mask was attributed with oracular powers of making pronouncements regarding the truth of statements made by those brought before it (or not) [2]. An anonymous 14th century German text also claimed that Virgil [3] was responsible for giving the Mouth of Truth its powers.

The typical story surrounding the Mouth of Truth is centered around a type of trial by ordeal in which someone who is accused of a crime (or has taken an oath), places their hand in the mouth of the statue, which will bite off the hand if the person tells/has told a lie.

Representations of the statue vary in their depiction, with some Northern European artists apparently using the Brunswick Lion as a reference.

I've never seen the original Bocca della Verità, but I saw a replica at the VenusFort shopping mall in Japan (the mall has recently closed down due to massive redevelopment of the entire Palette Town complex).

Odaiba, Tokyo-to

Another replica is located not far from me in the northern San Diego area at the Alta Vista Botanical Gardens.

Vista, CA

The Mouth of Truth also makes appearances in various films and video games as well.

Roman Holiday, 1953

Only You, 1994

Tomb Raider Chronicles

Animal Crossing

As far as miniatures go, I have a couple of gashapon novelty figures from Epoch that present a humorous take on the Mouth of Truth.

The Shinjitsu no Kuchi-san no Shinjitsu (真実の口さんの真実) series consists of five poses (I. 真実の口さんの真実, II. 真実は激オコ, III. 真実は手が主食, IV. 真実はベー, V. 真実は休憩中).

The figures I have are pose IV (The Truth is Going Behhh), and pose V (The Truth is Taking a Break).

The diameter of the mask on the gacha-figures is 27mm, which scales out to about 1/66 scale, but given that the diameter of the actual mask is variously reported as being anywhere from 1.66m to 1.8m, it would be close to 1/72 scale using the larger diameter.

I'll probably sculpt a base modeled after the one on the actual statue sometime in the future to make a more accurate representation.

[1] Some sources claim the mask dates back to the time of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and that it was originally one of many drainage covers of the Cloaca Maxima.

[2] I cannot find any version of the Mirabilia Urbis Romae with the oft quoted statement "Take your interlocutor to the Faun's mask, and you will understand whether he is telling you right or wrong." but I did find one version where the oracle was said to have deceived Flavius Claudius Julianus.

[3] For some reason, there are sources that claim the text refers to Virgilius Maro Grammaticus who was known as a grammarian, as opposed to the Virgil, who in the popular imagination of the Middle Ages was endowed with magical powers.

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