A giant marble statue of the god of the Nile reclines on a stone plinth, a fierce crocodile snapping at his heels and a sphinx at his elbow. A few yards away there is a statue of Hercules holding a club, his shoulder draped with a lion’s pelt and nearby a perfectly preserved bust of the evil emperor Commodus. For centuries, these and roughly 620 other treasures have been kept behind closed doors.
This priceless collection of ancient Roman statuary was amassed by Italy’s aristocratic Torlonia family. Many pieces were discovered during excavations on the many estates owned by the family or purchased from other noble households. Accessible only to a chosen few, the collection was so little known that it became the stuff of legend. Scholars only knew it of its contents from a catalog that was compiled 136 years ago.
In only a few short weeks, the Torlonia Collection will be seen by the outside world for the first time in its history. Described as the most important private collection of ancient art in the world, “The Torlonia Marbles: Collecting Masterpieces” will be on view beginning on Saturday, April 4 at the Palazzo Caffarelli in Rome.
Nearly 100 of the most outstanding classical statues, busts, sculptures and reliefs from the fifth century BC through the fourth century AD will go on display in the palazzo, located on Rome’s historic Capitoline Hill.
The Italian government has long desired access to the storied collection. For 40 years, politicians have been trying to convince the family to place the collection on public display, but there have been numerous difficulties, not the least of which was a suitable venue. Three separate proposals for museum projects came and went.
In 2014, the head of the family, Alessandro Torlonia, established a foundation to manage the collection. A year before he passed away in 2017, he signed an agreement with the Italian government. The foundation is now run by Torlonia’s grandson, Alessandro Poma Murialdo. The remarkable exhibit will be open in Rome until January of 2021, before embarking on a world tour of prestigious museums not yet announced.