City blog. Rome based.

Let’s go to the Capitoline Museums [IN 10 MASTERPIECES – VIDEO]

On the top of the Capitoline hill, right in the place where the Temple of Jupiter Optimus and Maximus was in ancient times, it is now the temple of art and history of Rome: the Capitoline Museums.

Questo post è disponibile anche in italiano.

Cet article est disponible en français.

Questo post è disponibile anche in italiano.

Cet article est disponible en français.

  • Where: piazza del Campidoglio
  • When: everyday
  • Why: visiting the Capitoline Museums you can learn about the history of Rome

The history of the Capitoline Hill is also the history of Rome [read this post and watch this video to find out more].

Religious center in Roman times, political and social center in the Middle Ages, the Capitoline Hills as we see today is that of Michelangelo’s Renaissance, and the restyling commissioned by Pope Paul III in 1500.

The foundation of the Capitoline Museums

The change begun a few decades earlier, when in 1471 Pope Sixtus IV gave the citizens of Rome a small group of 4 bronze sculptures with a strong symbolic value, which until then had been kept in the Lateran. These were moved to the Capitoline Hill, inside the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, visible by the public.

  • The She-Wolf
  • Boy with Thorne
  • Camillus
  • Hand, globus and head of Constantine

These statues then passed from private property (of the pope) to public property (of the citizens of Rome), and soon the statues of Sixtus IV’s donation became the symbols of the city of Rome.

The Capitoline Museums are the first public art collection in history.

The Capitoline Museums in 10 masterpieces

I have chosen to show you the Capitoline Museums through 10 of the major masterpieces.

It is a huge museum that occupies the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo, which house thousands of priceless works. I have chosen only ten to offer you a preview, an invitation to visit it. I’m sure you won’t regret.

1. Fragments of a colossal statue of Constantine

Discovered in 1400, the head, one hand and one foot of a 4th century AD of a statue representing the Emperor Constantine, perhaps coming from the Roman Forum area [discover the Roman Forum on this tour].

They are fragments of an ACROLITH, that is a statue of which the visible ends (head, arms and legs) were made of marble, the clothes of bronze.

The size is colossal: the head measures 2.6 meters, and the size of the entire statue is estimated to be about 12 meters.

2. The equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius

According to ancient sources, there were 22 bronze statues of emperors on horseback in Rome. After the fall of the Roman Empire, these statues were melted down to reuse the metal, precious and necessary for the creation of new objects useful for the daily life. 

The original location of the bronze equestrian statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius is unknown, but we do know that from the 8th-11th century AD it was in the area of the Lateran. In 1500 Pope Paul III decided to move it to the Capitoline Hill as part of the renovation works commissioned to Michelangelo, who made the statue the central element of the new square.

The bronze statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius is the only one to have been saved from destruction.

The equestrian statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius occupied the center of the Piazza del Campidoglio on the base designed by Michelangelo for over 400 years. In the 1980s, due to conservation reasons and after a long restoration, it was decided to replace it with a copy and move the original statue inside the Capitoline Museums.

3. Head of Medusa

In 1600s Gianlorenzo Bernini decided to sculpt an ideal bust of Medusa, the terrible monster capable of transforming men into stone with its gaze.

Medusa was beautiful, and this beauty emerges in the portrait of the Capitoline Museums, together with the cry of terror in discovering that she has become a monster.

Look at her hair turning into snakes!

Gianlorenzo Bernini was able to capture a moment of terror.

4. The Good Luck

Michelangelo Merisi is the name of a painter who arrived in Rome in the late 1500s, and here he began a dazzling career becoming the great artist we know as Caravaggio. After the first years of hard work in the workshop of an already established artist, he entered into the good graces of Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, for whom he painted some paintings, including the one on display in the Pinacoteca of the Capitoline Museums.

La Buona Ventura is a scene of everyday life, like those that continually occurred in the streets of Rome between 1500 and 1600, and Caravaggio immortalizes it in a painting.

Caravaggio was an artist interested in the realistic representation of everyday life.

[Do you like Caravaggio? Here you can find an in-depth post about a famous work by this artist!]

5. The Dying Gaul

A statue linked to Julius Caesar and his victory over the Gauls, a people of brave warriors.

This white marble sculpture was part of a group of at least 5 statues. In addition to this one of the Capitoline Museums, it is possible to admire another near Piazza Navona in the Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Altemps.

[In the Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Altemps a large collection of ancient sculpture is exhibited, including the magnificent Ludovisi Throne.]

6. Opus sectile from the Basilica of Giunio Basso

Opus sectile is the name of the technique that allows to create compositions (figurative or geometric) through inlays of colored marble.

It comes from the wall decoration of the Basilica of Giunio Basso on the Esquiline Hill, a large room with civil functions built in the 4th century AD, and then transformed into a place of Christian worship (similarly to what happened for the church of St. Peter in Chains – San Pietro in Vincoli).

It is a very refined and precious work. In the Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Massimo alle Terme there are two other panels in opus sectile coming from the decoration of the Basilica of Giunio Basso.

It is like a large jigsaw puzzle of precious and finely carved marble.

7. St. John the Baptist

Another work by Caravaggio in the Pinacoteca of the Capitoline Museums.

Caravaggio is famous above all for the innovative use of chiaroscuro: in this painting the bright body of the young St. John the Baptist emerges from the dark background.

The greatness of Michelangelo Buonarroti’s work in the Sistine Chapel of a few decades earlier is also a source of inspiration for Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi): the position of St. John the Baptist is inspired by those of the naked men on the vault of the Sistine Chapel.

Michelangelo (Merisi) is inspired by Michelangelo (Buonarroti)

[Do you like Caravaggio? Here you can find an in-depth post about a famous work by this artist!]

8. Gilded bronze statue of Hercules

This very rare bronze and gold-covered statue was discovered in 1471 in the area of the Foro Boarium, near the round temple dedicated to Hercules (located right in front of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, where the famous Mouth of Truth is also located). Immediately Pope Sixtus IV decided to add it to the group of 4 bronze sculptures that he had donated to Roman citizens, officially founding the Capitoline Museums.

9. Commodus

Emperor Commodus, son of Marcus Aurelius, is represented as Hercules: the head is covered with the skin of the Nemean Lion that he defeated, in his right hand he has the club, his peculiar weapon, in the left the golden apples that he recovered in the garden of the Hesperides during one of his exploits.

This bust is in an excellent condition, the marble is still polished 1800 years after its execution! For centuries, in fact, it was hidden in an underground room of the Horti Lamiani on the Esquiline hill, and finally discovered only the late 1800s.

Commodus loved to disguise as Hercules and fight in the arenas like a gladiator.

10. The She-Wolf

According to one of the legends of the foundation of Rome [here for more information on the foundation of Rome], Romulus and Remus were abandoned in a basket in the river Tiber. They were found by a she-wolf who saved them from the river and fed them with her milk.

The bronze sculpture representing the she-wolf in the Capitoline Museums is a work from the Middle Ages, intended as a symbol of justice. In 1400 the sculptor Antonio del Pollaiolo was commissioned to create the twins Romulus and Remus, thus transforming a she-wolf into the she-wolf linked to the legend of the foundation of Rome.

The symbol of Rome, and the symbol of the Capitoline Museums!

More Stories

The Capitoline Hill in Rome: the greatness of a small hill [VIDEO]
The Capitoline Hill is a place of history, art and culture. The history and events of the city of Rome involved the hil...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *