The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Saturday, September 18, 2021


The emergency related to the Pandemic of Covid19 literally disintegrated the exhibition dedicated to the five hundredth anniversary of Raffaello Sanzio's death, transformed into a race against time with a maximum time limit of five minutes in each room.

In November 2020, the other great exhibition that everyone had been waiting for decades was inaugurated, the one dedicated to the Torlonia Marbles. However, it remained open for less than a month, before being sealed again following the regulatory measures of the Italian State regarding the closure of museums and temporary exhibitions.

Now, the chance of a reopening of the Museums seems to be in the air, and therefore the most awaited exposition of 2020 (and now also of 2021) could reopen its doors. It will be a reopening marked by an uncertain duration, considering that, after the exhibition in Rome, the statues will leave for a long tour that will have as its next stop the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Those who have been lucky enough to admire the exposition during the few weeks it has been open have been particularly impressed: it is finally possible to admire a superb selection (92 sculptures out of 620)of the marbles collected by the Torlonia family, organized in a clear and linear visit path. The tour proceeds backwards, to highlight how the one on display is a "collection of collections", in which not only pieces from excavations but also more or less consistent parts of collections built up in previous centuries have converged: this is an exhibition that analyzes the origins of a complicated phenomenon, such as antiquarian collecting, and outlines its evolution.

The exhibition concludes with what can be considered the founding moment of this centuries-old phenomenon, the donation of the Lateran bronzes to the Roman People by Pope Sixtus IV in 1471 and their transfer tothe Capitoline Hill.

Let's examine the itinerary thanks to the concise explanation provided to us by Vincenzo Spina, Tour Guide of Rome and President of Rome Guides, with whom he organized Guided Tours at the Torlonia Marbles Exhibitionduring the few weeks it was open.

The exhibition begins with the analysis of the Torlonia Museum, founded by Prince Alessandro Torlonia in 1875 in a palace on Via della Lungara. In the first room there is an extraordinary selection of portraits from the imperial age, as well as some sublime pieces from the republican age, the Portrait of a Young Girl from Vulciand the so-called Old Man from Otricoli, which has a strong emotional impact with its deep wrinkles furrowing the face.

The second section of the exhibition exposes marbles of great interest, such as a votive Attic relief of the V Century B.C., perhaps coming originally from the slopes of the Acropolis of Athens, and a relief with the Portus Augusti, unique for the depicted view and for the traces of polychromy still present.

With the third section we begin to go back in time, exhibiting works belonging to important 18th Century collections (that of the restorer Bartolomeo Cavaceppi and that of Cardinal Alessandro Albani) which then became part of the Torlonia Collection.

Rooms from 6 to 9 are tied to the name of a famous banker, the marquis Vincenzo Giustiniani, cultured patron of famous artists (Caravaggio, for example) and great collector. His excellent collection of ancient statues came into the possession of Giovanni Torlonia in 1816. The most prestigious work is certainly the admirable Giustiniani Goat, one of the most interesting pieces of the exhibition, not only for the excellent workmanship of the ancient body, but also for the marvelous head, restored in the 17th Century by the great baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Leaving the Giustiniani masterpieces behind us, we head towards the end of the exposition, gazing in wonder at pieces that were once part of illustrious Roman collections formed in the 15th and 16th Centuries (Cesi, Savelli, Cesarini), which entered the Torlonia Collection at different times.

The Torlonia Marbles Exhibition takes place inside Villa Caffarelli, which for the first time serves as an exposition space. Unfortunately, the rooms are very small, and sometimes they seem insufficient to accommodate so many statues, even considering the size of some of them and the strict rules on interpersonal distancing set by the anti-Covid19 rules.

This multitude of marbles, however, brings us back to the horror vacuiof the historical collections of antiquities, with the single works often attached to each other or hidden behind walls or doors.

The restoration of the sculptures of the Torlonia Collection represents another fundamental point of interest of the exhibition. In preparation for the event, indeed, the statues have been subjected to important restorations, made necessary by the fact that they were very battered, crammed for decades in dusty warehouses.

Some scholars, however, have expressed their perplexity about the result achieved: also because of the cold light of the exhibition halls, many marbles appear dazzlingly white, while in other cases it was decided to keep visible the fractures and joints between the ancient parts and the historical additions. Ancient and modern are too well distinguished, and in this way the intention of unity that guided the action of the baroque and neoclassical restorers, who worked the marbles in such a way that they appeared to be older, is contradicted.

The Torlonia Marbles Exhibition will still be a major event in Rome during the first half of 2021: a true challenge to the pandemic, to the restrictions and to the limitations of this unfortunate biennium.

In case you have the chance to visit Rome in this year, don't miss the chance to admire this amazing collection!

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