The Egyptian works, ranging from the testimonies of the earliest dynasties to the Ptolemaic age, can be found in Room I and II. The second room hosts the works from Mesopotamia, from the foundation nails and the cuneiform tablets of the third millennium before Christ, up to the findings coming from the neo-Assyrian palaces dating from the ninth and seventh centuries BC.
The III Room preserves two important items of Phoenician art, with few but significant specimens of Etruscan art. The fourth Room displays works from Cyprus, an important crossroads of civilizations in the middle of the eastern Mediterranean.
The first two rooms are dedicated to Egyptian art, with different materials from some Parisian auctions and several excavations carried out directly in Egypt; it is the first part collected by Baron Barracco. The stele of Nofer is a limestone fragment attributed to the homonymous scribe of the IV dynasty, portrayed in front of an altar for offerings. Originally from the necropolis of Giza, Ismail Enver donated it to Girolamo Bonaparte; in ParisBaron Barracco purchased the piece for his collection. Nearby there is a small statue made of wood and most likely dating from the XII dynasty, on whose hands some hieroglyphics were made. A rarity is the female sphinx attributed to Queen Hatshepsut (XVIII dynasty) in black granite, whose inscription mentions the brother Thutmose II of which the queen was regent. The work was found in the Iseo Campense Roman site of the first century, near Campo Marzio.
A little further on there is a youthful portrait of Ramses II, representation of the homonymous pharaoh of the New Kingdom, always made of black granite, and with the double crown and a helmet, accompanied by the sacred uraeus. Produced instead with diorite is the figure of a bearded priest, whom Barracco believed represented the Roman emperor Julius Caesar, while the hairstyle actually suggests a common priest of ancient Rome; moreover, the particular headband with an eight-pointed star properly recalls a priestly type character. The work could be dated to the third century. In addition to the Ptolemaic period funeral mask, it is also a large hourglass by Ptolemy Philadelphus, built in basalt stone but found in fragments at the Serapeo Campense in Rome. If on the outside some inscriptions dedicated to the Egyptian king Ptolemy II have been made, the inside instead presents some notches functional to the use of this instrument as an hourglass, which then actually became an offering vessel in the following centuries. It is also reminiscent of a canopic jar with lid cynocephalus, in calcite and belonging to the XXVI dynasty, and a rare leonine in wood ofXX dynasty.
Nearly all the reliefs in the Barracco Museum’s collection belong to the funerary sphere. They come from a type of tomb, the mastaba (from the Arabic word for bench), which was especially characteristic of Old Kingdom necropolises.
The tomb had two main parts: an underground chamber, accessible from a deep shaft, where the sarcophagus and the grave goods were placed; and an above-ground structure (a sort of truncated pyramid) that could include several rooms. One or more “false doors” represented the connection between the world of the living and that of the dead, the symbolic boundary that the dead person’s spirit (Ka) could magically cross to gather up the offerings.
A funerary stele with the deceased’s image was also placed in the mastaba. The dead person was often depicted seated at the table on which were laid out the offerings that were to accompany him or her on the journey to the afterlife. An inscription cited the deceased’s name and titles, together with a ritual phrase with which the sovereign himself mediated between the relatives and Osiris, lord of the dead. In this way, the deceased’s name was “made alive,” and his or her image was a true substitute capable of attending the ceremonies in his or her honor.
In sculpture in the round, the main subject is the human figure, depicted in a few standard types: the standing/walking figure, the sitting or kneeling figure, and the one shown in the characteristic position of the scribe. While the images of pharaohs and deities are strongly marked by idealization and abstraction, in private sculptures facial features are rendered with a greater aim at portrayal. Egyptian statuary follows strict compositional rules and is always connected with architecture, since the image replaces the presence of the real person in the building, whether temple or tomb.
The statues in the Barracco collection fall in different categories, but they all testify clearly to their function as “substitutes” in the performance of domestic activities (the roles of the ushabtis and the statuettes of servants) or participation in ceremonies in their honor (statues of the deceased or the sovereign); or as stand-ins for the god, the sovereign or a simple offerer.
Stele of the Dignitary Nefer, Funerary monument and ornaments, Old Kingdom, Dynasty IV (2640-2520 B.C.)
Female Sphinx of a Queen, Sculpturem, New Kingdom, Dynasty XVIII, Thutmosis III (1479-1426 B.C.)
Head of Sethi I, Sculpture, New Kingdom, Dynasty XIX, Sethi I (1289-1278 B.C.)
Bearded male head, Sculpture, Ptolemaic period (second half of the 1rst century B.C.)
Milking scene relief, Funerary monument and ornaments, Old Kingdom, Dynasty V (2520–2360 B.C.)
Stele di Memi, Funerary monument and ornaments, Middle Kingdom (1987-1640 B.C.)
