Since Pope Sixtus IV donated a set of bronzes to the Capitoline Museums in Rome in the 15th century, its collection has continued to grow, making it the city's main municipal museum and an essential place to visit during a trip to the Italian capital.
There is a lot to see within its walls. Authentic artistic treasures from different periods, of which I'll give you a little preview in this post to help you contextualise what you'll discover once you're there. Oh, and don't forget to take a look at the ticket prices for the Capitoline Museums and the opening hours of the Capitoline Museums to prepare your visit in detail.
1. The Capitoline She-wolf
In the centre of the Hall of the She-wolf in the Capitoline Museums is the statue of the Capitoline She-wolf, the symbol of Rome.
Legend has it that this she-wolf found the twins Romulus and Remus in the waters of the Tiber, near the Palatine Hill, and nursed them as if they were her own children. The two would later become the founders of the city, although many theories claim that this myth is just an invention of the Romans to wrap the birth of the imperial city in epic glory.
The statue of the "Capitoline She-wolf" dates from the 11th or 12th century and is made of bronze. It is believed to be a copy of an Etruscan statue that had a sacred role in Ancient Rome. The two small figures of Romulus and Remus that accompany "Luperca", on the other hand, were added to the ensemble at a later date towards the end of the 15th century.
As a curiosity, in Piazza del Campidoglio (from whose belvedere there is one of the best views of Rome) there is a replica of the Capitoline She-wolf that also attracts many eyes. Don't forget to take a photo of it!
2. The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius
During the Roman Empire, equestrian statues were very numerous in the city, but what makes the statue of Marcus Aurelius special is that it is the only equestrian statue from Antiquity that survived the Middle Ages. During this period, most of these works of art were melted down to mint coins with their bronze.
If the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius has survived to the present day, it is because he was mistaken for the Emperor Constantine I, who, through the Edict of Milan, stopped the persecution of Christians and gave freedom of worship in the Empire.
The statue is currently housed in the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Capitoline Museums and there is some debate as to its original location. The most likely seems to be the Roman Forum or Piazza Colonna (where the Antonine Column was) and not near the Basilica of St. John Lateran where medieval sources attest from the 10th century.
You can see a replica of this 2nd century AD bronze statue in Piazza del Campidoglio, where Michelangelo placed the original in the 16th century.
3. The Dying Galata
Along with the previous ones, the statue of the Dying Gaul is one of the most popular in the Capitoline Museums, as it shows with great realism the pain of a Gaul defeated in combat by King Attalus I of Pergamon, who fights against death and refuses to give in to his fate.
This work is thought to be a Roman copy in marble of an earlier Hellenistic work in bronze, which belongs to the School of Pergamon, which was accustomed to a more profound expression of pathos. Its artistic quality made it one of the works of antiquity most admired by European travellers on the Grand Tour.
It seems that the statue of the Dying Galatian was discovered during excavations at Villa Ludovisi at the beginning of the 17th century together with the statue of Gaul committing suicide (exhibited in the Altemps Palace of the Roman National Museum), as both were part of a sculptural group of four figures.
4. The Capitoline Venus
The Capitoline Venus is another of the most popular statues in the Capitoline Museums. You will find it in what is known as the "Cabinet of Venus", on the ground floor of the Palazzo Nuovo del Campidoglio.
This sculpture is a replica of a Hellenistic one created by Praxiteles in the 4th century BC. It was found near the Basilica of San Vitale in the 17th century and Pope Benedict XIV bought it from the Stazi family to donate it to the Capitoline Museums.
It depicts the goddess Venus emerging from the bath naked, in an attitude of recollection, and has been the subject of numerous replicas known as "Capitoline Venuses".
5. The head of the colossal statue of Constantine
In the same room of the Palazzo dei Conservatori where the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius is located, you can also see the head of the colossal statue of Constantine, which was part of a seated statue of the emperor dating from the 3rd century AD, other parts of which are still preserved and which you can also see during your visit to the Capitoline Museums.
The remains of the colossal statue of Constantine were found in the Basilica of Maxentius in the Roman Forum in the 15th century.
6. The Spinario
This bronze sculpture from the 1st century BC is another of the most popular works in the Capitoline Museums because of its unique pose and unusual subject matter. In fact, during the Renaissance it became highly prized and gave rise to several replicas such as those on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.
The Spinario depicts a seated boy looking at the sole of his left foot to remove a thorn that has stuck him.
7. Bust of Medusa
In Greek mythology, Medusa was a snake-haired woman who had the power to petrify anyone who dared to look her in the eye.
This bust is a work by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 17th century that represents the exact moment of the metamorphosis. The artist's intention with this sculpture was to demonstrate the sculptor's talent while at the same time playing with the viewer, who can be "stunned" like Medusa when admiring his skills with the chisel.
You will find this work of art on display in the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Capitoline Museums.
8. The Marforio
Another of the most famous works of art in the Capitoline Museums is the Marforio, a colossal marble sculpture dating from the 1st century AD, which originally adorned a Roman fountain from the Flavian period.
It represents the personification of an ocean or a river and was found in the 16th century in the Forum of Augustus, next to the temple of Mars Ultor. It can now be seen in the courtyard of the Palazzo Nuovo.
9. The Mosaic of the Doves
This fantastic 2nd-century mosaic found in the Villa Adriana in Tivoli during the 18th century is believed to be a Hellenistic copy of the work Soso of Pergamon made to decorate the palace of King Eumenes II of Pergamon.
The Mosaic of the Doves is an excellent example of the degree of skill that the mosaic technique reached in Rome, creating very realistic effects with only a few glass and marble tesserae.
You can see this work in the Hall of the Doves. There you will also have the chance to see other interesting finds such as other mosaics, bas-reliefs and some bronze tablets with engraved laws.
10. The Bonaventure of Caravaggio
Finally, in the Santa Petronilla room you can see the canvas of La Buenaventura, one of the first works by the painter Caravaggio, which was quite revolutionary for the end of the 16th century as it moved away from the dominant historical framework of the time (where biblical and mythological themes abounded) to focus on the everyday life of the people of the time.
La Buenaventura depicts a gypsy girl foretelling the future to a naive young man whose ring she steals from his hand, taking advantage of the fact that he is distracted by her smile.
In addition to its unusual subject matter, this work caused a stir among the aesthetes of the time. The reason? Look at the girl's hands, because Caravaggio depicted them dirty, reflecting the lack of hygiene of the working classes of the time.
As I said, this did not please the aesthetes, who did not make any concessions to everyday life in their paintings, but rather asserted that beauty in art should be prioritised and elevated above social themes.