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Reliefs with Winged Victory and Offerers

Roman art

This base, which is being used as a support for a statue of a triple-bodied Hecate (inv. CXC), was mentioned by Nibby in Room VIII in 1832 and in Room VI in 1841. The heavily restored sculpture is decorated on the front with a winged Victory and, on the sides, by two offerers with a crown and a vase. On the back, there is a relief of a third offerer that is probably a modern addition.

According to one theory, the pillar came from the Arch of Lucius Verus, dated 166 CE, along with two other similar ones in the church of Santi Nereo e Achilleo on the Appian Way. Although it is too heavily restored to permit proper examination, the sculpture is indicatively datable to the second century CE.

Object details

II secolo d.C.
Luni marble
altezza cm 78; larghezza cm 57; profondità con restauri cm 60

Borghese Collection, cited for the first time in Room VIII by Nibby in 1832 (p. 122); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese (1833, C., p. 54, no. 192). Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 19th century, circa third decade - restoration of missing parts
  • 1918 - Cesare Fossi
  • 1966 - Tito Minguzzi
  • 1996–97 - Liana Persichelli


These reliefs are decorating the front and sides of a base that is being used as a support for a statue of the triple-bodied Hecate (inv. CXC). On the back, there is a figure of an offerer wearing a Phrygian cap and holding a vegetal crown that probably has a different provenance than the other three sides and was likely added during restoration. On the front panel, there is a winged Victory holding part of a trophy, visible above her left shoulder, in her right hand. The figure, shown in rapid movement, is turned to the right, her right leg slightly advanced and moved towards the outer right, while her left leg, the foot raised off the ground, follows its movement. She is wearing a chiton and a mantle called a himation, which, draped over her right forearm, is following behind the figure, held up by her raised left arm. Her highly sculptural garment seems to be floating.

On the right side, there is a young beardless man wearing a Phrygian cap, who is moving towards the panel with the winged Victory, on the left. He is wearing a generous, long tunic with sleeves, cinched at the waist with a belt, and boots. The mantle, which is billowing out behind the figure, is contained by his arms, which are holding a krater called a kantharos with relief decoration.

The male figure on the left side symmetrically reproduces the movement towards the Victory. He is also wearing a Phrygian cap, but has a long, thick beard. His tunic, cinched at the waist with a belt and stopping at his knee, has a side split that goes up to the top of his thigh. His mantle, which is fastened at his right shoulder, falls behind his back and conceals his arms. The figure’s hands, which are covered by the fabric, are holding a crown of laurel branches tied with a decorated band in the middle of a clipeus inserted in a medallion.

The three panels were heavily restored in modern times, probably when the base was installed in the Villa in the nineteenth century. The following have been restored, on the front: the upper frame, the upper part of the female figure’s legs with the relative drapery, the left shoulder, the neck and the head; on the left side: the upper frame and part of the background, the right leg, the right shoulder and the head with part of the head covering; on the right side: the left leg up to the hip with the relative drapery, the knee, the right thigh and most of the head. Nibby mentioned the base in Room VIII in 1832 and in Room VI in 1841 (p. 122; p. 922, no. 7).

In 1911, Bienkowski, drawing on an article published by Albrecht Dieterich in 1902 on the origin of the evangelical story of the Adoration of the Magi, interpreted the figures in the Borghese relief as ‘un romano prototipo’ (a Roman prototype) of the Adoration, a frequent subject in Christian art. In his close study of the image, the scholar identified the man holding a crown on the left as a priest of Attis and the one holding a vase on the right as a Persian or Syrian priest. According to his theory, the marble base portrays the arrival in Rome, during the time of Nero, of Tiridates and the other magi in 66 CE, bearing gifts that were offered to the emperor by the king of Armenia in a sign of servitude. The scholar argued that this event inspired the lines in the Gospel relative to the Adoration of the Magi, and the iconography was revived in early Christian art to transmit Matthew’s story. Based on stylistic analysis and, in particular, the lack of the use of a drill to render the pupils, he dated the sculpture to the first century CE (1911, pp. 45–56). This dating was accepted by Amelung (p. 246, no. 1555). Cumont was of a different view, disagreeing with the interpretation of the figures as eastern priests and instead seeing a close resemblance to two bases installed during the restoration of 1597 in the church of Santi Nereo e Achilleo, on the Appian Way. The composition of these sculptures is similar to that of the Borghese work, with offerers on the sides, turned towards a Victory on the front. The back is smooth, as that of the Borghese sculpture would have been before it was restored. In Cumont’s view, the three bases were part of the decoration of the Arch of Lucius Verus, which was, probably, built on the Appian Way to commemorate the victory over the Parthians in 166 CE (1932-1933, pp. 88–89, pl. I, 1-2, II, 1).

Not enough of the ancient material survives to permit a careful reading of the original sculpture, but it seems to be datable to the second century CE.

  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 122.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 21, n. 7.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 922, n. 7.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano del Palazzo della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), I, p. 24, n. 7.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 42.
  • A. Dieterich, Die Weisen aus dem Morgenlande, in “Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde des Urchristentums”, III, 1902.
  • A. Dieterich, Kleine Schriften, 1911, pp. 272-286.
  • L. Bienkowski, De prototypo quodam Romano adorationis magorum, in “Eos”, XVII, 1911, pp. 45-56.
  • W. Helbig, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümerin Rom (III Ed.), a cura di W. Amelung, II, Leipzig 1913, p. 246, n. 1555.
  • G. Giusti, The Borghese Gallery and the Villa Umberto I in Rome, Città di Castello 1928, p. 42.
  • F. Cumont, L’Adoration des Mages et l’art triomphal de Rome, in “Memorie délia Pontificia Accademia Romana di Archeologia”, 3, 1932-1933, pp. 88-89, tav. I, 1-2, II, 1.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (III Ed.) Roma 1954, p. 18.
  • G. Gullini, Maestri e botteghe a Roma da Gallieno alla Tetrarchia, Torino 1960, pp. 48-49.
  • M. Spannagel, Wiedergefundene Antiken, Zu vier Dal Pozzo-Zeichnungen in Windsor Castle, in ”Archäologischer Anzeiger”, 1979, pp. 349, 357.
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 17.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 102.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, pp. 226-227, n. 212.
  • L. Sist Russo, Frammento di rilievo con scena isiaca, in Palazzo Altemps. Le collezioni, Roma 2011, pp. 340-341.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/01008472, P. Moreno 1979; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.