The Palazzo dei Conservatori, headquarters of the magistrature of the same name for hundreds of years, has, since the end of the 15th century, been home to the Capitoline collection of sculptures.
The palazzo’s interior design and the layout of the works of art has been modified over the years. The sculptures were originally situated in the external portico on the ground floor, on the façade and in the courtyard, but gradually were used also to decorate rooms on the first floor.
The name Palazzo dei Conservatori Museum was taken up in 1876 with the expansion of the exhibition area. The refurbishment completed in 2005 has radically modified the appearance of this section of the museum, with the construction of a large glass hall for the great Capitoline bronzes, the refurbishing of the halls of the Roman Horti and the Castellani Collection, and the creation of a large sector dedicated to the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter.
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 Sale Castellani contain an appreciable series of materials, which represent the point of arrival of the formation of the historic collections of the Museum in the second half of the 19th century.
The Castellani Collection, donated by the famous goldsmith and collector Augusto Castellani, is constituted of items that come from the most important archaeological sites in Etruria, Latium, and southern Italy, which cover a period that goes from the VIII to the IV century BC.
Halls of the Modern Fasti
Following the example of the ancient Roman “Fasti”, embedded in the walls of the Hall of the She wolf are a series of inscriptions featuring lists of Roman magistrates from 1640 onwards.
Halls of the Horti Lamiani
Situated in the upper part of the Esquilino, in the area around what is today Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, the Horti Lamiani were founded by the consul Aelius Lamia, a friend of Tiberius, and very soon (already with Caligula) became part of Imperial property.
Halls of the Horti Tauriani – Vettiani
The vastness and splendour of the home of Statilius Taurus, an eminent personality in the Rome of the I century AD, was perhaps at the heart of his conviction for magic, apparently inspired by Agrippina so as to seize the property for the Imperial domain.
The area of the Horti was later broken up into a number of properties and under Gallienus in the middle of the III century AD went back to being a part of the Horti Liciniani; it has also been discovered that in late antiquity the home of Vettius Agorius Praetextatus (Horti Vettiani) was there.
Halls of the Horti of Maecenas
The Horti di Mecenate are the most ancient to be found at the residential gardens at the Esquilino; the friend and councillor of Emperor Augustus indeed transformed into a sumptuous residence an area that had until then been used as a necropolis, covering it with a large layer of earth.
Later having passed to Imperial domain, the gardens became an extension of the Domus Aurea at the time of Nero.
The only part that still exists today is the Auditorium, a summer triclinium decorated with frescoes with views of gardens.
The gallery contains portraits from the Horti of the Esquilino Hill and two monumental marble vases from Horti Vettiani.
Marcus Aurelius Exedra
The new grand glass hall built inside what was called the “Giardino Romano” in Palazzo dei Conservatori today contains the equestrian statue of Marc Aurelius together with some of the major Capitoline bronzes, the Hercules in gilded bronze from the Foro Boario and the remains of the bronze colossus of Constantine.
Designed by the architect Carlo Aymonino, it is a prestigious piece of modern architecture within the ambit of this Municipal museum complex and is the fulcrum that links the historic part of Palazzo dei Conservatori to those parts of the museum that have been more recently constructed.
Area of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus
Of this temple have been brought to light the impressive foundations made from blocks of stone that, through the superficial layer clay, rest upon the tufa rock below. Also freed from the modern walls that covered it, restored and suitably highlighted is the so called “Roman Wall”, the only part of the podium that has come to posterity in its full height, on top of which is still to be found a considerable layer of cement-like material from ancient roman times.
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.