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Farnese Collection -Sculptures

This important collection of antiquities, begun by Alessandro Farnese, the future Pope Paul III, was formed in the sixteenth century, as a result of the purchase and confiscation of the collections of noble families, donations and, above all, by finds from excavations conducted on behalf of the Farnese family in Rome.

History and formationThis important collection of antiquities, begun by Alessandro Farnese, the future Pope Paul III (1543 - 1549), was formed through the purchase of collections (the Sassi and Bernardino Fabio collections), the confiscation of other collections (the Colonna collection) and donations (the Cesi collection), but it increased in size due to the antiques market and, above all, as a result of the numerous finds from the excavations carried out in Rome for the urban renewal of the city, as well as to decorate the newly built Palazzo Farnese (Farnese Palace), where in 1546 Michelangelo designed settings suitable for housing the masterpieces that came to light. On the death of Pope Paul III, the collection was further enlarged by his nephew, cardinal Alessandro, through the purchase of other collections (the Del Bufalo and Cesarini collections) and the inheritance left in 1587 by Margaret of Austria, the widow first of Alessandro dei Medici and then of Ottavio Farnese, including, for example, the collection of famous gems, which formerly belonged to Lorenzo dei Medici, including the Farnese Cup, and important marble sculptures such as the Pergamene statues. Other acquisitions were promoted by the Farnese’s trusted collector and antiquarian Fulvio Orsini, on whose death in 1600 his collection of gems, coins and busts were left to Odoardo Farnese. This large number of ancient and modern materials, marbles, gems, paintings and books was mainly housed in Palazzo Farnese: the two statues of Hercules, the two statues of “Flora” and the two Gladiators were placed beneath the arches of the courtyard; the Bull was placed in a special enclosure in the second courtyard. Ancient statues were arranged according to themes within the Farnese Palace, in the Gran Salone, the Sala degli Imperatori, the Sala dei Filosofi and the Galleria dei Carracci, while other objects, considered of less value, were kept in other residences in the Farnesina Palace and the Farnese Gardens on the Palatine. The family’s move to Parma marked the beginning of the decline of the Roman collections. In 1731, with the death of Antonio Farnese, the male line of the family died out, and the collection passed, through Elisabetta Farnese, wife of Philip V of Spain, to their son Charles of Bourbon. When he became king of Naples in 1734, Charles decided to have the collections in Parma moved to the capital of the Kingdom, and he was followed by his son Ferdinand IV who also brought the Roman collections to Naples: in 1787, despite the strong opposition of the Papacy, the collection began to be transferred from the palaces in Rome to the newly established Neapolitan museum. RouteThe collection is currently being reorganised and, together with the exhibits already on display, such as the sculptures from the Baths of Caracalla, the Roman portraits and the gems, it will be arranged according to provenance from the Roman sites: the sculptures from the Farnese Palace, the Farnese Gardens, Villa Madama, the Farnesina Palace, as well as other rooms organised according to theme: the Greek portraits and the sarcophagi.

Further information
Collection data

Palais Farnese; Classicismo 1988; Farnese 1995a; Farnese 1995b; De Caro 1994; De Caro 1999.

Location: Ground floor; rooms II-VIII, XXIV - XXVIII