Section I (Room 1)
Evocation of the Museo Torlonia
The idea for the museum was originally proposed in about 1859 when Rome was the capital of the Papal States. It was actually founded in 1875 when Rome had become the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.
Eight editions of the catalogue, some of which were in French and English, were printed from 1876 to 1885, edited initially by Pietro Ercole Visconti and subsequently by his nephew Carlo Ludovico.
The imposing catalogue of 1884–5, on display in Room 14, contains the photographs of all the 620 sculptures of the Museum and was the first example of a catalogue of ancient sculptures entirely reproduced in phototype.
The Museo Torlonia was situated in a large building in via della Lungara, between Porta Settimiana and Palazzo Corsini, and the sculptures were displayed in in 77 rooms.
Some rooms were organised according to themes: “animals”, “Muses”, sarcophagi, and a huge gallery of 122 portrait-busts: “a vast treasure of erudition and art” (P. E. Visconti).
Section II (Room 2)
Sculptures from the Torlonia excavations of the 19th century
Giovanni Raimondo Torlonia (1754–1829) and, subsequently, his son Alessandro (1800–1886), the founder of the Museo Torlonia, carried out numerous excavations on their properties scattered around Rome: the estates of Roma Vecchia and Caffarella, the Villa of the Quintilii, the Villa of the Sette Bassi and the Villa of Maxentius and other major archaeological areas.
The excavations led to the discovery of the ruins of the villa of a fabulously wealthy Greek philosopher and patron of the arts, Herodes Atticus (2nd century AD), who had displayed precious sculptures there that he had imported from Athens.
During the nineteenth century the Torlonia excavations also extended along via Appia and via Latina, which had been important burial sites in antiquity.
The purchase of other large estates (at Porto, in Sabina and in Tuscia) led to other prolific excavations, including the excavation of Portus Augusti, Rome’s main outlet to the sea during the imperial period, and the excavations of ancient Cures (Fara Sabina) which led to the discovery of the bronze statue of Germanicus on display in Section I (Room 1).
Section III (Rooms 3, 4, 5)
Sculptures from 18th century collections (Villa Albani and Studio Cavaceppi)
Many sculptures in the Museo Torlonia come from two large collections that were put together during the 18th century: the collections of Villa Albani and the marbles which, on the death of the famous sculptor Bartolomeo Cavaceppi (1716–1799), were found in his studio in via del Babuino in Rome.
Villa Albani, built from 1747 onwards by Cardinal Alessandro Albani (1692–1779) to house his extraordinary collection of sculptures, was purchased by Alessandro Torlonia in 1866.
The original layout, which was partly designed by the great German scholar Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768), had been modified following the looting of French troops and other events. Alessandro Torlonia moved numerous portrait-busts, fountain basins and statues and several other sculptures to his museum.
The marbles from Studio Cavaceppi reflect the intensive work of the sculptor who was involved in the restoration and sale of ancient sculpture.
Giovanni Torlonia (the father of the museum’s founder, Alessandro) bought at an auction held on 9 April 1800 all the marbles that Cavaceppi had collected and left as a bequest to the Accademia di S. Luca. A friend of Winckelmann’s, Cavaceppi had been protected by Cardinal Albani and restored many of his sculptures: the two eighteenth century collections that later ended up in the Museo Torlonia are therefore closely inter-connected.
This Section displays some of the most important sculptures from the Albani and Cavaceppi collections.
Section IV (Rooms 6, 7, 8, 9)
Sculptures of the Giustiniani collection (17th century)
Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani (1564–1637) was a highly sophisticated art collector. A connoisseur of art and the author of incisive theoretical texts (Discorso sopra la pittura, Discorso sopra la scultura, Istruzioni necessarie per fabbricare), he protected various artists including the poet Giovan Battista Marino and Caravaggio.
In his palace in Rome (now the premises of the Presidency of the Senate), he presented his splendid collection of antiquities, which he had inventoried in 1636–37 in a sumptuous printed work, the Galleria Giustiniana (two volumes with 330 engravings which reproduce the most important examples selected also from those collected in his extra-urban residences).
Against the wishes of Giustiniani, his art collections were broken up. The largest collection of antiquities was bought by Giovanni Torlonia in 1816 but, due to a series of events, it was only in 1856–59 that it ended up in the hands of his son Alessandro who included it in the museum he had founded.
Section V (Rooms 10, 11, 12, 13)
Sculptures from the collections of the 15th and 16th centuries
In the catalogue of Museo Torlonia (1885 edition), Carlo Ludovico Visconti mentioned the “purchase, either total or partial, of several ancient and distinguished Roman collections” as an essential part of the “unswerving aim” of Prince Alessandro while his museum was being established.
While the oldest Roman collections of antiquities (15th and 16th centuries) were broken up, several collections reached the Museo Torlonia as part of much larger purchases (Albani, Giustiniani, Cavaceppi), or by direct purchase.
The Museo Torlonia is thus a collection of collections, or like a game of Chinese boxes, in which a collection from the seventeenth or eighteenth century contains items from even older collections.
Section V offers a selection of sculptures from the Museo Torlonia which are recorded in collections of the 15th and 16th centuries. The exhibition continues in the Exhedra of the Capitoline Museum where the bronze statues that Pope Sixtus IV donated to the Roman people in 1471 are displayed specially for the occasion: the donation was a shrewd response from the city’s ruler to the newly created private collections of ancient statuary.
The imposing catalogue of the Museo Torlonia (1884–5) is on display in Room 14 (Epilogue).
On the way out from the exhibition, notice all the ancient bronze statues donated to the Roman people by Sixtus IV in 1471 which are on display in the Marcus Aurelius Exedra specially for the occasion. What was the reason for this donation? Collecting in the early fifteenth century began after the return of the popes from Avignon to Rome and the end of the Papal Schism. Many people wanted to affirm their status as native Romans, the descendants of the ancient Romans. The sculptures that were transported into houses were the visual equivalent of their “Roman spirit”. Sixtus IV responded to this early trend in collecting with a shrewdly calculated gesture of generosity from the city’s ruler, by placing the bronzes that had been collected in the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano during the Middle Ages in the Campidoglio.