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Candelabra Base

Roman art

This triangular candelabra base is set on a modern circular pedestal and embellished with a border of spirals and rosettes. The corners are decorated with winged griffin protomes that have ram horns and lion heads. The three sides are covered with a bas-relief of Hermes, Dionysus and a female figure, probably either Aphrodite or a personification of a season called a Horae. The figures, shown in profile with their legs spread, are rendered in an archaising, static style. The stylistic elements found in numerous similar sculptures suggest that it is a Neo-Attic work dating to the first half of the first century BCE, and probably came from Athens.

The sculpture is depicted in a drawing by Roccheggiani dated 1804 inside the Villa Pinciana. In 1826, when the rooms were reorganised after they were stripped by the sale to Napoleon, the sculpture was restored and placed in Room I, where it remained until 1893, when it was moved to Room III.

Object details

1st century B.C.
Pentelic marble
height 141 cm

Borghese Collection, documented in the ‘Palazzina Pinciana’ in 1804 by a drawing by Roccheggiani (pl. XXXVIII, 1). In 1841, Nibby mentioned it in Room I, while in 1893 it was in Room III (Venturi, p. 30). Inventario fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 44, no. 45. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 19th century - Restoration work and fill: the circular base with dolphins and the upper cornice with the listel are modern.
  • 1918 - Cesare Fossi
  • 1996 - Consorzio Capitolino di Elisabetta Zatti ed Elisabetta Caracciolo


In 1804, the sculpture was documented in the Villa Pinciana by a drawing by Roccheggiani that describes it as an ‘Ara Etrusca’ (‘Etruscan altar’; pl. XXXVIII, 1). In 1826, it was included in a letter from Minister Evasio Gozzani to Prince Camillo Borghese, as one of the works selected to be restored and displayed in the rooms, after they had been stripped following the sale to Napoleon. The base is mentioned again, along with the krater placed on top of it, in the Villa’s third enclosure, near the ‘Casotto delle Anatre’ (b. 7457: Moreno, Sforzini 1987, p. 350). In 1841, Nibby mentioned it in Room I and described it as the ‘piede triangolare di un candelabro in marmo pentelico di stile greco antico, di studiata esecuzione’ (‘triangular foot of a candelabra in Pentelic marble in the ancient Greek style, of good workmanship’; 1832, pp. 55–56; 1841, p. 914, no. 22). In 1893, it was reported in its current location, Room III, in Venturi’s guide: ‘base triangolare, ove sono scolpite in bassorilievo tre figure giudicate Mercurio, Venere e Bacco’ (‘triangular base with bas-reliefs interpreted as Mercury, Venus and Bacchus’; p. 30).

The triangular candelabra foot is set on a modern circular base, decorated with gadrooning and dolphins. The lower part of the sculpture is decorated with three borders of pairs of horizontal spirals ending with a hanging palmette and two rosettes to the sides. The corners are decorated with winged griffin protomes that have ram horns and lion heads. The three sides are decorated with reliefs of Hermes, Dionysus and a female figure. They are rendered in an archaising style and move rigidly to the left. Hermes is wearing a chiton that reveals his knees and tall, cuffed boots called endromides on his feet. He is bearded and his long curls extend down to his chest. He holds a caduceus, or messenger’s staff, in his left hand. Dionysus, whose hair is arranged in long curls, is wearing a sleeveless garment that falls to his feet and a mantle draped over his left arm. He holds an apple in his right hand and a thyrsus in his left. The female figure is wearing a long transparent tunic that comes down from her right shoulder to create a diagonal fold across her chest. She is holding flowers in her hands. Starting with Nibby, she has been unanimously interpreted as Venus, with the exception of Cain, who argues that she is a Horae, or the personification of a season.

