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Statue of a Boy with Two Ducks

Roman art

 In 1700, this sculpture was mentioned by Domenico Montelatici in the Casino del Graziano of the Villa Borghese, Rome. It was later sent to the Villa di Mondragone at Frascati, and then moved back to Rome in 1819, during the period when the antiquities collection of Villa Pinciana was being rebuilt, after it was stripped of much of its ancient sculpture by the sale to Napoleon in 1807. The group, only the torso of which is ancient, portrays a kneeling, nude boy holding a duck by the neck with his left hand, while his right hand is resting on another bird on the ground. Because the sculpture is so heavily restored, we can only theorise about the interpretation of the work, which might be a revival, datable to the second century CE, of the Hellenistic type of a boy strangling a goose, attributed by Pliny to the sculptor Boethos.

Object details

II sec. d.C.
white marble
height without plinth cm 73

Borghese Collection, cited for the first time by Montelatici (1700, p. 106) in the Casino del Graziano; later moved to the Villa di Mondragone and then back to the Villa Pinciana, in 1819 (AAV, Archivio Borghese, b. 8096, p. 102). Inventario fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 47, no. 89. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 17th century (?) - restoration of the plinth, the right foot and leg, the left foot and leg below the knee, the right hand and arm from the elbow with the duck to the ground, the left forearm and hand with the duck, the neck and head of the boy.
  • 1819 - Felice Festa


The boy, in puberty, is nude and in a crouching position. His right leg is bent and resting on the tip of his right foot, while his weight seems to be supported by the left leg, which is slightly turned outward. His right arm is extended along his body and his right hand is resting on a duck settled on the ground. His left arm is resting on his knee, and he is holding a second duck by the neck with his left hand. His head is turned to the left and he has a thick head of curly hair. His smiling mouth is partially open, and he has a prominent nose.

In 1700, Domenico Montelatici mentioned the group in the Villa Borghese’s Casino del Graziano, describing it as ‘una Stagione rappresentante l’Inverno con due anatre’ (‘a Season representing Winter with two ducks’; Montelatici 1700, p. 106).It was then documented among the sculptures decorating the Villa di Mondragone at Frascati, which were then moved back to Rome in 1819 to be displayed in the Villa Pinciana, which had been stripped by Prince Camillo’s sale of the ancient sculpture collection to his brother-in-law Napoleon in 1807. In 1819, the sculptor Felice Festa restored the sculpture: ‘Figuretta di un ragazzo inginocchiato sopra la gamba dritta in atto di tenere due anatrelle, il braccio dritto va connesso, le gambe delle anatrelle, che posano sopra la pianta vanno ristaurate, non che altra mancanza possa avere’ (‘Figure of a boy kneeling on his right knee holding two little ducks, his right arm needs to be attached, the legs of the ducks, which are on the base, need to be restored, and any other missing parts’; Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Archivio Borghese, b. 1005, no. 158, 12 October 1819; Moreno, Sforzini 2000, p. 347). In 1828, when the collection was being restored, Giuseppe Gozzani had Antonio D’Este and Massimiliano Laboureur draw up a Nomenclatura of the Galleria Borghese’s ancient sculpture. In this document, the sculpture is mentioned in its current, location, in Room III (Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Archivio Borghese, b. 348, fasc. 33; Moreno 1975-1976, p. 46). In 1832, Antonio Nibby described it as ‘un garzone accovacciato che stringe colla sinistra un’anatrina, e preme colla destra un’anatra, buon lavoro del tempo degli Antonini’ (‘a crouching body holding a little duck in his left hand and pressing on a duck with his right hand, good workmanship from the time of the Antonines’; Nibby 1832, p. 86).

Heavily restored, the only part of the sculpture that is ancient is the boy’s torso. It is therefore difficult to accurately interpret the work. The restoration work would have been done before 1700, according to Montelatici’s description, which provides a terminus ante quem for it. According to Paolo Moreno, the modern restoration included the base and the addition of the head (Moreno 2000, p. 107, no. 3).

The archetype would have been the Hellenistic type of the boy strangling a goose, attributed by Pliny to the sculptor Boethos, active between the third and second centuries BCE. The Borghese torso would have been a Roman variant, datable to the second century CE (Nat. Hist. 34.84). The sculpture, which is marked by a softly modelled complexion, seems comparable to a statue of a standing boy holding a bunch of grapes and a duck in his hands in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Hoffmann 1970, p. 42, no. 13) and a similar one unearthed in the Praedia of Iulia Felix in Pompeii (Inserra 2008, pp. 58–59, no. A33).

Although very little of the original sculpture remains, it might have been a depiction of a Heraklìskos, which is to say a young Heracles fighting snakes. That subject was especially popular between the first and second centuries CE, as we know from the numerous known replicas, including a sculpture in the Capitoline Museum dated to the second half of the second century CE (Arafa 1993, pp. 73–96).

Giulia Ciccarello

  • D. Montelatici, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana con l’ornamenti che si osservano nel di lei Palazzo, Roma 1700, p. 106.
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 86.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 15, n. 5.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 917, n. 5.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), p. 18, n. 5.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p.30.
  • G. Giusti, The Borghese Gallery andthe Villa Umberto I in Rome, Roma 1904, p. 36.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (3° Edizione), Roma 1954, p. 12.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 11, n. 84.
  • H. Hoffmann, Ten Centuries that Shaped the West. Greek and Roman Art in Texas Collections, Mainz 1970.
  • P. Moreno, C. Sforzini, I ministri del principe Camillo: cronaca della collezione Borghese di antichità dal 1807 al 1832, in “Scienze dell’Antichità”, 1, 1987, pp. 339-371, in part. p. 347.
  • F. P. Arata, Lo Hercules infans dracones duos strangulans del Museo Capitolino. Contributo all’iconografia imperiale d’età antonina, in “Bullettino della Commissione Archeologica Comunale di Roma”, 1993, Vol. 95, n. 2, Roma 1993, pp. 73-96.
  • P. Moreno, Le sculture antiche nella Stanza di Apollo e Dafne, in Apollo e Dafne del Bernini nella Galleria Borghese, a cura di K. Herrmann Fiore, Milano 1997, pp. 41, 46, fig. 1.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 107, n. 3.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p. 190, n.169.
  • N. Inserra, Le Regiones I, II, III, in Marmora pompeiana nel Museo archeologico nazionale di Napoli, gli arredi scultorei delle case pompeiane, a cura di A. Carrella, Roma 2008.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/01008383, P. Moreno 1975; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020