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Pair of amphorae in pavonazzetto marble

Santi Paolo

(active in Rome, second half of the 18th century)

Executed in 1781 by the stonemason Paolo Santi as part of the 18th-century renovation of the Villa Pinciana, the two amphorae in pavonazzetto marble stand on smooth columns made of the same material. The two artefacts are characterised by the correspondence between the various parts: the volumetric ovoid body, decorated at the ends with slightly raised baccellations, rests on a low base and is closed at the top by a small hemispherical lid; the upper part of the handles is horizontal like the shoulder of the vase, while the descending part echoes the curvature of the low neck. The elegance in the play of lines is enriched by the violet veining of the pavonazzetto.

Object details

CIXa - b
pavonazzetto marble
40x26 cm, height of columns 98 cm

Made for Marcantonio IV Borghese (ASV, AB, 5846, Filza dei Mandati 1781, no. 128; ASV, AB, 8089, Registro dei Mandati, 1781-82, p. 125, no. 596; in Faldi 1954, p. 61, docc. I-II); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p. 45, n. 63. Purchased by the State, 1902.


The two amphorae rest on a round moulded base on a shallow square plinth, have an ovoid body decorated at the ends with slightly raised baccellations and end in a short neck. The handles, symmetrical, are squared and depart from the edge of the mouth, descending to join at the shoulder, with a slight receding curve. The lid is hemispherical and has a small ogival knob. The simple lines and the low volume of the decorations allow the material to emerge as the protagonist of the work: the purplish veins of the pavonazzetto marble running throughout the two artefacts, embellishing them with elegant graphic effects.

The execution of the two amphorae was part of the radical renovation of the Villa’s interior commissioned by Marcantonio IV Borghese and assigned to his trusted architect Antonio Asprucci. Towards the end of the 18th century, the two developed an intellectual association to which we owe the creation of a new relationship with antiquity, which took the form not only of the display of valuable works of archaeological provenance but also of the revival of stylistic features and formal motifs that inspired decorative elements whose role in the overall design of the rooms was by no means marginal.

It was the stonemason Paolo Santi who was paid for the execution of the two amphorae in 1781 (Faldi 1954, p. 61, docs. I-II), who therefore probably worked on a preparatory drawing provided by Asprucci. Other documented works of his for the Villa Pinciana are the restoration of an ancient urn and the execution of a cup (inv. CLXIV), both in porphyry, a material in which he was particularly skilled.

The material used for the execution of the two amphorae and the small columns is pavonazzetto marble: originating from Ischehisar, in present-day Turkey, it was one of the most valued and widespread coloured marbles in ancient Rome (Marchei, 1997, p. 264-265, cat. 109).

A location for the two artefacts had initially been established in today’s Room I, where they served as a pendant to two small amphorae in nero antico (Lamberti, Visconti 1796, I, p. 34), probably the two with handles and eagle protomes by Silvio Calci (Faldi 1954, p. 61, no. 58).

Sonja Felici