The Torlonia Collection: Stupendously Marvelous Ancient Sculptures

Larger Than Life: Art that inspires us through the ages
October 10, 2020 Updated: October 12, 2020

On Oct. 14, a selection of over 90 ancient marble sculptures from one of the world’s most prestigious private collections, The Torlonia Collection, will be on display in an exhibition titled “The Torlonia Marbles: Collecting Masterpieces” at Rome’s Capitolini Museums at Villa Caffarelli

Comprising several important collections, the exhibited marbles are a small portion of the over 600 in the Torlonia Collection, known wholly as the collection of collections, according to the press release. 

Torlonia Collection
Group of restored sculptures: Two statues of Isis in gray morato marble stand in front of the busts of emperors and the bust of a drunken satyr. (Lorenzo De Masi/Torlonia Foundation)

Rome is particularly important in the history of art collecting—as the birthplace of collecting ancient sculptures for private display. Through the “Torlonia Marbles” exhibition, curators Salvatore Settis and Carlo Gasparri, who are archaeologists and art historians from the Academie dei Lincei, chart the history of collecting ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. 

Torlonia Collection
Girl from Vulci. Torlonia Collection. (Lorenzo De Masi/Torlonia Foundation)

The exhibition begins with the Torlonia Museum founded in 1875 by Prince Alessandro Torlonia, in an old grain store, to publicly display his vast collection. There it remained until the museum’s closure in the 1940s. This section replicates the original museum layout, which only small groups accessed.

The rest of the exhibition explores how the Torlonia Collection came together, traveling chronologically backward. For instance, it starts in the 19th century, when the Torlonia family excavated their vast estates. Some of what they discovered is on display.

Torlonia Collection

Sculptural relief of a port. Torlonia Collection. (Lorenzo De Masi/Torlonia Foundation)

Moving further back in time, we see the 18th-century collection of one of Rome’s finest art restorers of ancient statuary: sculptor Bartolomeo Cavaceppi. Included in Cavaceppi’s collection are rare, ancient sculpture collections from 15th- and 16th-century collectors; most collections from such times had been dispersed.

The Torlonia family also acquired the most remarkable marbles from the 17th-century collection of Marquis Vincenzo Giustiniani. In his collection are the astonishing statues of the goddess Hestia Giustiniani and King Euthydemus of Bactriana, and an astounding array of imperial busts and portraits.

Torlonia Collection
Hestia Giustiniani. Although the statue is named Hestia, the statue may represent the goddesss Hera or Demeter, according to the University of Cambridge, Museum of Classical Archaeology Database. (Lorenzo De Masi/Torlonia Foundation)

 

Torlonia Collection
King Euthydemus of Bactriana. Torlonia Collection. (Lorenzo De Masi/Torlonia Foundation)
Torlonia Collection
Old man from Otricoli. Torlonia Collection. (Lorenzo De Masi/Torlonia Foundation)

The exhibition ends in the Marcus Aurelius Exedra, a hall displaying sculptures from the Capitolini Museums’ collection. Here, the curators connect the privately owned Torlonia Collection to some of Rome’s famous ancient sculptures, donated by Pope Sixtus IV in 1471 to be part of a public collection: the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, the Capitoline she-wolf, and the bronzes of the Laterano.  

The exhibition is the result of an agreement between the Italian Heritage and Tourism Ministry and the Fondazione Torlonia.  

“The Torlonia Marbles: Collecting Masterpieces” exhibition at Rome’s Capitolini Museums at Villa Caffarelli runs until Jun. 29, 2021, when it then embarks on an international tour that includes Washington. To find out more, visit FondazioneTorlonia.org

Torlonia Collection
Statues of a nymph and a satyr, replica of the group “Invitation to Dance.” (Lorenzo De Masi/Torlonia Foundation)
Torlonia Collection
Elena Cagnoni restores the Cesi cup, which depicts the Labors of Hercules. (Lorenzo De Masi/Torlonia Foundation)
Torlonia Collection
Statue of a billy goat at rest. Torlonia Collection. (Lorenzo De Masi/Torlonia Foundation)
Torlonia Collection
A group of restored sculptures: To the left is a statue of the billy goat at rest. A caryatid stands on the far right: A female statue used as an architectural support, such as a column, to support an entablature.  (Lorenzo De Masi/Torlonia Foundation)
Torlonia Collection
Statue of the Greek hero Meleager, who was also one of the Argonauts. Torlonia Collection. (Lorenzo De Masi/Torlonia Foundation)
Torlonia Collection
A group of restored sculptures: In the front row, a statue of a kneeling warrior is next to a statue of Aphrodite, a replica of the Venus de’ Medici. Torlonia Collection. (Lorenzo De Masi/Torlonia Foundation)