The Torlonia Marbles – in Pictures (Part 1)

The exhibition of the Torlonia Marbles, the largest collection of classical sculpture still in private ownership and one of the most valuable in the world, closed in Rome on June 29. A selection of 92 of the 620 statues and busts had been on display in the Villa Caffarelli on the Capitoline Hill since October 2020, although until April, the exhibition was subject to sporadic closures owing to the pandemic. The marbles had been on restricted display since the mid-19th century, but were moved into storage for safety reasons during WWII, where they languished until now. Some of the sculptures are now due to be sent on loan to museums around the world; in the meantime, a permanent gallery will be set up for them in Rome by the Italian government in accordance with an agreement that was reached with the Torlonia estate a few years ago.

The Torlonia family (Tourlonias) moved to Rome in the mid-18th century from France under the employ of a French abbot and soon found favour with the clergy. Marino (Marin), opened a mercer’s shop specialising in silks and brocades imported from France, while gradually expanding into the banking business. Giovanni, his son, focused on banking and real-estate, becoming the banker of some of the most powerful people of the times, including the Pope and Napoleon Bonaparte, increasing his wealth and family titles in the process. His son, Prince Alessandro Torlonia, built on his father's interests, including his passion for collecting classical sculptures. The drive for Italian unification that led to the creation of the Monarchy of Italian (1861-1946) had created a liquidity crisis for many noble and wealthy families, who were often forced to sell their art collections in order to keep afloat. The Torlonias were ready at hand to swoop up some of these outstanding collections, such as those belonging to the Cavaceppi and Giustiniani families. Here are some of the highlights of the exhibition. • See Part 2 of this collection.
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1 Seated Philosopher
This sculpture of a seated philosopher formally belonged to the Cesarini collection and is known as the Cesarini Chrysippus (Greek marble: 1st Century CE).
2 Apollo
Apollo holding the skin of the satyr Marsyas after having skinned him alive. One of the more popular versions of the story relates how Marsyas had challenged the god to a musical contest that was to be judged by the Muses. The winner would have had the right to do as he pleased with the loser and when Apollo won (in some versions via a ruse) he chose to flay Marsyas for having dared challenge a god. The statue from the Giustiniani collection may have been very different in its original form and was restored extensively and with much imagination. (1st century CE)
3 Marsyas
Marsyas after having been flayed by Apollo. His flute is visible on the ground (Apollo played his lyre during the contest), while his features portray a certain rawness. This too was extensively restored according to the imagination of the restorer as the original consisted mostly of a bare torso. (1st-2nd century CE with 16th century additions).
5 Sarcophagus
Sarcophagus with the labours of Hercules (Asian marble: c. 170 CE)
6 Warrior
Another extensively restored sculpture from the Giustiniani collection. The warrior was reconstructed from “the pelvis with the right leg up to the knee and the joint of the left leg…” (2nd century CE).
7 Three Figue Relief
Relief with Hercules, Theseus and Pirithous: a 1st century BCE copy of a 5th century original.
8 Satyr
Satyr: a 1st century CE copy of a 2nd century BCE type called “Invitation to Dance”. 
9 Drunken Satyr
Drunken Satyr: copy of the Herculaneum Type from the Giustiniani collection (1st century CE).
10 Torlonia Vase Detail
Torlonia Vase: detail of Bacchic Symposium (Pentelic marble: late 2nd -early 1st century BCE)

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