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Sarcophagus lid at Kline with deceased lying down

Roman art

This sculpture portrays a woman semi-reclining on a rock (not original), wearing a chiton cinched tightly below her chest and a mantle called a himation. It is probably a fragment of a kline sarcophagus lid, a type of funerary monument that was popular in Rome between the first and third centuries CE. Various areas of the sculpture seem to have been heavily altered, including the kline itself, or dining couch, which has been replaced by a rock.

In about 1680, it was on the list of sculptures in the Villa Montalto Peretti on the Viminal Hill, where it decorated a fountain. A late-eighteenth-century drawing by Percier shows it in the Villa Borghese’s Lake Enclosure, placed against the wall near the Grotto of the Lions. Lastly, Nibby reported it in its current location in Room 6, in 1832.

The heavy alterations make it difficult to accurately analyse the sculpture, but it seems to be datable to between the second and third centuries CE, based on stylistic observation.

Object details

white Asian marble
height cm 50; width cm 210; depth cm 80

At Villa Montalto Peretti on the Viminal Hill before 1680 (Barberini 1991, p. 39); Borghese Collection, depicted, for the first time, in a drawing by Percier from the late eighteenth century in the Villa Borghese’s Lake Enclosure, against a wall near the Grotto of the Lions (Di Gaddo 1997, p. 118); mentioned by Nibby in Room 6 of the Villa in 1832  (p. 110, n. 2.); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 51, no. 144. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • late 18th-first three decades of the 19th century - adaptations and restoration work
  • 1996–97 - Liana Persichelli


In about 1680, the sculpture was in the garden of the Villa Montalto Peretti on the Viminal Hill, as documented in the Fondo Cardelli at the Vatican: ‘At fountain G above the spouting gargoyle. A tomb lid with the figure of a reclining woman, her face resting on her hand and her elbow on a cushion in low relief. 9 palmi long 3 wide 2 high’ (Inventario delle Statue, suppellettili ed altro esistenti nel Palazzo Peretti alle Terme, ASC, Fondo Cardarelli, n. 91, fol. 42: Barberini 1991, p. 39). At the end of the eighteenth century, a drawing by Percier shows it in the Villa Borghese’s Lake Enclosure, against a wall near the Grotto of the Lions (Di Gaddo 1997, p. 118). According to Kalveram, the sculpture might instead be the ‘statue of a reclining woman’ on a ‘large marble tomb, with a scene of the Fall of Phaeton carved in low relief’ that was described in 1650 by Manilli as in front of the Casino on the Villa’s grounds (Manilli 1650, p. 170; Kalveram 1995, p. 268, no. 261). Finally, in 1832, Nibby reported it in its current location, Room 6 (p. 110, no. 2).

The representation of the deceased must have been part of a kline lid for a sarcophagus, with the dining couch later replaced by a rock. The female figure supports herself with her bent left arm, while her slightly bent right arm is extended along her body and her hand, resting on her belly, holds three poppy bulbs. Her head is supported by her left hand, which moves her long hair aside. Her left leg, entirely covered by her garment, is bent and pressed against the mattress, while her right leg is raised and resting on the left, with the foot exposed. The woman is wearing a high-girdled chiton and a himation, which covers the rest of her body and, coming up over her left shoulder, her left arm as well. The folds of the garment, which adheres to the figure’s torso and chest, are deep and clearly defined, creating a rich play of chiaroscuro. The figure’s head is tipped slightly up and to the right. Her face is full, and her elongated eyes wear a blissful expression. She has a prominent nose and a small, closed mouth with the ends turned up in a slight smile. Her hair is parted in the middle and falls in thick, long, wavy locks over her shoulders. She wears a diadem on her head composed of two rows of beads. The sculpture has been heavily restored. The rock beneath the deceased is modern, as are the back part of the figure for a thickness of fourteen centimetres (interpreted by Moreno as due to abrasion from a second figure that was probably behind the woman), the bottom hem of the chiton and the feet, the drapery that falls over the rock, the right forearm with the hand and poppies, the left arm and part of the torso. The head is considered entirely modern (Calza 1957, p. 17, no. 199).

In 1981, Wrede published research on funerary sculptures of reclining women, which were used starting in the sixteenth century to represent spring nymphs in fountain grottoes. According to the scholar, the Borghese sculpture was heavily restored in order the adapt it to its new use. He dates the work to the Antonine period, based on the handling of the garment, with simplified straight or curved folds above the legs and equally schematised U-shaped folds in the area of the belly button (1981, pp. 86–131, in particular pp. 93, 96, fig. 11).

Kline sarcophagi, which drew on Etruscan models, were popular in Rome between the Flavian period and the mid second century CE but continued to be produced sporadically until the third century to commemorate and heroise the deceased. The Borghese sculpture can be fruitfully compared to a similar one in the Museo Nazionale Romano alle Terme, in which the female figure is, however, portrayed alongside a small Eros (Dayan 1981, pp. 163–164).

Although the heavy restoration work has compromised the original reading of the sculpture, it can be dated, based on style and iconography, to between the second and third centuries CE.

Giulia Ciccarello

  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 110, n. 2.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 21, n. 6.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 922.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano del Palazzo della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), I, p. 24, n. 6.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 42.
  • G. Giusti, The Borghese Gallery and the Villa Umberto I in Rome, Città di Castello 1928, p. 28.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (III Ed.) Roma 1954, p. 18.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 17, n. 199.
  • 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.
  • H. Wrede, Klinenprobleme, in “Archäologischer Anzeirger”, 1981, pp. 86-131, in part. pp. 93, 96, fig. 11.
  • S. A. Dayan, Monumento funerario a Kline con personaggio funebre, in Museo Nazionale Romano. Le sculture, I/2, Rome 1981, pp. 163-164, n. 54.
  • M. G. Barberini, Villa Peretti Montalto-Negroni-Massimo alle Terme Diocleziane: la collezione di sculture, in “Studi sul Settecento romano, 7, Collezionismo e ideologia”, Roma 1991, p. 39.
  • K. Kalveram, Die Antikensammlung des Kardinals Scipione Borghese, Worms am Rhein 1995, p. 268, n. 261.
  • B. Di Gaddo, L’Architettura di Villa Borghese. Dal giardino privato al parco pubblico, Roma 1997, p. 118.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p. 224, n. 209.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/01008470, P. Moreno 1975; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.