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Altar with Ivy and Ribbons in Relief

Roman art

This square and slightly tapered altar has protruding moulding at the top and bottom. The three visible sides are decorated with ivy vines and flowers, held up in the upper corners by fluttering ribbons and gathered in the middle with bows.

The sculpture was mentioned for the first time in 1859, when it was reported to be in Room III of the Villa Borghese and used as a base for the fountain with shepherds and a fisherman, as it still is today.

The sculpture relief is particularly elegant and refined and the decorative elements have very clearly defined edges, suggesting a date in the Augustan age, in the early first century CE.

Object details

prima metà I secolo d.C.
white marble
altezza cm 44; larghezza cm 63; profondità cm 50

Borghese Collection, cited for the first time in the Villa in 1859, in Room III (unpublished Descrizione dated 31 December 1859, Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Archivio Borghese, b. 425: Moreno 1997, pp. 50, 52–53, fig. 23); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., not present, added at a later date, no. 37. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1933 Cesare Fossi
  • 1996-97 Consorzio Capitolino di Elisabetta Zatti ed Elisabetta Caracciolo
  • 2022 Croma


The altar was installed in its current location in Room III sometime between 1841 and 1859, when it is described as the base for the fountain group with shepherds and a fisherman (inv. CVII) in an unpublished Descrizione dated 31 December 1859 (Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Archivio Borghese, b. 425: Moreno 1997, pp. 50, 52–53, fig. 23).

The square, slightly tapered sculpture has moulding at the top composed of a listel and a cyma reversa and moulding at the bottom comprising a cyma recta and a listel. Almost the entire surface of the front and sides is decorated with reliefs of lush ivy vines and flowers supported by taeniae. The ribbons start symmetrically from the two upper corners and the fluttering ends are arranged above and below the vines, which are in turn knotted in the field of the composition with a bow on top. The back, which is against the wall, is difficult to read. The foliage and flowers are elegantly rendered with particular care and clearly defined edges that lend the composition a chiaroscuro effect.

The decorative motifs share similarities with the foliage and flowers embellishing the upper register of the interior of the Ara Pacis, built in 9 BCE by Emperor Augustus.

In 1957, Calza questioned the antiquity of the sculpture, considering it a modern formulation of a decorative motif from the first century CE (1957, p. 16, no. 176). In 1980, Moreno dated it instead to 20–40 CE (2003, pp. 191–192, no. 171).

The low relief, simplicity of the decoration, elegance of the vines and shape of the flowers suggest a date for the monument in the Augustan age, in the early first century CE.

Giulia Ciccarello

  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 16, n. 176.
  • W. Helbig, H. Speier, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom, (4°Edizione), a cura di H. Speier, II, Tübingen 1966, p. 726, n. 1967 (Simon).
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 15, fig. 19.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 102.
  • O. Dräger, Religionem significare, Studien zu reichverzierten römischen Altären und Basen aus Marmor, in “Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Roemische Abteilung, Ergänzungsheft”, 33, München 1994, p. 223, n. 53, tav. 79.
  • P. Moreno, Le sculture antiche nella Stanza di Apollo e Dafne, in Apollo e Dafne del Bernini nella Galleria Borghese, a cura di K. Herrmann Fiore, Milano 1997, pp. 50, 52-53, fig. 23.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 112, n. 9b.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, pp. 191-192, n. 171.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/01008395, P. Moreno 1975; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.