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Statuette of Zeus

Roman art

This statuette depicts a male figure wearing drapery that covers the lower half of his body and is elegantly arranged over his left shoulder and arm. The iconography of the sculpture points to the Giustiniani Asclepius type, preserved in the Capitoline Museum and believed to be a copy of an original from the fifth century BCE. The attributes that define the Borghese statue as Zeus (the lighting rod in his right hand, the thick hair and beard and the eagle at his feet) were added when the sculpture was restored. The sculpture is mentioned in the Palazzina Borghese for the first time in 1832 and was in Room II on the first floor in 1919.

The soft folds and the way the drapery is gathered around the abdomen suggest a date in the second century CE.


Object details

II century d.C.
Luni marble
height 52 cm

Borghese Collection, reported in 1832 by Nibby (pl. 43c). Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • Restoration work, probably before 1832: addition of modern elements to the plinth, the eagle, the feet, the right hand with the lightning, the neck and the head. Lower part of the left shoulder reattached.


This small statue was mentioned for the first time by Nibby in 1832, who described it as a ‘Giove fulminante” (‘fulminating Zeus’; pl. 43 C) and then, by Giusti in 1919, who reported it in the second room on the first floor (p. 46). Currently kept in the storerooms of the Palazzina Borghese, this sculpture represents a male figure with his right leg slightly bent and moved to the side and his left leg supporting his body. His right arm is raised and he holds a lightning bolt in his hand, while the left arm is resting near his hip. The figure is wearing drapery wrapped around his left arm and hanging down from his shoulder and the lower part of his body, leaving his feet exposed. He is wearing a type of sandal called crepides, with two leather straps, one at the toes and the other at the ankle, joined by a third to make a bow. The nude chest is powerfully muscled. There is an eagle on the ground to the left of the figure, with its neck turned towards the man.

The sculpture, which has been heavily restored, preserves the original torso with the left arm and the drapery down to the top of the foot. The peculiarity of the garment, which is rolled up horizontally over the abdomen, links the figure to the Asclepius iconographic type. Specifically, the Giustini Asclepius type preserved in the Capitoline Museum and believed to be a replica of an original from the late classical period, datable to the fifth century BCE (inv. 1846: Meyer 1994, pp. 7–55). It is likely that the Borghese sculpture portrayed Asclepius before it was restored as Zeus with the addition of the bearded head, the lightening rod and the eagle. We find a similar adaptation in a large-scale statue from Smyrna and now in the Louvre (Laugier 2021, pp. 124–128, no. 94). The handling of the drapery, with soft folds and strong chiaroscuro contrast, suggests a date in the second century CE.

Giulia Ciccarello

  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, tav. 43c
  • G. Giusti, The Borghese Gallery and the Villa Umberto I in Rome, Città di Castello 1919, p. 46.
  • M. Meyer, Zwei Asklepiostypen des 4. Jahrhunderts v. Chr. Asklepios Giustini und Asklepios Athen-Macerata, in “Antike Plastik” 23, München 1994, pp. 7-55.
  • L. Laugier, Les sculptures grecques de l’époque impériale: la collection du musée du Louvre, Paris, Madrid, 2021, p. 124-128, n. 94.
  • Schede di catalogo 12/01008571, P. Moreno 1979; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.