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Sepulchral Altar of Statius

Roman art

The funerary altar, already known in the 15th century, was purchased in 1607 by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, together with other marbles and sculptures of the Ceoli collection, kept in the Palazzo in Via Giulia. Described at the end of the 16th century as being in a recess in the west wall in the I Enclosure of Villa Pinciana, it was moved to the Casino in the 19th century. The altar, defined at the top and bottom by a projecting border, shows on the front the inscription, in which it is remembered that the burial of the ‘gentlest’ Statius was prepared by his brother Charilampes. At the sides of the monument there is a patera (libation dish) and an urceus (a jug), two ritual tools that have a fixed position on memorial stones and altars, symbolically recalling the position in front of the altar held during the sacrifice by the priest with the dish and by his young assistant the camillus, with the jug.

Object details

2nd - 3rd century A.D.
Luni marble
height 81 cm, width 78 cm; depth 33 cm; 4-3 cm letters

Ceoli Collection; Cardinal Scipione Borghese, 1607 Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 41, n. 7. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902. 

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1996-97, Liana Persichelli


The altar was already known in the 15th century when it was remembered by, amongst others, Ciriaco d’Ancona to be in the Lateran Baptistry and was copied numerous times, even by Jan Gruter who, however, erroneously added it to the epigraphic collection in 1603, adding the location as ‘Romae in palatio Ceuli [...] cui statua gladiatoris imposita’ and speculating its provenance to be the Baths of Constantine on the Quirinale Hill. The Coeli Collection, held in the Palazzo in Via Giulia, built by Antonio da Sangallo, was purchased by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1607. The altar was probably placed temporarily in Palazzo Borghese in Campo Marzio, later it was moved to Villa Pinciana, in a recess in the West wall in the I Enclosure, where the central avenue of elm trees ended, as reported by Manilli and Montelatici at the end of the 16th century. In this context it was used as the base for a ‘large statue, representing Asclepius with the serpent’. According to Paolo Moreno this was the colossal statue that decorated the Fontana del Fiocco, the work of the architect Luigi Canina, completed in 1834.

Initially positioned in the Portico, where Venturi remembered it still to be in 1834 as a base for the statue of the seated emperor (XXVII), after the sale of the collection to the Italian state (1902) the group of Mars, Venus and Cupid (CCL) was placed there. Later displayed, together with this group, on the ground floor in the Salone Mariano Rossi, it is currently in the Apollo and Daphne room. 

The altar, quadrangular in shape, is defined at the top and bottom by a projecting border; the top border is composed of a listel and a cyma recta moulding, the bottom one is composed of a listel, a cyma reversa, a second listel and an ovolo. On the front, bordered by a listel, there is a four-line inscription ‘Charilampes / fratri suo / dulcissimo / Stazio’ that records how Carilampe provided the money for his brother Statius’s burial.

At the sides of the monument on the left there is an urceus (libation jug), on the right a patera (libation dish). The position of these ritual objects is fixed on memorial stones and altars and originates from the position the priest and the camillus, the young man who assisted the priest during the sacrifice, held the patera and the urceus in front of the altar (Bowerman 1913, p. 87). In time, the symbolic dimension of these features disappeared, while urceus and patera become common subjects of the repertoire on the sides of memorial stones and altars (Von Schaewen 1940, pp. 17-14). 

Stylistic and palaeographic considerations allow us to date the altar between II-III century CE.

Jessica Clementi

  • CIL, VI 14717, p. 3516.
  • J. Gruter, Inscriptiones antiquae totius orbis Romani, in corpus absolutiss. Redactae, 1603, DCCCXLVI, n. 6.
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 28.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 6, n. 22.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 910, n. 22.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), p. 7, n. 26.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 12.
  • H.C. Bowerman, Roman Sacrificial Altars. An Archaeological Study of Monuments in Rome, Lancaster 1913, p. 87.
  • R. von Schaewen, Römische Opfergeräte, ihre Verwendung im Kultus und in der Kunst, Berlin 1940.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 45, n. 3b.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p. 197, n. 179.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/99000057, G. Ciccarello 2021.