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Oval Basin in Granite

roman school

This oval basin has a simple design, without decorative elements. It was executed in oriental granite, a stone which the Romans imported from quarries in eastern Egypt. It rests on a small column, made from the same material, with a smooth surface and without ornamental moulding. From Borghese family account books we know that the granite to make the column was purchased in 1783, evidently for the purpose of creating a pendant for another basin (inv. no. CCXIV), which Scipione Borghese bought in 1619 as a holy water font for the small chapel in Villa Pinciana. Beginning in 1786, both basins are in fact documented as on display in Room 7. On the other hand, we have no information as to the provenance of the basin itself, which was probably executed in the same period as its column.


Object details

oriental granite
diameter 58 cm

Purchased by Marcantonio Borghese, 1783 (ASV, AB, 5848, ‘Filza dei Mandati’, 1783, no. 70, in Faldi 1954, p. 20, cat. 17, doc. II); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, C, p. 50, no. 122; purchased by Italian state, 1902.


Fonti e bibliografia


This oval basin with an everted rim was sculpted in oriental granite. It most likely dates to 1783, the year of the payment receipt for the material used to make the column that supports it (Vatican Secret Archive, AB, 5848, ‘Filza dei Mandati’, 1783, no. 70, in Faldi 1954, p. 20, cat. 17, doc. II). Its execution was made necessary for reasons of symmetry in the arrangement of the Egyptian Room, to which a nearly identical basin had been moved which until then had served as the holy water font in the Villa chapel.

Indeed, beginning in 1786 our sources tell us that both objects were displayed in Room 7 (Giornale di Belle Arti, 52, p. 310), where they still can be seen today. The numerous black spots of various dimensions against a light grey or rose-coloured ground – typical of this material – as well as the sleek linearity of the basin’s form harmonise perfectly with the design of the room, which was conceived by Antonio Asprucci.

Oriental granite came from the quarries of Egypt’s Eastern Desert (Marchei, p. 220, cat. 70). It was commonly known as ‘column granite’ for its association with the pillar against which Jesus was flogged, an alleged fragment of which is held today in the Basilica of Saint Praxedes in Rome.

Sonja Felici