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Nymph Holding a Shell

Roman art

This statue depicts a partially nude nymph holding a shell. While the head, only partly ancient, is not original, the locks of hair that fall over the shoulders are. The figure is standing with her weight on her left leg, whereas the right leg is slightly bent and moved forward. Her torso is nude, while the lower half of her body is wrapped in drapery that encircles her hips and covers the back of her legs, coming down as far as her feet and settling on the plinth. Her arms are held at her sides, creating an oval-shaped space, and she is holding a large shell, which she rests on her pelvis and belly. The sculpture draws on a late-Hellenistic type that was very popular during the Roman period.

Object details

II secolo d.C
Luni marble
total height (with plinth) cm 121; statue cm 107; head cm 18

Collection of Giovan Battista Della Porta, acquired by Giovan Battista Borghese from Giovanni Paolo Della Porta, 1609. Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, no. 64. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 19th century - The nose, neck, right arm from the shoulder on, left arm from the forearm on and part of the hair were all restored. The head is not original.
  • 1828 - Francesco Massimiliano Laboureur (?)
  • 1990/1991 - I.C.R.
  • 1997 - G. Carla Mascetti 2008 - Consorzio Capitolino. Cleaning and filling.


Statue of a woman, smaller than life size, representing a partially nude nymph holding a shell. The small size and traces of a hole – later filled – in the body of the statue and where the shell is attached suggest that this work was used as a fountain. The torso is nude, while the lower part of the body is wrapped in sinuous drapery that falls all the way to the feet, leaving the legs exposed. The left leg is straight while the right is bent. The arms are held alongside the body, and hold up a large, fluted shell that the figure rests on her pelvis and belly. The torso is slightly bent forward, and the body is posed in a light curve, opposite to the tilt of the bowed head. The figure’s gaze is directed down and to the right. The head seems to be partially ancient, but it is not original. The wavy hair, which is voluminous at the temples, with a middle part and curls that fall over the shoulders, is in the style typical of statues of Aphrodite in the manner of Praxiteles.

The creases and folds of the mantle create a note of dynamism and some chiaroscuro on the legs, generating contrast with the upper part of the body, which is smooth and nude, lending movement to the figure overall.

Judged by Georg Lippold to be a ‘mediocre work’ (EA 1925, pp. 12–13, no. 2746), many areas of the statue were restored in modern times: the nose, neck, some of the hair (the hair falling over the shoulders is ancient) and both arms. It corresponds to the Half-Nude and Half-Clothed Venus, five palmi high, that was in the Della Porta Collection (ASV, AB 456, 17, no. 2).

The inventory of 1610 lists two statues of ‘Venus with a shell for spouting water’, standing and also five palmi high (ASV, AB 37, 16, Atti di famiglia no. 616, no. 55).

Iacomo Manilli (1650, p. 55) and Domenico Montelatici (1700, p. 194) report that there were, in the Salone, ‘two similar Venuses, nude from the middle up, each holding a shell above the knees with both hands’, both displayed on columns. A document dated 1828 makes generic reference to Francesco Massimiliano Laboureur’s work on a statue of ‘Venus with a shell’, without providing any information that could help identify the statue or about the work he had done (AB 348, no. 57, note 4a). Recorded in Room I (which was known in the nineteenth century as the Room of Ceres) until 1873, it was then moved to Room V. Its display in the Portico is noted in the catalogue by Paola Della Pergola (1954, p. 5).

This nymph follows the iconography of the Venus Anadyomene (‘she who rises from the waters’), which is known through numerous Roman copies that rework the late Hellenistic model of the Landolina Aphrodite from Syracuse, a type developed in Asia, probably Rhodes, and inspired by an original by Praxiteles (according to some scholars, the Aphrodite of Knidos). The variants on and copies of this type include the two statues of Venus in the Borghese Collection now displayed in Room VI (inv. CIXC) and Room VII (inv. CCXV) and the ones of Aphrodite in the Louvre (inv. MA 376, 379) that were formerly in the Borghese Collection, sold by Prince Camillo in 1807.

In the imperial period, this type was used to decorate fountains, gardens and nymphaea.

Clara di Fazio  

  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 55.
  • D. Montelatici, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana con l’ornamenti che si osservano nel di lei Palazzo, Roma 1700, p. 194.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 10, n. 2.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 914.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), p. 12, n. 2.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 36.
  • H. Riemann, Die Skulpturen Vom 5. Jahrhundert Bis in Roemische Zeit, Berlin 1940, p. 124, n. 8.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (3° Edizione), Roma 1954, p. 5.
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, pp. 8-9.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 101.
  • L. De Lachenal, La collezione di sculture antiche della famiglia borghese e il Palazzo in Campo Marzio, in “Xenia” 4, 1982, pp. 49-117, in part. pp. 62-63, 90, 93, 96.
  • 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. 339-371; in part. p. 361.
  • K. Kalveram, Die Antikensammlung des Kardinals Scipione Borghese, in “Römische Studien der Bibliotheca Hertziana”, 11, Worm am Rehin 1995, p.188, n.53.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, pp. 103-104, n. 66.
  • I Borghese e l’antico, catalogo della mostra, (Roma, Galleria Borghese, 2011-2012), a cura di A. Coliva, Milano 2011, p. 157.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/ 00147892, P. Moreno 1975; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2021