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Boy Wearing a Long Mantle

Roman art

In 1796, Ennio Quirino Visconti reported that this statue and two very similar to it (inv. LXV, inv. LXIX) in the same room were in the garden of the Villa Pinciana. When the collection was reorganised after the sale to Napoleon, these sculptures were selected for display in the Galleria Borghese.

The young boy, represented standing, wears a long mantle that reveals only his bare feet. Concealed beneath the garment, his left arm is bent and held outward, and his right arm is folded across his chest. His features are soft and childlike, his lips partially open in a smile and he wears a cap on his head from which escape a few curls that frame his forehead. The youthful appearance, small size, mantle and cap associate the sculpture with the iconography of the genius cucullatus or that of Telesphoros, son or assistant of Asclepius.

Object details

II secolo d.C.
Luni marble
height 73 cm

Borghese Collection (cited for the first time in the garden with other similar statues by Lamberti, Visconti 1796, pp. 40–41); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 47, no. 91. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1827 Antonio D’Este


This small-scale statue portrays a boy who has just entered puberty. He is in a frontal pose and his body is wrapped in a generous mantle that reveals only his bare feet. The shape of his arms can be made out beneath the drapery: the left is bent and held outward; the right is folded across his chest. His head, which Paolo Moreno argues is not original (Moreno, Viacava 2003, p. 145, no. 110), is covered by a close-fitting cap. His face has chubby cheeks, a prominent round nose and a smiling, partially open mouth. His forehead is framed by a crown of little curls that escape from beneath his cap. The latter is what was known as a pilleus in the Roman world: a popular cap worn by numerous institutional, divine and popular figures and expressive of multiple meanings. It was a ‘close-fitting felt cap shaped like half an egg’ (Georges, Calonghi 1939, ‘pileus’) and worn by ‘popes, flamens and Salii and given to slaves to mark their liberation’ (Ernout, Meillet 1959, ‘pilleus’). Indeed, Livy uses the phrase servi ad pileum vocati to indicate the liberation of slaves (Livy, Historiae, 24.32.9) and Dionysius of Halicarnassus notes that the Greek term πῖλος/pílos corresponded to the flamens’ apex, the little twig at the top of their white cap (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Antiquitates Romanae, 2.64).

In the Satyricon, Petronius writes of the popular belief that the pileus was worn by the imp Incubus and that anyone who managed to take it from him would be able to take possession of his treasure (Petronius, Satyricon 38.8). In an article published in 2000 that discusses the Borghese statue, Anselmo Calvetti argues that it represents a malevolent entity tied to sleep, with the power of inducing nightmares and tormenting the sleeper, as described by Pliny the Elder in Naturalis Historia (Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 30.84). The term derives from the Latin word incubare, meaning ‘to sleep in a sacred place in order to receive, through dreams, information from the divinity about the future in general or (in the case of a sick person) information about his illness’ (Georges, Calonghi 1939, ‘incubus’). We know that the sick slept in Asclepius’s ambulatories, particularly in Epidaurus and on Tiber Island in Rome, in order to be saved by the god (Guarducci 1971, pp. 267–281). Asclepius’s son or helper was believed to be Telesphoros, the iconography of whom is echoed in the Borghese sculpture and a statue of whom is part of another group in the Galleria (Room 6, inv. CIC). According to Waldemar Deonna’s research on this mythological figure, Telesphoros ‘is the height and age of a … boy, and has a pleasant, cheerful appearance. He wears a mantle with a hood, often with no pleats or if any just a few, that covers his entire body, with the rare exception of his arms, and comes down to his feet, which are bare’ (Deonna 1955, pp. 44–46). The attributes of Telesphoros, who can be likened to the genius cucullatus, included ending illnesses, which could mean either restoring health or bringing death.

Room I also hosts, in the corners, two other small statues that are very similar in appearance, with only slight differences (inv. LXV, inv. LXIX). In 1796, Ennio Quirino Visconti reported that there was, in what is now Room 5, a statuette of Telesphoros wearing a pileus and wrapped in a mantle, adding that ‘there are many similar statuettes scattered throughout the woods of the Villa Pinciana’ (Visconti, Lamberti 1796, pp. 40–41). The statue described by Visconti ended up at the Louvre, while the ones in Room I were the ones in the garden, later moved to decorate the columns of the portico when the Galleria was reorganised and later displayled in Room 3 on cipollino marble stands (Moreno, Viacava 2003, p. 145, no. 110). In 1893, Adolfo Venturi reported that the present statue was displayed alone in Room 6 (Venturi 1893, p. 42). The iconographic model of statuettes wrapped in mantles was very popular in the Roman world, and it was quite common to find them in private gardens as a sign of benevolence and auspiciousness.

Giulia Ciccarello

  • E.Q. Visconti, L. Lamberti, Sculpture del palazzo della villa Borghese detta Pinciana, Roma 1796, pp.40-41
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p.42
  • G. Giusti, La Galerie Borghèse et la Ville Humbert Premier à Rome, Roma 1904, p. 31
  • G. Lippold, Photographische Einzelaufnahmen antiker Sculpturen, X, 1, München 1925, p.15, n.2756
  • A. De Rinaldis, La R. Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1935, p.9
  • K. E. Georges, F. Calonghi, s.v. pileus, Dizionario della lingua latina, I, Dizionario latino-italiano, 2a ed., Torino 1939
  • K. E. Georges, F. Calonghi, s.v. incubus, Dizionario della lingua latina, I, Dizionario latino-italiano, 2a ed., Torino 1939
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (3° Edizione) Roma 1954, p.8
  • W. Deonna, Télesphore et le “genius cucullatus” celtique, in “Latomus”, XIV, 1955, pp.43-74
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p.11, n.86
  • A. Ernout, A. Meillet, s.v. pilleus, in Dictionnaire de la langue latine. Histoire des Mots, 4 ed., Paris 1959;
  • W. Helbig, H. Speier, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom, (4°Edizione), a cura di H. Speier, II, Tübingen 1966, p.715, n.1954(Von Steuben);
  • M. Guarducci, L’isola Tiberina e la sua tradizione ospitaliera , in “Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Classe di Scienze morali, storiche e filosofiche”, a. VIII, v. XXVI, 1971, pp.267-281
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p.11
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p.101
  • P. Moreno, C. Sforzini, I ministri del principe Camillo: cronaca della collezione Borghese di antichità dal 1807 al 1832, in “Scienze dell’Antichità”, 1, 1987, p. 355
  • M. Fuchs, Glyptothek München, Katalog der Skulpturen, VI, Römische Idealplastik, München 1992, p.175, nota 11, nn.12-14
  • H. Rühfel, s.v. Telesphoros, in “Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae” VII, 1994, pp. 870-878
  • P. Moreno, L’antico nella stanza, in Venere Vincitrice, La sala di Paolina Bonaparte alla Galleria Borghese, a cura di C. Strinati, Roma 1997, pp.73-117, in particolare p.89
  • W. Deonna, Dei, geni e demoni incappucciati. Da Telesforo al «Moine Bourru», Milano 2019, pp.43-74
  • A. Calvetti, Geni pileati e Cucullati, in “Lares”, 66, N. 4, 2000, pp. 709-724
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p.68, n.6
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p.145, n. 110
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/99000034, G. Ciccarello 2020