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Statue of Meleager, with modern head

Roman art

In this statue, Meleager is portrayed nude, except for a mantle called a chlamys. The figure is leaning against a tree trunk and supported by a spear. There is a dog to his right and the head of a wild boar, pinned by the spear, to his left. In the Iliad, Homer wrote that the Calydon hunter killed the animal, which had been sent by Artemis.

The sculpture is one of numerous known copies of a bronze original attributed to the sculptor Scopas, who was active in the fourth century BCE.

Recorded in Palazzo Borghese in Borgo in 1613, it was already in a niche in the Galleria del Casino in 1650 (now Room IV). At the end of the eighteenth century, it was moved to the Palazzo in Campo Marzio, and returned to the Villa Borghese (also known as the Villa Pinciana due to its location outside the Pincian Gate), permanently in 1828.

Object details

circa 140-150 d.C.
Luni marble
altezza senza plinto cm 197; altezza testa cm 34

Borghese Collection, it was recorded in 1613 in the Palazzo Borghese in Borgo (Francucci, Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Fondo Borghese, serie IV, n. 108, folio 128r, strofe 442); in the Villa in a niche in the Galleria del Casino, which is now Room IV (Manilli 1650, p. 75); in the Palazzo in Campo Marzio starting at the end of the eighteenth century and, in 1828, again in the Villa (Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Archivio Borghese, busta 1007, fasc. 301, no. 3); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 42, no. 16. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • Probably from the 17th century - Interventions carried out in marble: front part of the plinth and beneath the boar's head, half of the adjacent supporting trunk. On the animal: tips of the tusks and the right ear. On the figure: big toe of the right foot, right leg from mid-calf to mid-thigh; the left foot - except the toes, which are ancient and adhere to the original plinth -, the left leg down to below the knee, the right arm from below the shoulders, fingers of the right hand, the upper chest above the chlamys, the neck and head, on the spear the tip, and the lower half of the shaft, the edge of the billowing chlamys.
  • c. 1828: Antonio d’Este
  • 1994-95: Paola Mastropasqua


But Meleager’s hand made the difference, and of the two spears he threw,

though one stuck in the earth, the other fixed itself in the boar’s back.

Now, while it raged, and twisted its body round,

and spouted out hissing foam and fresh blood,

the author of its wound came at it, pricked his quarry to fury,

and buried his shining hunting-spear in his enemy’s shoulder

(Ovid, Metamorphoses 8:414–419)

This statue was described in 1613 in a poem by Scipione Francucci in the Palazzo Borghese in Borgo as a ‘marble Adonis with a wild boar next to him’ (Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Fondo Borghese, serie IV, no. 108, folio 128r, strofe 442).

In 1650, it was reported by Manilli in a niche in the Galleria del Casino. which is now Room IV (p. 75). Montelatici confirmed this location and interpreted the work as an Adonis or a Meleager, leaning towards the latter (1700, pp. 229–230). At the end of the eighteenth century, Francesco Caucig (active in Rome from 1781 to 1787) made a drawing of the statue, showing it still in the Casino (Kupferstichkabinett der Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna, no. 286).

In 1828, one of the two lists enclosed with the quarta nota on the works selected to be restored and displayed in the galleries after they were stripped by the sale to Napoleon, described the statue, by now labelled as Meleager, as having been in the Portico on the second floor of the Palazzo, noting that the sculptor Antonio d’Este had been hired to restore it. From this we know that the statue had been previously taken to the family’s city residence, probably after the renovation led by Antonio Asprucci for Marcantonio Borghese. Indeed, the work does not appear among those in the description of the sculptures in the Villa drawn up in 1796 by Lamberti and Visconti (Sculture del palazzo della Villa Borghese detta Pinciana). From there, it was brought to Antonio D’Este’s workshop to be restored, in view of filling the Villa with new works, after it was emptied by the sale to Napoleon. The work done on the statue was described in the quinta nota on the restoration: ‘Standing statue of Meleager in transparent Greek marble, with a modern head, legs and right arm, restored many years ago. This monument is clearly a Meleager, indeed, what remains from antiquity is so precious that it rivals the one in the Vatican Museum, as much for the nude as for the drapery and other elements’ (Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Archivio Borghese, busta 1007, fasc. 301, no. 3; Moreno, Sforzini 1987, pp. 260–262).

Back in the Villa, the statue was displayed in the Salone, where it was described by Nibby in 1832 and where it is still on view today (p. 43).

