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Statue of Artemis

Roman art

This life-size statue of a woman can be interpreted as Artemis. The head, which is ancient but not original to the body, was added in the nineteenth century. Restored in the seventeenth century as Thalia, the Muse of Comic Theatre, the sculpture is a variant of the Artemis of Dresden and shares similarities with the Munich-Braschi type. The figure is standing, with her right knee slightly bent. She is wearing a chiton beneath a generous, long peplos that reveals her toes and part of her sandals. Her right arm is raised and, although modern, its position is as it would have been in antiquity. Indeed, the figure would have been removing a dart from the quiver behind her with her right hand. Her left hand is instead turned downward. Her bow would have been on her left side originally. The forearm, hand and mask are restored and derive from the antiquarian interpretation of the figure as a muse.

The body is a copy, dating to the Imperial period, of a Praxitelean model, while the head is datable to the Hadrianic period, based on Hellenistic representations of deities. This Roman copy was probably a portrait statue.

Object details

100-110 d.C. (corpo); II secolo d.C. (testa)
fine-grain white marble, possibly Pentelic
height cm 166 (with plinth); statue cm 156; head cm 19

From Villa Medici, documented in an engraving by Giovan Battista De Rossi dated 1641; Borghese Collection, documented in drawings dating to at least the last two decades of the eighteenth century (Gasparri 1987, p. 265). Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, no. 124. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • First half of the 17th century - Restored as a Muse. The following are restored: the right arm with the hand, shoulder and drapery, the left forearm, the hand and the mask, the attachment of the neck and the lower part of the plinth. Chips and missing chunks in the drapery and the right knee.
  • 19th century - Replacement of the head, not original to the body, inserted with a collar. The nose is restored.
  • 1995 - C.B.C. coop a r.l.


An engraving of the sculpture by Giovan Battista De Rossi dated 1641 documents its provenance in the Villa Medici. In the print, the pedestal is inscribed in Hortis Mediceis (Rome, Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe FC 282 vol. 26 F7; see Gasparri 1987, p. 265).

Previously displayed in one of the niches on the facade of the Villa Medici, in De Rossi’s engraving the statue is depicted with three others, which were also interpreted as Muses in the seventeenth century. One of them is the Borghese Artemis (inv. CXXXVII, Room IV) from the Giustiniani Collection. The other, which had been in the Horti Burghesiani, is the statue of a muse wearing a high-girdled chiton on the balustrade of Palazzo Borghese (De Lachenal 1982, p. 82, no. 25; also cited in the inventory of the Primogenitura of 1610, idem, p. 96, no. 57. For the drawing by Felice Giani, see idem, fig. 58). The fourth sculpture, which was in the Hortis Ludovisiani, might be one of the colossal sculptures displayed in the courtyard of that residence (Gasparri 1987, pp. 263–264).

The drawings by Franz Caucig and Johann Heinrich von Dannecker, made, respectively, after 1779 and in 1789, document the new location in the Palazzo Borghese, with a note that might refer to the Casino of the Villa and not the Palazzo in Campo Marzio (Gasparri 1987, p. 265). In any case, we do not currently have further information about how and when the sculpture entered the collection. However, the report of the acquisition, in the eighteenth century, of a group of sculptures from the Villa d’Este (the Heracles with Telephus, the Spinario, the Louvre Pollux and the Leda) might be of interest. It is possible that the Artemis/Muse was acquired during the same period, in particular in about the 1780s, when the Medici collection was moved to Florence, possibly when the Villa Borghese was being reorganised and transformed by Antonio Asprucci (see Gasparri 1987, p. 265) for Marcantonio IV.

Manilli and Montelatici describe two similar statues with masks, indicating them as Poetry or Thalia: the first in front of the entrance by via di Porta Pinciana, the other, ‘con una maschera nella man sinistra, e con la Tibia nella destra’ (‘with a mask in her left hand and a tibia in her right’), in the theatre in the second enclosure. According to Moreno, the latter might be the Artemis of Room IV, which was already in the possession of the Borghese family at that date (Manilli 1650, p. 149; Montelatici 1700, p. 83; Moreno, Viacava 2003, p. 202).

The Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese of 1833 reports the display of the Muse, also drawn by Bertel Thorvaldsen, in one of the six niches in Room IV, called the Gallery of the Emperors at the time, next to a Venus Anadyomene, two statues of Diana (inv. CXXIX; CXXXVII) and two of Bacchus. In the guide to the Galleria published in 1883, Adolfo Venturi mentioned the statue of a ‘giovane donna che ha nella sinistra una maschera’ (‘young woman holding a mask in her left hand’), specifying that the arms and the attribute, present in De Rossi’s engraving, were restored. Antonio Nibby noted the delicate drapery of the sculpture, which he also believed was Greek marble, and discussed the work of the modern restorer, who ‘diè la maschera comica, facendone in tal guisa una Talia’ (‘added the comic mask, making it into a Thalia’; Nibby 1832, p. 90).

The figure seems to be a variant of the Dresden Artemis. She is wearing a long draped peplos, with a broad apòptygma, that covers a chiton with sleeves that come down to the elbows, clearly visible in the ancient part of the left arm and copied on the modern right arm. There is a balteus stretched across the chest that would have supported the quiver. The original attributes must have been a bow, held in the left hand, given the position of the arm oriented downward, and arrows, which the goddess is about to take from her quiver, raising her right arm. The restoration repeats the ancient pose, as we can see from the height of the shoulder and the asymmetry of the right breast.

