Courtyard, Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums

The courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori has always represented, since the first formation of the Capitoline collections of antiquity, a sort of privileged place for the preservation of the memory of antiquity. The works that gradually flowed into the building were a sign of the cultural and temporal continuity left by the glorious ancient world.

The two porticoes on opposite sides and the large open-air space contain important examples of Roman sculpture. On the left we can see remains of the cell decoration from the Temple of the God Hadrian, with reliefs portraying the Provinces of the Roman empire and military trophies. Along the righthand wall of the courtyard, containing the embedded remains of three archways belonging to the palazzo’s original XV century structure, is a row of fragments from a colossal statue of Constantine from the Basilica of Maxentium.

The courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori is a very suggestive space of its monumental architectural elements and fragments of ancient colossal structures. From the beginning of the history of Capitoline museum, as it was customary in the palaces of the Roman nobility, some of the most significant ancient works of art were collected in the Capitoline as a witness to the greatness of Rome.

The ogee arches, which are still visible on the right side, gave access to a large room, the “statuario”, intended to house other works of ancient art.

The shape of the courtyard in the early decades of the sixteenth century, smaller than the present one and crowded by numerous archaeological finds, is known through descriptions and drawings of contemporaneous artists.

A porch at the entrance of the building, incorporating architectural elements of the exterior was built along with the architectural renovation of the Palazzo dei Conservatori in the second half of 1500. Some of the works were moved into the halls of the Palazzo, whereas the marble fragments of a colossal statue of Constantine (306-337 AD), discovered in 1486 in the Basilica of Maxentius in the Roman Forum, remained in the courtyard. The statue representing the emperor seated was built using the acrolith technique: only the nude parts were carved in marble, mounted on a carrying skeleton structure covered with a gilded bronze drapery or precious coloured marbles.

In the previous phase, the courtyard had very different proportions; more spacious towards the facade due to the absence of the internal portico, it presented on the right a deep portico with pointed pointed arches in brick, supported by granite columns with ionic travertine capitals and bases also in travertine, which allowed access to the rooms of the Captain of Appellations (the appeal judge) and the Consulate of the Boattieri. There where the portico ended, a wall stood which allowed to support the ground behind the hill, cut to increase the area.

The internal facade, without windows, had a high base on which the fragments of the colossal statue of Constantine and the gilded bronze statue of Hercules had been placed. On the left wall there was an external staircase, similar to that of many noble palaces. It is probable that the three Aurelian reliefs were placed on the wall of this staircase in 1515 (sacrifice to the temple of Jupiter Capitoline, triumph of Marcus Aurelius and barbarians kneeling before Marcus Aurelius), already in Santa Martina above which there was a loggia supported by three granite columns leading into the apartments.

In the center of the courtyard there was a cistern, modified in 1522 by an architect whose only name is known (Domenico). The floor was bricked two years later and the cistern was decorated with a new marble vase on which the verses were engraved: Vas tibi condidimus-pluvia tu, Iuppiter, imple-praesidibusque tuae-rupis adesse velis.

After 1546 the fragments of the capitoline splendor were placed “at the head of the courtyard”, as Aldovrandi tells in the middle of the century. The texts were set in a marble wall designed by Michelangelo and created by Gentile Delfini, Bartolomeo Marliano and Tommaso de ‘Cavalieri.

After their discovery, the ancient stones were transported to the hill and rebuilt in the courtyard to increase the historical prestige and the ideal value inherent in them. Michelangelo decided to frame the glories with a simple and sober frame; a large tympanum crowned the whole and a shrine with Corinthian capitals highlighted the central inscriptions.

In 1586 the location of the glories was modified; the entire Michelangelo structure was moved to the ancient Fasti room which still takes its name from the famous inscriptions.

The courtyard was expanded in 1720 with the construction of the portico, on the back wall; it was designed by Alessandro Specchi (1668-1729) to accommodate a group of sculptures of great value: the Goddess Rome and the two Barbarian prisoners from the Cesi collection, purchased by Pope Clement XI (1700-1721) for the Capitoline Museum.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the reliefs with personifications of Provinces and trophies of arms were placed in the courtyard; they were found in the Temple of Hadrian in Piazza di Pietra. The reliefs depict the personifications of the provinces subject to the Roman Empire during its greatest expansion.

The courtyard today

The colossal statue of Constantine
On the right side are the fragments of the famous colossal statue of Emperor Constantine. These are the different parts of the great statue of the emperor, found in 1486, under the pontificate of Innocent VIII, in the western apse of the basilica of Maxentius at the Roman Forum, completed by Constantine. The statue, which represented the emperor seated on the throne, according to a model referable to the statues of Jupiter, was built with the technique of ‘ acrolito: only the bare parts of the body were worked in marble, while the other parts consisted of a load-bearing structure, then disguised as gilded bronze or even stucco drapery. The head, imposing in its measurements, shows the markedly marked features of the face: the dating of the work oscillates between 313, the year of the dedication of the basilica by Constantine, and 324, when in the portraits of the emperor the diadem, the presence of which is suggested by some traces in marble.