The work has been heavily restored. It is plausible that the restoration work described in the quinta nota cited above was completed by the first decade of the seventeenth century, when it was displayed in the residence of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. It portrays a standing young man, leaning against a tree trunk with the weight of his body on his right leg, while the left is bent and moved back, touching the ground with only the tip of the foot. The right arm is held behind the back and the left is supporting a spear that is resting lightly on the shoulder. The figure is in a sinuous pose and depicted nude except for a mantle called a chlamys, which is fastened over the right shoulder and draped over the left arm. He wears elaborate boots held tight around the lower calf with a leather bow. To Meleager’s right, there is a dog sitting on its haunches and looking up at the man. On the left, the bottomo of the spear is resting on the head of a wild boar on the ground. In the Iliad, Homer described Meleager killing the legendary animal, which had been sent by the goddess Artemis to punish his father for failing to make sacrifices to her: ‘Thereat the Archer-goddess, the child of Zeus, waxed wroth and sent against him a fierce wild boar, white of tusk that wrought much evil, wasting note the orchard land of Oeneus; many a tall tree did he uproot and cast upon the ground, aye, root and apple blossom therewith. But the boar did Meleager, son of Oeneus, slay, when he had gathered out of many cities huntsmen and hounds; for not of few men could the boar have been slain, so huge was he; and many a man set he upon the grievous pyre’ (Homer, Iliad 9:538–546).

In 1893, Venturi noted a strong similarity to a statue of the same subject in the Vatican Museum and held that both were copies of the same bronze archetype from the fourth century BCE (Helbig 1966, pp. 74–75, no. 97). Helbig observed, however, that the Borghese copy lacks the plasticity of the original, largely due to the restoration work, in the left arm and in the hem of the chlamys, which are too close to the body and the arm (Helbig 1913, p. 233, no. 1532). Comparing the Borghese statue with a similar one in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen (inv. 1562: Poulsen 1951, pp. 257–59), Lippold argued that the chlamys was added by Roman copyists based on the original statue type (1926, p. 4, no. 2714).

Scholars agree, however, that the numerous surviving statues of Meleager derive, with stylistic variants, from an original attributed to the sculptor Scopas (Arias 1952, pp. 128–31; Hanfmann, Pedley 1964, pp. 61–66; Stewart 1977, pp. 142–144).

The Borghese sculpture is a Roman copy datable to between 140 and 150 CE.

Giulia Ciccarello

  • S. Francucci, La Galleria dell’Illustrissimo e Reverendissimo Signor Scipione cardinale Borghese, Roma 1613.
  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 75.
  • D. Montelatici, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana con l’ornamenti che si osservano nel di lei Palazzo, Roma 1700, pp. 229-230.
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 43.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 9, n. 8.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 912, n. 8.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese”, Roma 1854 (1873), p. 10, n. 8.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 14.
  • S. Reinach, Répertorie de la Statuaire greque et romaine, II, 2, Paris 1898, p. 555, n. 1
  • G. Giusti, The Borghese Gallery and the Villa Umberto I in Rome, Città di Castello, p. 28.
  • W. Helbig, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer inRom (3° Edizione), a cura di W. Amelung, II, Leipzig 1913, p. 233, n. 1532.
  • Photographische Einzelaufnahmen antiker Sculpturen, X, 1 Munchen 1926, p. 4, n. 2714 (G. Lippold).
  • G. Lippold, Die griechische Plastik, in “Handbuch der Archäologie“, III, 1, 1950, p. 289, nota 6.
  • F. Poulsen, Catalogue of Ancient Sculpture in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen 1951, pp. 257-59, n. 387.
  • P. E. Arias, Skopas, Roma 1952, p. 128.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (3° Edizione), Roma 1954, p. 6.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 8, n. 28.
  • H. Sichtermann, Das Motiv des Meleager, in “Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archaologischen Instituts”, 69, 1962, pp. 43-51, in part. p. 44, n. 5, tav. 19, 2.
  • G.M.A. Hanfmann, J. Griffiths Pedley, The Statue of Meleager, in “Antike Plastik”, III, Berlin 1964, pp. 61-66.
  • W. Helbig, H. Speier, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom, (4°Edizione), a cura di H. Speier, II, Tübingen 1966, pp. 706-707, n. 1946 (von Steuben).
  • P. E. Arias, s.v. Skopas, in “Enciclopedia dell’Arte Antica“, 1966.
  • P. Moreno, Formazione della raccolta di antichità del Museo e Galleria Borghese, in “Colloqui del Sodalizio”, 5, 1975-76, p. 136.
  • A. F. Stewart, Skopas of Paros, Park Ridge 1977, pp. 142-144.
  • M. Bieber, Ancient Copies, Contribution to the History of Greek and Roman Art, New York 1977, p. 41, fig. 85.
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 10, fig. 7.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 101, fig. a p. 86.
  • F. Haskell, N. Penny, Taste and the Antique, London 1981, p. 263, n. 60.
  • 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. 360-362.
  • K. Kalveram, Die Antikensammlung des Kardinals Scipione Borghese, in “Römische Studien der Bibliotheca Hertziana”, 11, Worm am Rehin, 1995, p. 193, n. 66.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 50, n. 9.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, pp. 166-167, n. 80.
  • Schede di catalogo 12/01008340, P. Moreno 1975; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020