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Guide to the Capitoline Museums

Our guide to the Capitoline Museums: 10 Sculptures You Can’t Miss

March 16, 2017 10:00 am by

Attention art-lovers! Use our guide to the Capitoline Museums to discover some of Rome’s most beautiful sculptures!

From medieval art to ancient statues, discover Rome’s history at the world’s first public museum, the Capitoline Museums. Here is our guide to 10 of the museum’s unmissable sculptures.

Guide to the Capitoline Museums
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Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius (Statua equestre di Marco Aurelio)

In the courtyard between the two museum buildings is a replica of the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius, former Emperor of Rome. The statue is made up of two separate pieces – the emperor and the horse. Scholars believe it was erected around 161-180 AD and rumours suggest there may once have been a defeated enemy under the foreleg of the horse.

In the early 1980s, the original statue underwent restoration and was moved inside the Palazzo dei Conservatori, while the replica took its place in the courtyard.

Guide to the Capitoline Museums

The Capitoline She-wolf (Lupa Capitoline)

The she-wolf is the symbol of the city of Rome, depicted in this larger than life-size statue nursing the twins, Romulus and Remus. Legend states the she-wolf rescued the twins after an order was made to cast them into the Tiber River. Looked after by the she-wolf until found by a farmer, the twins went on to found the city of Rome as adults. The statue is believed to date back to the Middle Ages, with the twins added at a later date, when the statue was moved inside the Palazzo dei Conservatori.

Guide to the Capitoline Museums
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Colossus of Constantine (Statua colossale di Costantino)

Fragments of a marble, wooden and bronze statue of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great are housed in the courtyard of the Capitoline Museums since their excavation from near the Forum Romanum.

It is believed the remainder of the statue was pillaged in around 235-284 AD, presumably for the bronze sections. Based on the measurements of the sections which have survived, it is estimated that the complete statue would have been around 12 metres tall!

The statue is an interesting example of sculpting from the era, with the head designed in a typical Constantinian style, and the rest of the body carved more naturally, right down to the bulging veins.

Guide to the Capitoline Museums
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Lion Attacking a Horse (Leone che azzanna il cavallo)

One of the most talked-about survivors from ancient times, this statue depicts a ferocious lion attacking a helpless horse. It is believed the lion’s characteristics would have appealed to Romans and inspired them to fight. According to some, the statue became a new symbol of Rome.

Parts of the statue date back to around 300-325 BC, although it has undergone several repairs and additions since that time. It is understood that one of Michelangelo’s pupils designed and sculpted the horse’s head and legs for both animals in 1594.

Guide to the Capitoline Museums
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Boy with Thorn (Spinario)

This bronze statue portrays a shepherd boy removing a thorn from his foot and is believed to date from the first century AD, although the head may have been a later addition. Made in the Hellenistic style, the piece became very influential for artists during the Italian Renaissance.

Since its creation, there have been many copies made of this statue, in marble and bronze. Some of these were given as gifts to recipients including the Kings of France and Spain as late as the sixteenth century.

Guide to the Capitoline Museums
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Bust of Medusa (Busto di Medusa)

According to myth, anyone who looked at snake-haired Medusa would turn into stone. This marble bust portrays Medusa’s anguish when she looks at her own reflection in a mirror and realises she is turning into stone.

The statue dates to around 1645 AD and can be found in the Hall of the Geese (Sala delle Oche).

Guide to the Capitoline Museums
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Statue of Capitoline Venus (Statua della Venera Capitolina)

Slightly larger than life-size, this statue is made of marble and shows a contemplative Venus as she emerges from her bath. The detail of her hair is incredible, with some pulled up and tied in a bow and some flowing around her shoulders.

This version, discovered in around 1666, is a copy – the original has never been found. It is one of around 50 examples of modest Venus (Venus Pudica) statues.

Guide to the Capitoline Museums
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Statue of Capitoline Gaul (Statua del Galata Capitolino)

Perhaps the most famous sculpture in the Hall of the Galatian (Sala del Gladiatore), this statue is also known as “The Dying Gaul” and depicts a Gallic soldier with a wound to his chest. His face expresses the pain he’s feeling as he lies on his fallen shield.

This marble sculpture is a copy of an original Greek bronze and was unearthed during excavations in the gardens of the Villa Ludovisi.

Guide to the Capitoline Museums
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Bust of Commodus as Hercules (Busto di Commodo como Ercole)

Legend has it Hercules killed his family in a fit of rage. Emperor Commodus was a greedy and selfish man, who ate too much, spent more than he should and ordered the murder and torture of many people. He often referred to himself as Hercules.

This bust of Emperor Commodus is one of the most famous Roman portraits and contains many Herculean characteristics. This bust is in remarkably good condition given how much Romans of the time hated him and tried to destroy every inscription or portraiture of him.

Guide to the Capitoline Museums
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Furietti Centaurs (Centauri Furietti)

In the centre of the Great Hall (Salone) of the Palazzo Nuovo, one statue depicts a young centaur who is happy and joyful, standing alongside an old centaur, whose expression is pained. They were not sculpted by Furietti, but found by him at Hadrian’s Villa in 1736.

It is believed these statues date from the first century AD. Another copy of the Old Centaur is found in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The statues are signed by Aristeas and Papias who came from Aphrodisias. It is not known whether they were the sculptors of this version or the designers of the original model.

In addition to these not-to-be-missed iconic sculptures, you can find art, coin and jewellery collections at the Capitoline Museums. We hope you have a wonderful time exploring Rome’s history.

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