According to Moreno, the body is modelled on Praxiteles’s Artemis at Megara (2001, pp. 151–157). The detail of the chiton that covers the arms suggests that this copy was originally a portrait statue. During the Imperial period, it was not uncommon to adapt ideal statuary types or types used for divinities to portrait statues of matrons and other high-ranking individuals.

Known in numerous copies and variants, the iconographic type, deriving from an original by Praxiteles, was very popular during the Roman period. The formal and stylistic rendering exhibits expert handling of the marble surface, which is especially precise in the folds of the peplos, which follow the movement of the body, although barely noted, and the transparency of the left sleeve of the chiton, which reveals the shoulder.

The pose of the Borghese sculpture is comparable to the Artemis from the Sorgente Group Collection, previously in the Versace Collection, which is a variant of the same type dating to slightly later. The sculpture also shares similarities with an exemplar in the Glyptotek, Munich ( 227), which is of the Munich-Braschi type. Although iconographically different (in both cases, the right arm originally followed the line of the torso, while the left arm might have rested on the hip or held an attribute), they are comparable to the Borghese statue for the rendering of the drapery. In the Munich sculpture, moreover, the chiton also covers the shoulder. Another interesting exemplar from the same series is the sculpture in the Museo di Foggia (inv. 65OR38), which is similar for the lateral mantle and the handling of the garment over the torso and the legs.

In the literature, the prototype of the Dresden Artemis was the cult statue carved by Praxiteles for the temple of Apollo Prostaterius at Megara or for the Letoion at Mantinea (circa 370–365 BCE), whereas the Munich-Braschi type derives from the Artemis Soteira at Megara (circa 350 BCE), it, too, by Praxiteles (L. Todisco, Scultura greca del IV secolo. Maestrie scuole di statuaria tra classicità ed ellenismo, Milan 1993).

Clara di Fazio

In 1828, in the quinta nota of the objects selected to be restored by D’Este and Laboureur, there is mention of a ‘Musa Talia scolpita in marmo greco di ottimissimo stile’ (‘Thalia the Muse sculpted in Greek marble of excellent workmanship’) from which the ‘levata la brutta testa che vi era prima, e postovi altra graziosa’ (‘ugly head that was on it before was removed and replaced by a graceful one’). The restoration work, carried out when the Sala Nobile, Room IV, was being hung, was estimated at 60 scudi (Archivio apostolico Vaticano, Archivio Borghese, B. 1007, fasc. 301; Moreno, Sforzini 1987, p. 362).

The head, which is inclined and turned to the right, has a softly and finely sculpted oval face. The small eyes, framed by clear, linear, barely noted brows, have thin eyelids and are clearly defined. The iris is smooth, and the circular tear duct is sunken. The small mouth, with a full lower lip, is slightly open. The low, triangular forehead is framed by a mass of wavy locks, arranged symmetrically from a centre part. The figure’s hair, which reveals part of the ears, is held by an elegant, wavy diadem that tapers on the sides.

Arndt, who considered it to be ancient, held that it differs from the Dresden exemplar, the only one that, in the scholar’s view, preserves the artistic character of Praxiteles’s original (1893, p. 18, no. 133).

The arrangement of the hair, parted in the middle and divided into lateral bands, and the diadem are associated with iconographic types expressive of the Greek ideal dating to the fourth century BCE, broadly used for images of divinities like Aphrodite, Artemis and Hera.

The diadem, originally an attribute of depictions of deities, started to be used in the Julio-Claudian period for portraits of women from the imperial family, as a sign of their deification. A similar classicist trend is also found in portraits of Sabina, wife of Emperor Hadrian, which are characterised by a similar hairstyle, with hair parted in the middle and divided into two side bands and held by a diadem, one example being the bust of the empress from the Appian Way, datable to her youth (Felletti-Maj 1953, p. 102, no. 195).

The Borghese portrait could therefore depict an ideal image or a deified portrait of a private matron. The still careful use of the drill for the hair and the imitation of a few classicist elements suggest a date during the Hadrianic period.

Giulia Ciccarello

  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 149.
  • D. Montelatici, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana con l’ornamenti che si osservano nel di lei Palazzo, Roma 1700, p. 83.
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 90.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 17, n. 3.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 919.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), p. 20, n. 3.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 33.
  • G. Giusti, La Galerie Borghèse et la Ville Humbert Premier à Rome, Roma 1904, p. 27.
  • W. Helbig, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom, II, Leipzig 1913 (3a), p. 244.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1954, p. 14.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 6, n. 23.
  • D. Helsted, Enromerskskitsebog, in “Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum”, 1965, pp. 14-25, n. 17.
  • W. Helbig, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischerAltertümer in Rom, II, a cura di H. Speier, Tübingen 1966 (4a), p. 729, n. 1972.
  • P. Moreno, Formazione della raccolta di antichità del Museo e Galleria Borghese, in “Colloqui del Sodalizio” 5, 1975-1976, pp. 125-143, in part. p. 138.
  • M. Bieber, Ancient Copies. Contribution to the History of Greek and Roman Art, New York 1977, pp. 86-88.
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 15.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 101.
  • L. De Lachenal, La collezione di sculture antiche della famiglia borghese e il Palazzo in Campo Marzio, in “Xenia” 4, 1982, pp. 49-117, in part. p. 82, n. 25, fig. 51; 96, n. 57.
  • C. Gasparri, Su alcune vicende del collezionismo romano di antichità dal XVI al XVIII secolo: Este, Medici, Albani e altri, in “Scienze dell’antichità” 1, 1987, in part. pp. 263-266.
  • 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. 362.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 130, n. 3.
  • P. Moreno, La bellezza classica. Guida al piacere dell’antico, Torino 2001.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p. 202, n. 182.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/ 00147902 P. Moreno 1975, aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2021