Sculptures

Lancellotti Discobolus (Discus Thrower), II c. CE. From Rome, quartiere Esquilin

The artworks exhibited on the ground floor and first floor bear witness to the evolution of Roman sculpture in its progressive appropriation and imitation of the Greek models.

Among the masterpieces on display are: the Boxer at Rest, the Lancellotti Discobolus (Discus Thrower) the Hermaphroditus Asleep, the Maiden of Antium, the Dying Niobid and the Bronze Dyonisus.

Among the portraits of the emperors, some in particular stand out: the statue of Augustus as Pontifex Maximus (High Priest), the portraits of princes and princesses of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties, the head of Hadrian, the statue of Antoninus Pius, the bust of Septimius Severus.

Extraordinarily important are the Sarcophagus of Portonaccio, decorated with a scene of battle between Romans and Barbarians, and the sculptures that decorated the Ships of Nemi.

Augustus as Pontifex Maximus (High Priest)

Augustus as Pontifex Maximus (High Priest). Last decade of the 1st c. CE

The statue portrays Augustus intent on celebrating a sacrifice.

He wears the toga (robe) after the fashion of the final decades of the 1st century BCE: considered the Roman national costume, the toga had to be worn by magistrates and common citizens alike every time they entered public places. The Emperor has his head veiled, as was the practice of Roman priests during the sacred rites; probably in his right hand he once held the patera (the sacrificial cup) and in his left the volumen (papyrus scroll or parchment).

The portrait reproduces faithfully the distinctive traits of the Emperor's face like the dovetail motif, formed by the locks at the center of his fringe, or the slightly protruding cheekbones; the wrinkles on his forehead and at the sides of his nose are signs of advanced age. It is an example of the classicistic style, typical of the Augustan Age, in which the realistic traits are coupled with an expression of pensive and detached intensity. 

The work probably dates from the years immediately following 12 CE, when the Emperor assumed the priestly office of  Pontifex Maximus (High Priest).

The statue was executed in separate parts, according to a technique of Hellenistic tradition, using diverse varieties of marble (Greek for the exposed parts, Italic for the garments).

Dying Niobid

Dying Niobid

The statue represents a young woman who, wounded to death by an arrow, falls to her knees striving to extract it. In her we can recognize one of the daughters of Niobe, the mythical queen who, mother to seven sons and seven daughters, dared boast of being more prolific than Leto and for this reason was punished by Apollo and Artemis with the murder of her children. 

According to a recent and evocative hypothesis (by E. La Rocca), the statue, a Greek original dateable between 440 and 430 BCE, was part of the pedimental group of the Temple of Apollo Daphnephoros at Eretria. 

It was transferred to Rome in the Augustan Age by the Roman general Gaius Sosius, who had it placed as a decoration in one of the sides of the pediment of the Temple of Apollo built at his own expense in the Circus Flaminius.

The myth of the Niobids was, in fact, extremely suitable for emphasizing the affinity between Apollo, the avenger God, and the emperor Augustus, avenger of his adoptive father, Julius Caesar, as well as protector of Gaius Sosius. The statue would be successively moved to the Horti Sallustiani (Gardens of Sallust), perhaps as a component of an open air ornamental complex.

 

Discobolus (Discus Thrower)

Discobolus Lancellotti

Two copies of the 2nd c. CE from a bronze original of the fifth-century sculptor Myron, much celebrated by the ancient writers as a fundamental work for the study of the athletic figure in motion.

The Lancelotti Discobolous, discovered in 1871 on the Esquiline Hill in an area anciently occupied by villas and gardens and then entered into the collections of Palazzo Massimo-Lancellotti, during World War II was transferred to Germany and returned to Italy in 1948.

Executed in the Antonine Age, because of its lack of tridimensionality it is considered one of the closest replicas to the original, generally dated from about 450 BCE.

On the other hand, the Discobolus from Castel Porziano, unfortunately lacking the head, was found in 1906 among the remains of an Imperial villa in the estate of Castel Porziano.

It constitutes a more naturalistic and evolved version in comparison with the Lancelloti copy, which perhaps was executed in the age of Hadrian, as suggested by the support in the shape of a palm trunk and by the shape of the plinth.

Bronze Dyonisus

Bronze Dyonisus

The god is represented naked in a youthful aspect, with the right leg extended and the left one slightly bent, the right arm is extended while the left one is bent and in his hand he holds a thyrsus. The head, slightly oriented towards the right and the eyes looking downwards. Some details are executed with the technique of the damascening, which the insertion of leaves of other metals in the lowered surface of the sculpture: copper for the anatomical details (lips, nipples) and for the diadem, decorated with copper and silver triangles, berries and ivy leaves. The orbits of the eyes are, in contrast, in ivory and the irises, lacking, were probably made of coloured hard stone or vitreous paste.

The schema of the figure, denoting the influence of Polykleitos in the execution of the limbs but also the knowledge of the Praxitelic art, shown in the gentle movement of the head and in the sinous aspect of the hips, is ascribable to a famous statuary model created about the mid-4th century BCE, the so-called Dyonisus of the Woburn Abbey type, known through around 20 exemplars. Other elements, like the bent right arm, the hairdressing of long curling locks and the rendition of the eyes enable us to consider the work as an eclectic creation of the mid-imperial age, a reflection of the classicistic taste of that epoch.

Sarcophagus of Portonaccio

Sarcophagus of Portonaccio (Last quarter of the 2nd c. CE). From Via Tiburtina,

The fore part of the grand sarcophagus represents a battle scene staged  on several planes and focused on the haughty advance of a Roman knight depicted in the capacity of universal victor.

The dramatic animation of the combat is emphasized by means of the deep chiaroscuro obtained thanks to a skillful use of intaglios.

The sanguinary scenes are framed by two couples of captive barbarians, whose woebegone expressions convey the torment incumbent on those who rebel against the rule of Rome. The bas-reliefs on the sides of the sarcophagus show events subsequent to the clash: on one side, barbarian prisoners crossing a river led by Roman soldiers along a boat bridge, on the other side the chieftains submitting to the Roman officials.

The frieze on the lid, between two corner mascarons, celebrates the deceased and his spouse, portrayed in the centre in the act of the dextrarum iunctio (clasping of right hands). The faces of the main personages were left unfinished, awaiting the features of the deceased to be sculpted. The decoration of the sarcophagus, inspired by many scenes of the Antonine Column, is dateable to about 180 CE.

The military insignia on the upper rim of the case - the eagle of the Legio IIII Flavia (Fourth Flavian Legion) and the boar of the Legio I Italica (First Italic Legion) - allow the identification of the deceased as Aulus Iulius Pompilius, official of Marcus Aurelius,  in command of two cavalry squadrons drafted to these two legions during the Marcomannic Wars.