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Patera-shaped Bowl in Coral Breccia

roman school

Executed in coral breccia, the object reproduces the forms of an ancient patera, the bowl used to sip liquids during ritual ceremonies. As it had no handles, it was held in the palm of the hand with the aid of an indentation carved into the bottom surface, to which corresponded a protruding knob on the upper side, as is clearly visible in this case.

The bowl was sculpted in the last quarter of the 18th century, on the occasion of the renovation of Villa Pinciana carried out by the architect Antonio Asprucci. This dating is confirmed by its first mention on the part of Luigi Lamberti and Ennio Quirino Visconti in 1796. The identity of the sculptor is unknown.

Object details

Last quarter of 18th century
coral breccia
15 x 36,5 cm

Documented in Villa Pinciana from 1796 (L. Lamberti, E.Q. Visconti, Sculture del palazzo della Villa Borghese detta Pinciana, Rome 1796, I, p. 34); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p. 48, no. 98; purchased by Italian state, 1902.


The object is a shallow bowl resting on a moulded foot. The everted edge terminates in a fillet, while a groove runs along the interior. A convex knob protrudes from the centre of the piece, corresponding to the indentation carved in the bottom. The design qualifies the object as a reproduction of a patera, a shallow bowl without handles which in antiquity was used to offer beverages during ritual sacrifices. The cavity below served to accommodate the worshipper’s fingers, ensuring a firm grip.

The work was sculpted in the late 18th century in the context of the renovation of Villa Pinciana commissioned by Marcantonio IV Borghese and carried out by Antonio Asprucci. To date it has not been possible to identify the artist among the many sculptors and artisans specialised in working precious marbles who were involved in the project.

The object was executed in coral breccia, an ornamental stone characterised by a reddish ground and white, yellow or pink angular spots of various dimensions. The material was brought to Rome from Asia Minor in the imperial era and used primarily to create columns and basins (Sironi 1987, p. 166).

In 1796 the object was documented as on display on a pietra dura table in Room 1 together with its pendant, a basin in oriental granite (inv. no. CCVIII; Lamberti, Visconti, I, p. 34); since 1893 it has been exhibited in the Egyptian Room (Venturi, p. 44).

Sonja Felici