The reliefs
On the left side are the reliefs with the provinces (Egypt, Libya, Moesia, Dacia, Gaul, Hispania and Mauritania) and trophies of arms from the temple of Hadrian in Piazza di Pietra. Some of the reliefs, marked by the conservatives’ coats of arms, were found at the end of the 16th century, while others were found, always in the same area, starting from 1883. The series of reliefs, which shows the personifications of the various provinces subject to the Empire Roman, recognizable by specific attributes, was placed as a decoration of the temple dedicated in 145 AD by Antonino Pio to his predecessor and adoptive fatherHadrian, deified after death: the care in relations with the different provinces, which led him to long journeys through the boundless extension of the Roman empire, was one of the characteristics of Hadrian’s reign. The whole right side of the temple, with 11 fluted columns surmounted by imposing Corinthian capitals, is preserved in Piazza di Pietra incorporated in the Palazzo della Borsa.

Colossal statues Group
At the bottom of the courtyard, inside the portico built by Alessandro Specchi, appears the group formed by the seated statue of Rome and by the two prisoners in bigio morato, which Clement XI purchased in 1720 from the Cesi collection. The group, already composed in this form, was reproduced in ancient engravings when it was still in the garden of the Cesi house, in the Borgo. The central figure, representing a seated divinity derived from a model of the fidiaca circle, was transformed in Rome with the addition of the typical attributes of this personification; the statue rests on a base decorated in the front by a relief representing a subjected province, probably coming from the decoration of an arch of the first century AD and from two reliefs with trophies. The two colossal figures of barbarians, the heads of which were added in modern times, made particularly precious by the use of the rare gray marble, can be compared to the series of Dacian prisoners created for the decoration of the Trajan ‘s forum.

Highlights works
Colossal statue of seated Rome: “Roma Cesi”, Sculpture, Hadrianic period (117-138 BC) from a Greek original of the 5th century BC
Statue of captive barbarian king, Sculpture, 2nd century AD
Colossal statue of Constantine: head, Sculpture, 313-324 AD
Colossal statue of Constantine: right hand, Sculpture, 313-324 AD
Plinth with personification of the Province (Achaia?) From the Temple of Hadrian, Sculpture, 145 AD
Colossal head of Constantius II or Constant, Sculpture, Late Constantine age

Palazzo dei Conservatori
The Palazzo dei Conservatori is located in Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome, next to the Palazzo Senatorio and in front of the Palazzo Nuovo. The Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo, together with the Tabularium, currently constitute the exhibition site of the Capitoline Museums, among the most representative and visited Roman museums.

The building known as Palazzo dei Conservatori, seat of an elected magistrature which had the task of administering the city, goes back to the middle of the 15th century. The building originally featured a portico on the ground floor and Guelf-cross windows on the first floor, in addition to a row of small windows on the mezzanine floor.

Michelangelo re-designed the facade, adding gigantic Corinthian pilaster strips on high pedestals, flanked by pillars in the portico on the ground floor. As in the case of Palazzo Senatorio, the building was crowned with a balustrade and statues.

The transformation of the building also affected its interior configuration, as a result of alterations to the windows on the first floor. The central one was eventually created by Giacomo della Porta and is much larger than the others, making an exception to Michelangelo’s plan.

Capitoline Museums
The Musei Capitolini date back to 1471, when Pope Sixtus IV donated to the people of Rome a group of bronze statues that until then had been kept at the Lateran. These statues constituted its original core collection. Various popes subsequently expanded the collection with works taken from excavations around Rome; some were moved from the Vatican, some, such as the Albani collection, were bought specifically for the museum. Around the middle of the eighteenth century, Pope Benedict XIV created a picture gallery. A considerable quantity of archaeological material was also added at the end of the nineteenth century when Rome became the capital of Italy and new excavations were carried out whilst creating two completely new districts were created for the expanding city.

The Museums’ collections are displayed in the two of the three buildings that together enclose the Piazza del Campidoglio: Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo, the third being the Palazzo Senatorio. These two buildings are linked by an underground tunnel, which contains the Galleria Lapidaria and leads to the ancient Tabularium, whose monumental arches overlook the Forum.

The Palazzo Nuovo houses the collections of ancient sculpture made by the great noble families of the past. Their charming arrangement has remained substantially unchanged since the eighteenth century. They include the famous collections of busts of Roman philosophers and emperors, the statue of Capitoline Gaul, the Capitoline Venus, and the imposing statue of Marforio that dominates the courtyard.

The Conservators’ Apartment contains the original architectural nucleus of the building, decorated with splendid frescoes portraying the history of Rome. The ancient Capitoline bronzes on display here add to the noble atmosphere: the Capitoline She-wolf, Spinario and the Capitoline Brutus.

On the first floor of the palace, a huge glass room, recently built, contains the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, which once stood in the Piazza del Campidoglio, and the imposing remains of the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter. A section is also dedicated to the most ancient part of the Campidoglio’s history, from its first inhabitation until the construction of the sacred building, displaying the results of recent excavations. The halls that overlook the room contain works from the Horti of the Esquiline; the hall which connects the room to the apartments of the Palazzo dei Conservatori contains the Castellani collection, testimony to nineteenth century collecting practices.

On the second floor, the Capitoline Picture Gallery contains many important works, arranged in chronological order from late mediaeval times to the eighteenth century. The collection includes paintings by Caravaggio (Good Luck and St. John the Baptist), a massive canvas by Guercino (Burial of Saint Petronilla) and numerous paintings by Guido Reni and Pietro da Cortona.

The Palazzo Caffarelli-Clementino holds the numismatic collection, known as the Medagliere Capitolino. On display are many rare coins, medals, gems and jewels, as well as an area dedicated to temporary exhibitions.