Bocca della Verità
La Bocca della Verità (English: the Mouth of Truth) is an image, carved from Pavonazzo marble, of a man-like face, located in the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, Italy. The sculpture is thought to be part of a first-century ancient Roman fountain, or perhaps a manhole cover, portraying one of several possible pagan gods, probably Oceanus. Most Romans believe that the 'Bocca' represents the ancient god of the river Tiber.
The most famous characteristic of the Mouth, however, is its role as a lie detector. Starting from the Middle Ages, it was believed that if one told a lie with one's hand in the mouth of the sculpture, it would be bitten off. There was also a medieval legend, wrongly believed to originate with the Roman poet Virgil, of an adulterous empress who managed to deceive her husband in a trial using the Mouth. This is an infrequent subject in medieval and Renaissance art, forming part of the Power of Women literary topos. The piece was placed in the portico of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin in the 17th century. This church is also home to the supposed relics of Saint Valentine.
The Mouth of Truth is known to English-speaking audiences mostly from its appearance in the 1953 film Roman Holiday. The film also uses the Mouth of Truth as a storytelling device since both Hepburn's and Peck's characters are not initially truthful with each other.
In Het geheim van de afgebeten vingers by Dutch writer Rindert Kromhout, the fingers of lying children are cut off by a skeleton with a scythe who lives in the Capuchin Crypt in the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini.
Replicas and similar sculptures
Electronic coin-operated reproductions of the Mouth are found in fairgrounds of Spain, Hungary and even Japan, at some motorway service stations in the UK and Croatia, usually together with photo booths. There is also a full size replica of the Mouth of Truth at the private Pikake Botanical Gardens in Valley Center, California.
In France at Parc Astérix, one reproduction of the Mouth is used as a bin and thanks the people dropping garbage down its throat.
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