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Base composed of unrelated fragments: panel with cupids holding up a tablet; fragment with Dionysian theme and battle between Romans and barbarians; two panels with Dionysian theme

Roman art


The reliefs decorating the four sides of the base come from different monuments and were probably put together sometime after 1700 and before 1832. We know from Montelatici that the panels with the faun and the Bacchante holding a drum in her hand that currently form the short sides of the base were in the wall in front of the fishpond along the Viale del Graziano, in enclosure three. In 1832, Nibby mentions the base in its current configuration in the middle of Room II. The long side on the back, which is difficult to read in its current location, portrays two winged cupids holding up a modern tablet beneath which is a modern head of Oceanus. The tablet is inscribed with a verse in Latin hexameter from Virgil’s Aeneid: bellatrix audetque viris concurrere virgo (‘female warrior who dares fight men’), celebrating Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons, who is portrayed in the sculpture group on the pillar. The front is instead decorated with two different scenes: on the left, a satyr is pulling two mules hooked up to a cart that is no longer visible; on the right, a battle between Romans and barbarians. The fragments, all of different provenance and subject, are datable between the second and early third centuries.


Object details

Inventory
CCXLVa
Location
Date
metà II secolo d.C.
Classification
Medium
white marble
Dimensions
height cm 50-55; width cm 70-100; depth cm 23-32
Provenance

Borghese Collection, mentioned in the second room of the Palazzina by Nibby in 1832 (pp. 66–67). In 1700, the two panels on the short sides were mentioned in enclosure three, in the west face of the wall in front of the fishpond along the Viale del Graziano (Montelatici, p. 109). Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 46, no. 76. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Exhibitions
  • 2014: Roma, Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1909 - Innocenzo Anselmo (?): ‘allustrato lo zoccolo, la base e la cimasa del gruppo dell'amazzone nel centro del Salone’ (‘polished the socle, base and top moulding of the Amazon group in the middle of the Salone’).
  • 1931 - Andrea Ruggeri
  • 1996–97 - Liana Persichelli

Commentary

This pedestal is composed of fragments from different monuments. Although the long side on the back is difficult to read in its current location, it portrays two winged cupids holding up a modern tablet beneath which is a modern head of Oceanus. The two figures are nude with the exception of a mantle wrapped around the neck and falling behind the body down to the legs. Their bodies are twisted, with the external leg moved to the side and the internal one bent to hold the body’s weight. Their heads are turned back. The tablet is inscribed with a verse in Latin hexameter from Virgil’s Aeneid, referring to the sculpture group above: bellatrix audetque viris concurrere virgo. It is drawn from the episode in which Aeneas, having arrived in Carthage, recognises scenes from the Trojan War in the paintings in the Temple of Juno. An important role in those events was played by Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons, ally of the Trojans, who ‘dared to fight with men (Virgil, Aeneas 1.493). The panel, which was heavily restored in modern times, probably belonged to a sarcophagus decorated with cupids holding a clipeus. The use of a drill to render the cupids’ hair, the incised pupils and the strong chiaroscuro defining the bodies date the work to the Severan period.

The long side on the front, which has also been heavily restored, is composed of two different fragments with different subjects. The left is decorated with a Bacchic scene, featuring a satyr with pointed ears to evoke his animal nature and pulling two exhausted mules hooked up to a cart that was not preserved. On the right, there is a battle scene with a knight seated on a horse rearing up over two barbarians. The knight is wearing a short tunic with sleeves and a mantle that is fluttering dramatically from the movement of the attack. The barbarians are wearing an exomis. The one on the ground, bearded and wearing a close-fitting cap, is begging for mercy; the one still standing, holding a shield and a staff, is trying to deliver a final blow. Behind him, we can make out a fragment of a wing, which Moreno believes is from a figure of Victory, noting the fragment from the short side of a sarcophagus decorated with corner Victories (Moreno, Viacava 2003, pp. 263–265). According to Nibby, writing in 1832, the fragment depicts ‘alla famosa battaglia di Maratone ed all’eroe Echetlo che ivi apparve in soccorso de’ Greci armato di aratro: l’altro offre un uomo che rialza due cavalli aggiogati ad un carro’ (‘the famous Battle of Marathon and the hero Echetlus, who showed up to help the Greeks armed with a plough’; pp. 66–67). Nibby’s theory is supported by a passage from Pausanias in which he describes Echetleus as ‘a man of rustic appearance and dress. Having slaughtered many of the foreigners with a plough he was seen no more after the engagement’ (Description of Greece 1.32.5). The fragment shares similarities with the Small Ludovisi sarcophagus in the Museo Nazionale Romano di Palazzo Altemps, which is also decorated with corner Victories and polygonal barbarian shields, dated 180 CE (De Angelis 2011, pp. 252–253).

The short sides of the pillar are decorated with two Dionysian figures in low relief. In 1700, Montelatici mentioned ‘un Fauno, e una Baccante con un timpano in mano’ (‘faun and a Bacchante with a drum in her hand’), in the west face of the wall in front of the fishpond along the Viale del Graziano, in enclosure three (p. 109). The figure of the Maenad, which is heavily restored, is shown in profile turning left and wears a peplos with a prominent overfold at her waist called an apoptygma. She is portrayed dancing, the movement revealing her legs, and she is playing a drum with her hands. The satyr, with the same orientation, has restored feet, hands and left shoulder and arm. The figure is shown from behind, with his left hand hidden and the right one outstretched, probably having originally held an object that is now lost. According to Moreno, since the two figures are oriented in the same way, they probably came from the left side of a sarcophagus. The scant attention to detail suggests a date between the second and third centuries CE.

The sculpture was mentioned for the first time in its current location in Room II by Nibby, in 1882. Until the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, it was on view in Room XIV.

Giulia Ciccarello




Bibliography
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, pp. 66-67.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 915, n. 2.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 49.
  • A. De Rinaldis, La R. Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1935, p. 40.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (3° Edizione), Roma 1954, p. 43.
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 22.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 102.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, pp. 263-265, n. 256.
  • M. De Angelis, Sarcofago con scene di battaglia tra Romani e barbari, cosiddetto Piccolo Ludovisi” in Palazzo Altemps, le Collezioni, Milano 2011, pp. 252-253.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/99000062, G. Ciccarello 2020.