Courtyard, Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums

The large central niche in the end wall features a large fountain with the colossal statue of a River god, known as Marforio. The three large grey granite pillars with a relief frieze portraying Egyptian high priests originate from the sanctuary of Isis and Serapis in the Campus Martius.

The Marforio fountain in the courtyard is a Roman work of the second century AD. When it was still located at the foot of the Campidoglio the Romans posted on it defamatory remarks, the so-called “pasquinate”, against the government signed with the name of Pasquino. The statue, whose name is derived from the Martis Forum (Forum of Mars), was already known in the Middle Ages, when it was described and drawn near the Arch of Septimius Severus in the Roman Forum, and brought to the Capitoline in 1594.

The two mirror image statues known as the Satyrs “della Valle” (named after the building that originally housed them) are located on the back wall, which served as a monumental facade, in niches on either sides of the Marforio. They were utilized in the theatre of Pompey as “telamons,” or figures of architectural support. An inscription is placed above, commemorating the formation of the Museum in 1734 and the construction of the fountain, surmounted by a portrait of Pope Clement XII. Granite columns decorated in relief with Egyptianizing scenes, from the great temple of Isis in Campus Martius are also located in the courtyard.

In 1603 Clement VIII provided funding for the construction of Palazzo Nuovo and laid the foundation stone. The construction ended in 1654, under the pontificate of Innocent X.

Between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the collections of Roman antiquities were gradually enriched through the discovery of new masterpieces from the past; the semi-external areas of the palaces become the privileged places of exposure for the great ancient sculptures that crowd in the atria and courtyards. Niches, columns, pillars and pilasters with shelves at various heights, reliefs, busts and ancient heads, the taste for scenography is manifested in its best forms. The courtyard is the focal point of the entrance, it is often visible from the square on which the buildings open, the vintage lithographs give us an idea of this desire for a “show”.

In the middle of the atrium of Palazzo Nuovo, crossing the external passage, the door and the gate, you enter an interior space of great suggestion, the courtyard. It looks like a small internal square with brick curtain walls, which curves to accommodate the fountain basin and the niche in which the statue of Marforio is inserted. The scenic Marforio fountain was perhaps so appealed following its discovery in the 16th century, in the Forum of Mars (Martis Forum, name that the ancients attributed to the Forum of Augustus). The colossal statue was restored with the typical attributes of the ocean by Roger Bescapè in 1594 and placed on theCapitol close to an embankment of the Aracoeli and in a symmetrical position with respect to the similar statues of the two rivers (Tiber and Nile), placed in front of the facade of the Palazzo dei Conservatori since 1513.

Many scholars identify in Marforio the representation of the Tiber, or of another river divinity also pertinent in ancient times to a fountain. The figure is lying on his left side with his face reclined and characterized by long hair, a very thick beard and mustache. The piece is stylistically attributed to the Flavian age (1st century AD) and had particular notoriety since the Renaissance being used to post “pasquinate”, defamatory writings against the government, which the Romans signed with the name Pasquino.

On the new fountain in the background of the courtyard, in 1734 Clement XII placed a commemorative plaque for the inauguration of the Capitoline Museum, surmounting it with his own coat of arms. Four statues were placed on the terminal balustrade overlooking the fountain, now replaced by four busts. Later, a valuable portrait of Pope Corsini was located in the center of the fountain; its dimensions appear out of scale compared to the colossal ones of Marforio.

The Marforio was placed in the courtyard with an outline of ancient statues; two rectangular niches framed in travertine welcomed, after various alterations, the two statues of Satyrs carrying a fruit basket on their heads. The two sculptures were found in Rome near the Pompeo Theater and kept for a long time not far from the place of discovery, in the courtyard of the Palazzo della Valle (not by chance they are called Satyrs of the Valley). They are two mirror statues depicting the god Pan, probably used as telamons in the architectural structure of the theater. The treatment of marble and the rendering of the modeled allow to date them to the late Hellenistic age.

The right side is used as an exhibition site for a strigilated sarcophagus decorated with hunting scenes, for two busts (ideal female head and virile head on a robed bust) and two herms (Erma barbata 1 and Erma barbata 2) also inserted in two small niches framed in travertine and obtained above two access doors to the rooms (no longer used today). Above an inscription of Pope Alexander VII.

In the courtyard there are also three gray granite columns, found in the Temple of Isis at Campo Marzio (Egyptian type column 1, Egyptian type column 2, Egyptian type column 3). The frieze is carved in relief around the stem, as in the columnae coelatae (columns partially incorporated in the masonry), and represents, on each column, four couples of priests standing on high stools. Some are caught in the moment of offering to divinity, others in that of the extension of sacred objects. The priests have a shaved head girdled with laurel, they wear vested halts at the armpits that distinguish them from the bearers of canopic jars with long, high robes and veiled hands, according to the ritual.

On one side and the other of the large fountain, four cipollino columns (up to the middle of the last century topped by as many marble busts, now in the museum for conservation reasons) and two lion protome drips.

Highlights works
Column with Egyptianizing reliefs, Architectural element, Beginning of imperial age
Satiro Della Valle, Sculpture, From an original of the Hellenistic period
Colossal statue restored as Ocean: Marforio, Sculpture, 1rst – 2nd century AD
Column with Egyptianizing reliefs, Architectural element, Beginning of imperial age
Column with Egyptianizing reliefs, Column with Egyptianizing reliefs, Architectural element, Beginning imperial age

Palazzo Nuovo
The Palazzo Nuovo is located in Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome, in front of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, with which it is the exhibition site of the Capitoline Museums. Palazzo Nuovo was built in the XVII century under the guidance of Girolamo Rainaldi and his son Carlo. Its slanting orientation, which imitates that of Palazzo dei Conservatori opposite, was influenced by a pre-existing retaining wall on the heights of S. Maria in Aracoeli, in the centre of which was a fountain with a statue known as “Marforio”, later moved to the courtyard of the Capitoline Museum. Externally, the new building is identical to Palazzo dei Conservatori, while the well-conserved decoration of the symmetrically-planned interior features gilded wooden coffering on the first floor.

Despite a number of changes that have taken place over the centuries, this section of the museum has more or less maintained its original XVIII century aspect. The decorative features of this area have remained unchanged, and this has influenced the layout of sculptures and inscriptions. The fine pieces of ancient sculpture come mainly from private collections belonging to high-ranking churchmen and noble Roman families.

Unlike the Palazzo dei Conservatori opposite, the interior space of this building and the arrangement of its architectural features are of symmetrical design.

Palazzo Nuovo is so called because it was built ex novo, using Michelangelo’s blueprint when he redesigned the Palazzo dei Conservatori a century earlier to complete the renovation of the Capitoline Square. The museum was opened to the public in 1734, under Pope Clement XII, who had already purchased the Albani collection of 418 sculptures the previous year, as an addition to the works already on display at the Vatican Belvedere and donated to the Capitoline museum by Pope Pius V in 1566, and the sculptures that could not find a place in Palazzo dei Conservatori. The collections are still arranged according to the exhibition concept of the eighteenth century.

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.