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Black Hunters on Bases of Lydian Stone

Campi Giovanni

(active in Rome second half of the 18th century)

The two small sculptures in Lydian stone depict two dark hunters as mirror images of each other. They have the birds of prey on their arms and hold felines at their sides by chains. Their attire indicates the sculptor’s intention of characterising the figures as belonging to antiquity.

Although their poses are identical, the two hunters show differences in the surfaces of their bodies and their facial features, giving the impression of an age difference between them.

The first guidebooks to mention the pair of sculptures attributed them to François Duquesnoy. Yet payment documents analysed in the 20th century revealed that they were executed by Giovanni Campi between 1651 and 1653, shortly after he sculpted the Bacchanal of the Putti in Lydian stone and lapis lazuli (inv. no. CCLXXVI), with which they share the same display history within the Museum.

Object details

Lydian stone, giallo antico marble, yellow breccia and gilded metal
height 65 cm (including socle)

Borghese Collection, 1651-53 (Faldi 1954, pp. 52-53, nos. I-IX); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 51, no. 141; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 2011-2012 Roma, Galleria Borghese


The two small statues depict dark figures whose iconography indicates that they are hunters. Each holds a bird of prey on his arm – identified as goshawk – and a feline – a lion and perhaps a lioness – by a chain. The hunters are sculpted in mirror positions. Each wears a garment that covers his groin and upper legs, a shoulder strap with a buckle in giallo antico marble, and sandals on his feet. The position of their bodies traces a curved line closed by the vertical created by the arm holding the feline. Sculpted in Lydian stone, the two figures reveal differences in the rendering of their bodies: the hunter with the lion shows more detail in his muscles and skin, such that the veins in his arm are visible; his hair is more defined, with deeper and wavier curls; and his face presents more pronounced features, giving the impression of an age difference between the two men.

The strap in giallo antico marble that crosses the chest of both hunters is the only chromatic element other than the black of the Lydian stone. It creates a connection with the tondo in yellow breccia at the centre of the elegantly moulded pedestal supporting the sculptures. The result is a sophisticated play of colours, a characteristic which we know to have been particularly appreciated by collectors, both in decorative objects and sculptures (Minozzi 2015, p. 351).

The sculptor Giovanni Campi was paid a total of 250 scudi for the two statues between 1651 and 1653; the amount further included payment for two small heads in Lydian stone which have gone lost (Vatican Secret Archive, Borghese Archive, 5631, ‘Filza dei Mandati 1651’, nos. 234, 462; 8066 ‘Registro dei Mandati, 1650-54’, p. 157, no. 234; p. 204, no. 462; p. 252, no. 203; p. 29, no. 402; p. 312, no. 548; p. 312, no. 548, p. 338, no. 118; 5632, ‘Filza dei Mandati 1652’, no. 548; in Faldi 1954, pp. 52-3, nos. I-IX). Our earliest sources ascribe both works to François Duquesnoy, who also supposedly provided the models for their execution. This attribution was perhaps motivated by the clear similarities between the positions of the two hunters and the pose of the famous Giustiniani Mercury by the Flemish sculptor (Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna). Yet recent critics have not seen the same resemblances: Boudon-Machuel pointed out that the hunters’ garments, with their deep, moving folds, have little in common with the corresponding elements in Duquesnoy’s works (2005, pp. 347-348, nn. 34a, 34b).

Regarding their display history, the two small statues have always flanked the Bacchanal of Putti (inv. no. CCLXXVI), probably in light of the same material used in the three works and not because of any thematic similarities. In 1700 they occupied Room 6 (Montelatici 1700, p. 220), while in 1796 they could be seen in Room 3 (Lamberti, Visconti 1796, II, p. 18, nos. 25-26). In 1841 they were once again in room 6 (Nibby 1841, IV, p. 922), where they can still be viewed today.

The two Hunters were also cited in the notes of Pierre-Adrien Pâris, the French architect and collector who between 1808 and 1809 was entrusted with transporting the ancient works of art from the family collection which Camillo Borghese had sold to Napoleon. The French emperor admired the subject but considered them qualitatively inferior to the Bacchanal of Putti (Fabréga-Dubert 2009, p. 270).

Sonja Felici

  • D. Montelatici, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana con l’ornamenti che si osservano nel di lei Palazzo, Roma 1700, p. 220.
  • L. Lamberti, E.Q. Visconti, Sculture del palazzo della Villa Borghese detta Pinciana, Roma 1796, II, p. 18, nn. 25-26.
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 114.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno MDCCCXXXVIII. Parte seconda moderna, Roma 1841, IV, p. 922.
  • Beschreibung der Stadt Rom, a cura di E.Z. Platner, III, 3, Stuttgart-Tübingen1842, p. 252.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 216.
  • M. Fransolet, François du Quesnoy: sculpteur d’Urbain VIII; 1597 - 1643, Bruxelles 1942, p. 90 ss.
  • A. Riccoboni, Roma nell’arte. La scultura nell’evo moderno dal Quattrocento ad oggi, Roma 1942, p. 174.
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1948, p. 85.
  • P. Della Pergola, La galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1951, p. 18.
  • I. Faldi, Galleria Borghese. Le sculture dal sec. XVI al XIX, Roma 1954, pp.53-54, n. 51.
  • A.González-Palacios, La storia della Stanza di Apollo e Dafne, in Apollo e Dafne del Bernini nella Galleria Borghese, a cura di K. Herrmann Fiore, Cinisello Balsamo 1997, pp. 32, 34, figg. 35-36.
  • A. Sironi, Nero del Belgio, in Marmi antichi, a cura di G. Borghini, Roma 1997, p. 256.
  • A. González-Palacios, Arredi e ornamenti alla corte di Roma 1560-1795, Milano 2004,p. 301 n. 48, figg. 35, 36.
  • La Stanza del Gladiatore ricostituita. Il capolavoro della committenza Borghese del ’700, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Borghese, 2003-2004), a cura di A.Coliva, M.Minozzi, Milano 2004.
  • M. Boudon-Machuel, François du Quesnoy: 1597-1643, Paris 2005, pp. 347-348, figg.34a, 34b.
  • La collection Borghèse au Musée Napoléon, I, Les Archives, a cura di M.-L.Fabréga-Dubert, Paris 2009, p. 270.
  • E. Sandrelli, scheda in I Borghese e l’antico, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Borghese, 2011-2012), a cura di A. Coliva, M.-L. Fabréga-Dubert,J.-L. Martinez, M. Minozzi, Milano2011, pp. 284-285, cat. 24.
  • M. Minozzi, scheda in Lapislazzuli. Magia del blu, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Museo degli argenti- Museo di Storia Naturale,2015), a cura di M. Sframeli, V. Conticelli, R. Gennaioli, G.C. Parodi, Livorno2015, p. 351.
  • Schede di catalogo 12/01008632-12/01008633; Russo L., 1983; aggiornamento Felici S., 2020.