Fuchs, who was the first to fully study the sculpture, compared it to a similar one in the Museo Archeologico, Palestrina (Quattrocchi 1956, p. 28, no. 52, fig. 16), categorising both as Attic sculptures from the late Hadrianic or early Antonine period. He also noted a clear divergence between the Archaic appearance of the figure of Dionysus and the severe precision of the decoration on the lower part of the sculpture, which would seem instead comparable to early candelabra bases from Mahdia during the Neo-Attic period. The figure of Dionysus in particular has close similarities to a similar one on the votive relief from Chalandri in the Archaeological Museum of Athens, which is, however, more severe in style (1959, p. 57).

Cain took a different view, arguing for a date in the early Imperial period, noting in particular the low relief of the subjects and the search for movement in the inclined position of the woman as stylistic elements typical of reliefs from the Caesarian period. Whereas he linked the ‘zig-zag’ folds of the garment that run along the hips and the swallow-tail veil wrapped around the arms to the early Augustan period (1985, p. 174, no. 73).

The compositional structure of the base, in particular relative to the decoration of the lower part, seems to be associated with Attic production from the early first century CE, as we see in other replicas, including one in the Louvre (Reinach 1906, I, p. 61, no. 5, pl. 167), one in the Palazzo dei Conservatori (Stuart Jones 1926, pp. 54–55, pl. 67,7), one in the Vatican Museum (Schöne 1867, p. 324, pl. XIV-XV) and, lastly, a triangular base from Mahdia (Merlin, Poinssot, 1930, pl. 36 A, B).

Giulia Ciccarello

  • L. Roccheggiani, Raccolta Di Cento Tavole Rappresentanti I Costumi Religiosi Civili, e Militari degli antichi Egiziani, Etruschi, Greci, e Romani Tratti Dagli antichi Monumenti, Roma 1804.
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, pp. 55-56, tav. 13.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 12, n. 22.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, pp. 914-915, n. 22.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), p. 17, n. 23.
  • R. Schöne, Die Antiken Bildwerke Des Lateranensischen Museums, Leipzig 1867.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 30.
  • F. Hauser, Die neu-attischen Reliefs, Stuttgart 1889, p. 36, n. 48.
  • S. Reinach, Répertoire de la statuaire grecque et romaine, Paris 1906.
  • S. Reinach, Repertoire de Reliefs Grecs et Romains, III, Paris 1912, p. 174, n. 2.
  • W. Helbig, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom (3° Edizione), a cura di W. Amelung, II, Leipzig 1913, p. 243.
  • E. Schmidt, Archaistische Kunst in Griechenland und Rom, Munich 1922, p. 94, n. 5.
  • H. Stuart Jones, A catalogue of the ancient sculptures preserved in the municipal collections of Rome: the sculptures of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Oxford 1926.
  • A. Merlin, L. Poinssot, Cratères et candélabres de marbre trouvés en mer de Mahdia, Paris, 1930.
  • A. De Rinaldis, La R. Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1935, p. 12.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (3° Edizione) Roma 1954, p. 12.
  • G. Quattrocchi, Il Museo Archeologico Prenestino, Roma 1956.
  • W. Fuchs, Die Vorbilder der neuattischen Reliefs, in “Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts. Ergänzungs-Heft”, 20, Berlin 1959, p. 57, nota 76; p. 58, nota 82; p. 181, n. 21.
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 15.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 102.
  • H. U. Cain, Römische Marmorkandelaber, Mainz 1985, p. 174, n. 73.
  • 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, pp. 350, 353, 357.
  • M. A. Zagdoun, La sculpture archaïsante dans l’art hellénistique et dans l’art romain du Haut-Empire, in “Befar” 269, Paris 1989, pp. 126, 253, n. 440.
  • Abad Casal, s.v. Horai, in “Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae”, V, Zürich und München 1990, p. 506, n. 28b.
  • D. Grassinger, Römische Marmorkratere, Mainz am Rheim 1991, p. 105, nota 17; p. 106.
  • 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. 41, 54-56, fig.3.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 313, n. 10b.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p. 193, n. 173.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/0147895, P. Moreno 1976; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.