Khenti-Kheti figurine, Sculpture, Middle Kingdom (1987-1640 B.C.)
Stele di Shemen, Funerary monument and ornaments, New Kingdom, Dynasty XVIII, reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1353 B.C.)
Head of Amenhotep II, Sculpture, New Kingdom, Dynasty XVIII, reign of Amenhotep II (1426-1400 B.C.)
Canopic jar – Hawk-head lid (Qebehsenuf), Funerary monument and ornaments, Saïtic period, Dynasty XXVI (664-525 B.C.)
Egyptian and Mesopotamian Art
The display cases contain some foundation nails of the third dynasty of Ur, made of bronze, usually with an apotropaic purpose; they mainly come from southern Mesopotamia. Just ahead there is a winged genius kneeling to the right, an alabaster limestone relief dating back to the Assurnasirpal age and coming from the Palace of Nimrud; other reliefs from the same period are exhibited in the same sector. A last example of extraordinary workmanship is the relief depicting some women in a millstone, found in the city of Nineveh. Other reliefs to mention are those depicting some Assyrian archers, Elamite warriors, high-harness harnesses and horses, and other Elamite archers in full uniform, from the Ashurbanipal era, also from the Palace of Nineveh.
The ancient Egyptians usually defined the sarcophagus with the term “lord of life,” attributing to it the function of preserving the body so that it could pass through to the afterworld. In fact, the Egyptian religion believed that the Ka (the spirit) needed the body to survive after death. The oldest type of Egyptian sarcophagus is a stone or wooden chest, variously decorated and sometimes bearing inscriptions. The other type we know of is in the shape of a human mummy. At first these were made of papier mâché: later on they were made of wood or stone.
Ushabtis (the Egyptian word means ”those who answer”) are mummy-shaped figurines that were an integral and indispensable part of burial goods. They are holding farm tools (a hoe and a sickle). Inscribed on the front of each figurine is a chapter from the Book of the Dead. Reciting the inscriptions gave life to the figurines, which would thus work in the deceased’s stead. The Egyptians believed that after death the body reached the Iaru Fields, rich in fruit, crops and delights of all kinds. There it would live happily ever after, with no worries, enjoying the same standard of living as in earthly life, because the ushabtis would perform all the person’s tasks and provide for all the necessities of life in the afterworld.
Masks, like sarcophaguses, played an important role in Egyptian funeral rites. They gave the deceased person a face in the afterworld and enabled the Ka (spirit) to recognize its body. The museum owns two of these masks.
The name given to objects of this kind refers to the fact that they were buried at different points beneath the foundations of buildings, especially temples. Their primary purpose was to commemorate the building’s construction, but they also had an economic/administrative meaning that was transferred to the transcendent level. They were supposed to evoke the pickets used to measure fields and mark out building floor plans on the ground, and also the clay pickets inserted horizontally in the upper part of the walls. These clay pickets seem to derive from a prototype, the “secular picket,” that was driven into the ground to mark changes of ownership or property claims.
The development of cuneiform writing is attributed to the Sumerian civilization, which flourished in lower Mesopotamia in the late fourth and the third millenniums B.C. Cuneiform was one of the first forms of writing documented in antiquity. It derives from an earlier and simpler writing system, known as pictographs, in which words were indicated by schematic drawings of the things they indicated. The term “cuneiform” (wedge-shaped) refers to the fact that the characters were written on clay tablets with a triangular-pointed reed stylus that produced wedge-shaped marks (cunei in Latin).
This is the term used to denote the art which, between the third century B.C. and the third century A.D., was characteristic of the area extending from the Iranian highlands to southern Mesopotamia. Many of the works produced in that period have elements in the Hellenistic style, but are distinguished from the latter by a greater use of decoration.
An important part of the collection is dedicated to Mesopotamian art and in particular to findings from the main buildings of the neo Assyrian kingdom. King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC), the first great ruler of Neo-Assyrian empire, established the new capital of the kingdom at Nimrud (whose ancient name was Kalkhu), where he built the great North-West Palace. From one of the rooms of the palace, decorated with mythical-symbolic subjects, comes the great relief with kneeling winged genius. Sennacherib (704-681 BC) moved the capital of the kingdom to Nineveh. Here it was built the North Palace, also known as the “palace without a rival”, lavishly decorated with impressive wall decorations, celebrating the military takeover of the sovereign. Some fine reliefs with scenes of war and deportation of prisoners come from here.
Ashurbanipal (668-627 BC), whose reign saw the end of the neo-Assyrian empire, kept the capital at Nineveh, but he built a new palace: the North Palace. The building housed also the vast library the king had collected in all regions of Mesopotamia: more than 20,000 cuneiform tablets discovered in the English excavations of the XIX century (now in the British Museum) are the most precious cultural heritage left by the Mesopotamian civilization. From the North Palace come various numerous reliefs with scenes of hunting, war and deportation of prisoners.
