Main Staircase, Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums

The landings on the main staircase that leads to the upper floors feature large historical reliefs which originally were used to decorate public monuments. Three panels from a triumphal arch refer to the exploits of Marcus Aurelius and are lined up on the first landing, while another three portraying the Emperor Hadrian are distributed one on each landing. On the top floor, on either side of the entrance to the Picture Gallery, two splendid panels inlaid with coloured marble from the Basilica Iunii Bassi on the Esquiline face each other. The main staircase was built Around the year 1570, while working on the new facade of the Palazzo, replacing the fifteenth-century outside staircase: the two big ramps overlooked a small open courtyard which was closed in the early twentieth century. The third flight of stairs was built in early 1900s to facilitate access to the gallery, and it was expanded in those years with the creation of the Cini Gallery.

From the courtyard to go up to the first floor there is access to a staircase where there are some reliefs, three of which were part of a triumphal arch dedicated to Marcus Aurelius and arrived in the Capitol since 1515. They belonged to a series of twelve reliefs (eight of which were re-used on the arch of Constantine and one last, disappeared, of which a fragment remains, in Copenhagen ). The reliefs, carved in two stages, in 173 and 176 had been attributed to an arcus aureus or arcus Panis Aurei in Capitolio cited by medieval sources and which stood on the slopes of the Capitol, at the crossroads between thevia Lata and the clivus Argentarius, not far from the church of Santi Luca e Martina, where the three reliefs of the Capitoline Museums had been reused. or perhaps near the column of Marcus Aurelius as a monumental entrance to the portico surrounding the “colchide” monument.

Two others instead belonged to a triumphal arch called “of Portugal” (transferred to the Capitol in 1664, after the destruction of the arch), concerning instead the figure of the emperor Publius Elio Traiano Adriano. In the first panel Adriano witnesses the apotheosis of his wife Vibia Sabina, in the second he is greeted by the goddess Roma and the genius of the Senate and the Roman people. A third panel, on the other hand, comes from Piazza Sciarra, always concerning the emperor Hadrian, and was purchased in 1573 by the Conservatories to complete the decorative cycle.

Then we find two wonderful mosaics with tiger and calf, almost symmetrical to each other (both 1.24 m high by 1.84 m wide). These would be two panels in opus sectile, built in colored marble (Roman works of the second quarter of the fourth century ), coming from the Basilica of Giunio Basso on the Esquiline, the Roman consul of 317. Two other smaller panels are instead kept in the National Roman Museum of Palazzo Massimo.

1st Shelf
Between 1572 and 1573, four great Roman historical reliefs, from monuments in honour of Hadrian (117-138 AD) and Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD), were placed on the walls. The historical and artistic importance of these reliefs is very great, they are the typical expression of ancient Roman art, in which in the main events of the wars or the celebration of religious ceremonies are depicted.

Starting from the left, are: Hadrian’s Adventus: the relief, that comes from Piazza Sciarra, is the preserved part of an honorary arch located near the temple to the deified Emperor: it depicts Hadrian entering Rome (probably returning from the Roman-Jewish war in 134 AD), through a door in the wall, welcomed by the goddess Roma and the personifications of the Senate and Roman people. The other three historic reliefs are probably from a triumphal arch dedicated to Marcus Aurelius on the occasion of his victories over the Sarmatians and the Germans in 176 AD; in the Capitoline since 1515, the reliefs come from the Church of Saints Luke and Martina in the Roman Forum:

Imperial clemency: Marcus Aurelius is portrayed in an attitude very similar to the one of the equestrian statue at the centre of the square: on horseback, wearing military uniform, with his right arm outstretched, a gesture of clemency towards kneeling barbarian prisoners.

Imperial victory: Marcus Aurelius celebrates triumph over the defeated enemy. On a chariot drawn by four horses, Marcus Aurelius enters Rome accompanied by a winged Victory.

Imperial religiosity: Marcus Aurelius, in civilian clothes and with his head veiled, offers a sacrifice at the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, where all the triumphal processions ended.

2nd Shelf
The construction of the monumental staircase is enhanced by charming stuccoes decorating the vaults, drawn by Luzio Luzi in 1575, depicting the glorification of Roman virtues and monuments of civilization. Other stuccoes feature scenes from the Old and New Testament.

A great historical relief has been placed next to the door that gives way to the hall of the Horatii and Curiatii; it comes from the “ Arch of Portugal” on Via del Corso, demolished in 1662. Two reliefs from an arch dedicated to Hadrian were inserted in this monument, of the late ancient period, probably built in the vicinity of the temple deified emperor, in the Campus Martius. The relief depicts Hadrian on a podium, while presiding at a ceremony where food is given to Roman children.

3rd Shelf
On the left is a great historical relief from the Arch of Portugal: it depicts the apotheosis of the Empress Sabina, who was the wife of Hadrian and deified after her death. The emperor, seated on a throne, with the personification of the Campus Martius, is present at the apotheosis of Sabina who emerges from a funeral pyre on the shoulders of a winged female figure, identified as the personification of Eternity.

On the same shelf there are two coloured marble inlay panels, representing tigers assaulting a calf. These are two of the few remaining elements of the rich marble decoration of the so-called Basilica of Junius Bassus on the Esquiline Hill. The walls of the great hall, built by Junius Bassus in 317 AD during his consulate, were covered with beautiful polychrome marble inlays.

Related Post

Highlights works
Relief from honorary monument of Marcus Aurelius: submission of the Germans. Sculpture. 176-180 AD
Relief from honorary monument of Marcus Aurelius: triumph. Sculpture. 176-180 AD
Relief from honorary monument of Marcus Aurelius: sacrifice to Capitoline Jupiter. Sculpture. 176-180 AD
Relief from the Arch of Portugal: giving food aid to Roman children. Sculpture. 2nd century AD
Opus sectile panel with tiger attacking a calf. Mosaic / Intarsia. First half of 4th century AD
Relief from the Arch of Portugal: apotheosis of Sabina. Sculpture. 2nd century AD
Sarcophagus with marine thiasos and inscription of Promotus. Funerary monument and ornaments. First half of 3rd century AD; 4th-5th century AD (inscription)
Opus sectile panel with tiger attacking a calf. Mosaic / Intarsia. Second quarter of 4th century AD

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.