Galleria Borghese logo
Search results for
No results :(

Hints for your search:

  • Search engine results update instantly as soon as you change your search key.
  • If you have entered more than one word, try to simplify the search by writing only one, later you can add other words to filter the results.
  • Omit words with less than 3 characters, as well as common words like "the", "of", "from", as they will not be included in the search.
  • You don't need to enter accents or capitalization.
  • The search for words, even if partially written, will also include the different variants existing in the database.
  • If your search yields no results, try typing just the first few characters of a word to see if it exists in the database.

Little Boy with a Bird

Roman art, copy after hellenistic original

This small standing boy is portrayed nude, with full, chubby features, and strokes a dove he holds in his hands. To his left, there is a tree trunk draped with a piece of cloth. His happy smile expresses his joy in sweetly caring for the bird. His hair is parted in the middle and bound by a tainia, from which little locks escape.

Acquired with the Della Porta collection in 1609, the sculpture was initially displayed at Palazzo Borghese in Campo Marzio. It was reported at Villa Pinciana starting in 1650.

It comprises a torso, with a reattached head, that was restored as a boy with a dove, in keeping with a Hellenistic archetype that was especially popular in bronze. The restoration was probably carried out by Della Porta himself (he was a sculptor), as suggested by the facture of the plinth.

The model for this Borghese sculpture was probably a Hellenistic bronze.

Object details

II secolo d.C.
fine-grained white marble
h. without plinth cm. 73; h. of the head cm 17

Collection of Giovan Battista Della Porta, until 1609, then Borghese Collection. Inventario fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 50, no. 130. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • Before 1609 - Restored: the legs below the knee, with the plinth, the support trunk and most of the drapery, left forearm and hand, right arm and hand with the dove, upper part of the shoulders and lower part of the head until behind the ears, the tip of the nose.
  • 1996–1998 Liana Persichelli


This sculpture depicts a young boy standing near a tree trunk draped with a piece of clothing. The nude boy has full features and rigidly held legs. His head is bent forward to look at a bird that he gently strokes and holds in his chubby hands. His hair is parted in the middle and bound with a tainia worn low almost on his forehead, which is framed with little curls. His cheeks are high, and his laughing eyes have a childlike air underlined by his smiling, partially open mouth. The torso, with a reattached ancient head, was interpreted by the restorer as the figure of a boy with a bird, in keeping with a popular iconographic type described in the sources. In the Liber, Catullus writes: ‘sparrow, you darling of my darling whom she plays with and fondles in her bosom, you who peck when she offers you a finger’ (Catullus 2).

The theme of young people with doves dates as far back as the fourth century BCE, as we know from a sculpture from the sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia in Athens, now in the in the Glyptothek, Munich, portraying a young girl looking at a bird she holds in her lap (Ohly, 1972, p. 10, no. 55). The subject was especially popular in the Hellenistic period, in both art, in particular bronze sculpture, and literature, particularly epigrams. It reveals new attention to little things, in this case children, animals and their play. Although heavily reworked, the statue therefore does seem to truly represent the image world of an age. The little boy, with his full forms, amused expression and delicately handled hair, seems to represent the serenity of a life about the bloom.  He is curious about and drawn to the dove, it, too, a symbol of purity and love.

The statue was purchased by Giovanni and Scipione Borghese with the collection of Giovanni Battista Della Porta from his brother and heir Giovanni Paolo in 1609, when it was described as a ‘putto holding a bird in his hand, three and a half palms high’ (ASV, Arch. Borghese 456, no. 17, f. 2, 1609: de Lachenal, 1982, p. 91, no. 383). Hans von Graeven believed that the restoration was carried out by Della Porta himself, since its flat, round, fluted plinth is similar in style to other works in the same collection that were restored by the sculptor (Graeven, 1893, p. 244, no. 42).

We know from multiple lists that the work was initially slated to decorate Palazzo Borghese in Campo Marzio (de Lachenal, 1982, p. 59). Iacomo Manilli and Domenico Montelatici both reported it, in, respectively, 1650 and 1700, at the Villa Pinciana: ‘statue of a laughing putto holding a bird in his hand’ (Manilli, 1650, p. 108; Montelatici, 1700, p. 300). The sculpture was displayed in what was at the time called the Room of the Three Graces (now Room 9) as a pendant to the statue of Eros in Chains (inv. CXIII), almost as if to represent the opposition between freedom and punishment (Kalveram 1995, p. 245, no. 154). The last time that it was reported in this arrangement was in the inventory of 1792 (ASV, Arch. Borghese 1007, no. 270, p. 88, Inventario, 1792). In 1821, both statuettes were mentioned in Visconti’s catalogue, published posthumously by Gherardo de Rossi (Visconti, 1821, II, p. 67).

Between 1819 and 1832, in order to fill in the large gaps created by Camillo Borghese’s massive sale of works to Napoleon, the two works were moved, first, to Room 5 (described as the ‘Room of the Hermaphrodite’: Nibby 1832, p. 105), then, in 1888, to Room 3 and, finally, its current location in Room 6.

The sculpture was reproduced in a drawing by Carlo Calderi made between 1716 and 1730 for the collector Richard Topham (Fabréga-Dubert 2020, Bm.3.41). In the 1720s, Topham had commissioned a number of young artists to document the ancient sculptures in the palazzos of Rome and other Italian cities, creating an invaluable collection of drawings now at the Eton College Library.

Giulia Ciccarello