Mummy mask, Funerary monument and ornaments, Ptolemaic period (late 1rst century B. C.)
Water hourglass, Sculpture, Ptolemaic Period, Ptolemy el Philadelphus (285-246 a.J.C.), Ptolemaic period, Ptolemy II Philadelphos (284-246 B.C.)
Foundation nail: sovereign holding a basket on his head, Sculpture, Ur Dynasty III, reign of Shulgi (2094-2047 B.C.)
Foundation nail with kneeling male deity, Sculpture, Neo-Sumerian period, reign of Gudea of Lagash (2150-2125 B.C.)
Sarcophagus fragment, Funerary monument and ornaments, Third intermediate period, Dynasty XXI (1075-944 B.C.)
Sculpture model, Sculpture, Ptolemaic period (304-30 B. C.)
Ushabti, Sculpture, Late period, Dynasty XXX (380-342 B.C.)
Ushabti, Sculpture, Late period (664-332 B. C.)
Cuneiform tablets, Inscription, Ur Dynasty III, reign of Shulgi (2094-2047 B.C.); inv. MB 229: third year in the reign of king Amar-Sin (2043 B.C.)
Kneeling winged genius, Sculpture, Neo-Assyrian Empire, reign of Ashur-nasir-pal II (883-859 B.C.)
Etruscan art, Phoenician Art
This room displays examples of Etruscan and Phoenician art that enrich the overall picture conceived by Giovanni Barracco for the formation of his collection of artworks from the ancient civilizations that flourished around the Mediterranean basin.
The room shows some works of Etruscan manufacture, including a female head, originally placed as a decoration of a tomb near Bolsena and dated to the 2nd century BC. A fetus stone memorial stone with a splendid iconographic narration on the sides is also exhibited; the find comes from Chianciano, most likely it was made on commission and was attributed to an era between 500 and 460 BC
Female head, Sculpture, Second half of the 2nd century BC
Female head, Sculpture, Early 3rd century BC
Funeral memorial stone, Funerary monument and ornaments, Early 5th century BC
Human shaped sarcophagus cover, Funerary monument and ornaments, 5th-4th century BC
Bes statue, Sculpture, Roman period (1st century AD)
A statue of Heracles-Melquart (early 5th century BC) is on display while dressing a lion skin and holding a small lion in his left hand: the work was donated to Baron Barracco in 1909. Another work in the same cultural area is a modest but valuable parade wagon with two characters, produced in polychrome limestone which most likely sees a mother with her son as protagonists during some cultural celebrations; it comes from Amatunte, a town on the island of Cyprus, and scholars date it to the second quarter of the fifth century BC
For the art of the ancient Phoenicians are exposed protome a lion in alabaster – located outside the room, on the landing – from Sant’Antioco (Sardinia) and placed between the IV and III century BC A little further on is the upper part of an anthropoid sarcophagus, more precisely the lid, dated to the end of the 5th century BC and originally from Sidon, one of the main cities of the Phoenician region.
Statuettes of Herakles-Melqart, Sculpture, Early 5th century BC
Parade float with two characters, Sculpture, Early 5th century BC
Tambourine player, Sculpture, Mid-6th century BC
Double flute player, Sculpture, Mid-6th century BC
Male head, Sculpture, 5th century BC
Giovanni Barracco Museum of Ancient Sculpture
The Giovanni Barracco Museum of Ancient Sculpture is part of the Museums system in the Municipality of Rome and is located in the Parione district, near Campo de ‘Fiori. It collects several works of classical and Near Eastern art, donated to the Municipality by Baron Giovanni Barracco in 1904.
Giovanni Barracco Museum of Ancient Sculpture is a museum in Rome, Italy, featuring a collection of works acquired by the collector Giovanni Barracco, who donated his collection to the City of Rome in 1902.
Among the works are Egyptian, Assyrian, and Phoenician art, as well as Greek sculptures of the classical period. The 400 works of the collection are divided according to the civilization and are displayed in nine rooms, on the first and second floors, while the ground floor contains a small reception area.
On the first floor Egyptian works are presented in Rooms I and II. Room II includes works from Mesopotamia, including cuneiform tablets of the third millennium BCE and items from neo-Assyrian palaces dating from the ninth and seventh centuries BCE. The third room contains two important Phoenician items together with some Etruscan art, while the fourth displays works from Cyprus.
The second floor exhibits classical art. Room V presents original sculptures and copies from the Roman period as well as Greek sculpture of the fifth century BCE. Room VI displays copies of classical and late classical Roman work, along with funerary sculptures from Greece. Rooms VII and VIII, show a collection of Greek and Italic ceramics, and other items, starting from the time of Alexander the Great. The final room shows examples of works from public monuments of the Roman period, together with specimens of medieval art.