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Pair of Trapezophoron with Griffins, Four Sections Joined in a Modern Base

Roman art

Four slabs inserted on the sides of a modern base, obtained by sectioning two trapezohedra – a term defining tables and shelves supports – reworked in the 18th century for the decoration of the Palazzo Borghese Fountain in Campo Marzio, and finally re-assembled in the 19th century in the present base. 

The four reliefs present a pair of griffin-lions, imaginary hybrid animals, crouching, back-to-back, with tails either overlapping or intertwined, set between side pillars and top and bottom frames. The supports to which they originally belonged, the trapezohedra, were probably produced by Neo-Attic artisanal urban workshops, originally used to support shelves, perhaps in a funerary context. 

Object details

II sec. d.C.
white marble
altezza cm 76, larghezza cm 82/101 (base); altezza cm 36, larghezza cm 57/60 (frammenti antichi)

 Borghese Collection (before 1671) )?; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 52, n. 155. Purchased by the State, 1902. 

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1996/97 Liana Persichelli


The modern base joins four sections corresponding to two trapezohedra – term used to indicate the supports of a table, usually a decorated one – with a similar subject, probably originally made to support a small ledge. In 1671 the trapezohedra were transferred, together with statues and bas-reliefs, from Villa Pinciana to Palazzo Borghese in Campo Marzio, sectioned – to obtain two bas-reliefs from each one – and inserted in the wall of the Fountain of the Garden of Palazzo Venturini in the second half of the 17th century (as documented by the engravings by Falda 1691, tavv. 11, 12). At a later date, however, the slabs were rehoused in Villa Pinciana and assembled into the modern base displayed in Room VII.

The two supports were decorated on both sides with pairs of griffin-lions crouching on their hind legs, the front legs straight, back-to-back with their tails lifted overlapping or intertwined to form an ‘eight’ shape. Their faces are framed by thick manes with full locks that fall at the sides of their foreheads, while from their wide-open jaws a part of their tongue can be seen. On their shoulders the wings unfold and are rendered with a wealth of details: in the front part the plumage is short, with overlapping scales; while at the back, the long feathers are visibly separated by deep grooves. The imaginary animals are set between pilasters and Doric cymatium frames, upright at the top and upside down at the bottom.

In supports for tables, surfaces, or shelves the griffins appear in the form of a protome, generally counterposed to a central element, such as a palmette motif or acanthus scrolls (Montanari 2007). For the chronological setting of the examples being examined it is particularly useful the comparison with fictile slabs of the Campana type, where the griffin in this pose is common on a series of examples dated towards the end of the I century BCE (Rohden, Winnefeld 1911, tav. XXIII; LXIII; Rizzo 1976-1977). 

The structure of the composition, in particular the motif of the intertwined tails forming an ‘eight’, is comparable with the relief on other marble trapezohedra, one found under the church of San Crisogono in Rome (Cain 1985, p. 294, tav. 5,4), another held in the Civic Museum of Trieste, with griffins with lion heads and ram horns (inv. 3095, Oriolo 2003, pp. 78-79, ST 18), and another on the base of a candelabra in the Museo di Torcello (Sperti 1988, pp. 98 ss, n. 34). 

Although there are no useful elements to suggest a possible context where the trapezohedra being examined were used, we must remember the particular circulation in the Italic ambit and, more generally, in the Mediterranean ambit of the iconography of back-to-back griffins, in association or not with plant elements, in the funerary ambit (Chiesa 1998).  Our examples should probably be related to an urban production from the Ist century CE according to the Neo-Attic art taste.

Jessica Clementi

  • G. B. Falda, Le fontane di Roma nelle piazze, e luoghi publici della città, III, Roma 1691, tavv. 11, 12.
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 118.
  • H. Von Rohden, H. Winnefeld, Architektonische römische Tonreliefs der Kaiserzeit, Berlin 1911.
  • M. A. Rizzo, Su alcuni nuclei di lastre Campana di provenienza nota, in “Rivista dell’Istituto Nazionale d’Archeologia e Storia dell’Arte”, 33-34, 1976-1977, pp. 5-93.
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 20.
  • H. –U. Cain, Römische Marmorkandelaber, Mainz am Rhein 1985.
  • L. Sperti, Rilievi greci e romani del Museo Archeologico di Venezia (Collezioni e Musei Archeologici del Veneto, 32), Roma 1988.
  • H. Herdejürgen, Antike und moderne Reliefs in der Villa Borghese, in “Archäologischen Anzeiger”, 4, 1997, pp. 480-503, in part. p. 483, fig. 3.
  • F. Chiesa, Demoni alati e grifi araldici: lastre architettoniche fittili di Capua Antica, Roma 1998, pp. 39-68.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 180, n. 13b.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, pp. 244-245, n. 235.
  • F. Oriolo, Trapezoforo, in Raccolte dei Civici Musei di Storia ed Arte e Rilievi del Propileo. Trieste, a cura di M. Verzàr-Bass, (Studi e ricerche sulla Gallia Cisalpina, 16), Roma 2003, pp. 78-79, ST 18.
  • M. Montanari, Trapezofori in marmo, in M. Luni (a cura di), Domus di Forum Sempronii. Decorazione e arredo, Roma 2007, pp. 117-128.
  • Schede di catalogo 12/01008523; 8524; 8525; 8526, P. Moreno 1976; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2021