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Pair of Amphorae with Handles in the Form of Eagle Protomes

Attributed to Calci Silvio

(active in Rome second half of the 17th century )

Each of the two amphorae has a moulded circular foot and a short shaft supporting a swollen body, which is constricted at its centre. The shoulder is horizontal, while the two handles are sculpted in the form of eagle protomes, which terminate in the beaks resting on the rim of the vase. The lid is capped by a flattened spherical knob.

Critics agree on the attribution of the pair of amphorae to Silvio Calci of Velletri, based on similarities to other works by the artist in the Borghese Collection. In particular, his vases are characterised by the contrast between essential contours, emphasised in this case by the absolute black and the lustre of the marble, and the naturalistic element of the animal, here the feathers of the eagles’ necks which expand at the point where the handles meet the shoulders.

Given a lack of archival documentation, it is not possible to date the works with certainty. That the commission came from the Borghese is shown by the presence of the eagle, the family’s heraldic animal.

On the body of the amphora inventoried as no. CXXXIII we find a painted inscription with the erroneous number CXXXI.

Object details

First half of 17th century
nero antico marble
42 x 32 cm

Sculpted for the Borghese family in first half of 17th century; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, p. 52; purchased by Italian state, 1902.


The material used for the realisation of the two amphorae is nero antico marble: compact and characterised by a very fine grain, in Roman times it was extracted from the Tunisian quarries of Djebel Aziz and Chemtou (Marchei 1997, pp. 254-5).

Each amphora is supported on a circular foot with an echinus between two fillets, upon which a short shaft rests, which terminates in beak moulding. The body is swollen with a constriction in the centre. The horizontal shoulder supports a fillet which serves as the base of the neck, which in turn terminates in a rim with beak moulding between two fillets. The lid shows cyma recta moulding and is capped by a flattened spherical knob. The two handles, sculpted in the form of eagle protomes, are attached at the upper part of the body and the shoulder.

As the Borghese Archive does not contain documentation relative to the payment of the two amphorae. their attribution and dating must be determined on stylistic grounds. The pair of vases have unmistakable similarities with two amphorae with serpentiform handles executed by Silvio Calci in 1638, whose works are in fact characterised by the contrast between the presence of animal elements and the linearity of the rest of the work. In this case, the smooth lines of the design are given particular emphasis in light of the absence of decorative motifs, such as pod or leaf motifs. The attribution to Calci was first made by De Rinaldis in 1948 (p. 25) and subsequently accepted by critics (Faldi, 1954, p. 44; Della Pergola 1974, p. 14.). That the original destination of the vases was the Borghese Collection is made clear by the heraldic device of the eagle.

Based on her reinterpretation of a receipt for a payment made to Alessandro Algardi on 17 August 1637 for ‘several models of vases and fountains made by him for His Eminence’, Jennifer Montagu proposed attributing the design of the two amphorae to the Bolognese artist, which Silvio Calci then used to execute the sculptures (Vatican Secret Archive, Borghese Archive, vol. 5595, no. 593, in Montagu 1985, II, p. 461, cat. A.212). This hypothesis would place the execution of the vases in the late 1630s, the period in which the two sculptors often collaborated in creating decorative objects for Marcantonio II Borghese. By contrast, if we consider only references given by our sources, the absence of the amphorae in Manilli’s description of the Collection would lead us to suppose that the works were sculpted after 1650. The first mention in the documentation of the presence of the amphorae in the Villa indeed comes from Montelatici, who reported that they were on display in the Gypsy Room, today’s Room 19 (1700, p. 284). In 1796, Lamberti and Visconti (I, p. 34) saw them in the Vase Room (Room 1) as the pendants of a pair of 18th-century amphorae in Pavonazzo marble (inv. no. CIX). At the beginning of the 19th century, they were to be found in the Egyptian Room (Nibby, 1832, p. 119 and 1841, p. 923), while in 1893 they were held in Room 4 on the ground floor (Venturi, p. 33).

On the body of the amphora inventoried as no. CXXXIII a painted inscription is visible with the erroneous number CXXXI.

Sonja Felici

  • D. Montelatici, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana con l'ornamenti che si osservano nel di lei Palazzo, Roma 1700, p. 284.
  • L. Lamberti, E.Q. Visconti,Sculture del palazzo della Villa Borghese detta Pinciana, Roma 1796, I, p. 34.
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 119.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno MDCCCXXXVIII. Parte seconda moderna, Roma 1841, p. 923.
  • Beschreibung der Stadt Rom, a cura di E. Zacharias Platner, III, 3, Stuttgart-Tübingen 1842, p. 255.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p.33.
  • A. De Rinaldis, Arte decorativa nella Galleria Borghese, in “Rassegna della Istruzione artistica”, 10-11-12, 1935, p. 319.
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1948, p. 25.
  • P. Della Pergola, La galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1951, p. 14.
  • I. Faldi, Galleria Borghese. Le sculture dal sec. XVI al XIX, Roma 1954, p. 44, fig. 41.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1974, p. 14.
  • Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, a cura di S. Staccioli, P. Moreno, Milano 1981, p. 103.
  • J. Montagu, Alessandro Algardi, New Haven1985, II, p. 461, cat. A.212.
  • Galleria Borghese, a cura di A. Coliva, Roma 1994, p. 304.
  • M.C. Marchei, Marmi antichi, a cura di G. Borghini, Roma 1997, pp. 254-255, cat. 101.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 131, fig. 6.
  • Scheda di catalogo, 1201008657 e 1201008658, Pellizzari S. 1983; agg. Felici S. 2020.