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Boy Wearing a Long Mantle

Roman art

This young boy, portrayed in a frontal pose with his head turned to the left, wears a large mantle that reveals 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. He wears a close-fitting, ovoid cap on his head called a pileus.

His child-like face has chubby cheeks, a prominent, round nose and a mouth open in a joyful smile. In 1796, Ennio Quirino Visconti reported that this statue and two very similar to it (inv. LXV, inv. CVIC), now in the same room, were in the garden of the Villa Pinciana. When the collection was reorganised after the sale to Napoleon, the statues were moved indoors to decorate the Galleria Borghese. In 1893, it was reported, with one of the others similar to it (inv. LXV), in its current location in Room 1.

Object details

II secolo d.C.
marmo di Luni
Heigh 71 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


In 1796, Ennio Quirino Visconti reported that this statue and two very similar to it (inv. LXV, inv. CVIC), now in the corners of Room 1, were in the garden of the Villa Pinciana. Visconti described, 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 sculpture described by Visconti was sent to the Louvre, and the three that were in the garden are probably the ones now displayed in Room 1.

When the collection was reorganised inside the residence between 1819 and 1832, after the massive sale of works from the antiquities collection by Camillo Borghese to his brother-in-law Napoleon, the sculptures were earmarked for display inside the Galleria Borghese, at first decorating the columns in the Portico and later displayed on cipollino marble pedestals in Room 3 (Moreno, Viacava 2003, p. 145, no. 110). In 1893, Adolfo Venturi reported that the Borghese sculpture was located, along with another one (inv. LXV), in its current location in Room 1 (Venturi 1893, p. 20).

This small sculpture depicts a standing boy wrapped in a large mantle that reveals his bare feet. His arms are covered by the drapery, the right arm folded over his chest and the left held outward in a sign of offering. His head, turned to the left and slightly raised, is covered with a close-fitting, ovoid cap with a light rounded protrusion at the top. His child-like face has a joyful expression, prominent nose, chubby cheeks and smiling open mouth. His tight cap is of a type called pileus. In the Roman tradition, the pileus was widely used and had multiple meanings, used by ‘popes, flamens and Salii and given to slaves to mark their liberation’ (Ernout, Meillet 1959, s.v. 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 his study of the Borghese sculpture, Anselmo Calvetti identified it as the malevolent entity known as Incubus, who had the power to disturb people’s sleep with nightmares, as we read in Pliny’s Naturalis Historia (30.84). The term derives from the Latin word incubare, in the sense of ‘sleeping 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’). The sick were allowed to sleep 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). The small size, child-like appearance, mantle and pileus of the Borghese sculpture associate it with the iconography of Telesphoros, son or assistant of Asclepius, who is represented in a sculpture group in a different room of the museum (Room 6, inv. CIC).

Waldemar Deonna, who published an in-depth study on this figure, notes that ‘he was the height and age of a … boy, with 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). Often associated with the figure of the genius cucullatus, Telesphoros was attributed with the beneficial role of healer and bringer of salvation, but also with the dark, inauspicious one of interrupter of life.

The three mantled statuettes in the Galleria Borghese can be linked to a widespread iconographic model that was reproduced over the centuries. The practice of displaying sculptures in private gardens, as a sign of auspiciousness and benevolence, is also found in the modern period.

  • L. Lamberti, E.Q. Visconti, Sculture del palazzo della Villa Borghese detta Pinciana, Roma 1796, pp. 40-41
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p.20
  • G. Giusti, La Galerie Borghèse et la Ville Humbert Premier à Rome, Roma 1904, p. 31
  • W. Helbig, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom, (3°Edizione), a cura di W. Amelung, II, Leipzig 1913, p.236
  • G. Lippold, Photographische Einzel auf nahmen antiker Sculpturen, X, 1, München 1925, p. 7, n. 2726
  • 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. 87
  • 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, fig. a p. 88
  • 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. 158, n. 125
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/99000043,G. Ciccarello 2020