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Farnese Collection -Sculptures and Baths of Caraca

This section contains part of the colossal sculptural group that belonged to the Baths of Caracalla, built in Rome by the emperor Caracalla and his successors in the third century AD. The most famous works are the bull, possibly the largest sculpture to survive from antiquity, and Hercules by the Athenian sculptor Glykon.

History and formationThe section contains part of the famous sculptural group that originally stood in the Baths of Caracalla, one of the largest imperial bath complexes, built on the Aventine hill by the emperor Caracalla during his reign (211 - 217 AD) and enlarged, with the addition of an enclosure, by the emperors Elagabalus (218 - 222 AD) and Alexander Severus (222 - 235 AD). The first exploration of the baths took place during the pontificate of Pope Sixtus IV (1471 - 1484); later, in the years between 1545 - 1546, Paolo Farnese undertook new excavations, driven by the need to find materials for the construction and decoration of his main private residence in Rome in Campo de’ Fiori, and probably by the desire to acquire further sculptures for his growing collection of antiquities. The discoveries, which were extensive and quite extraordinary, exceeded all expectations. In 1545 the group of the Bull came to light, a year after the Hercules by Glykon, followed by further astonishing sculptures. Michelangelo, who was called to supervise the work of Palazzo Farnese in 1546, designed appropriate settings for displaying these masterpieces. Thus it was that the statues and colossal sculptures, placed in the suitably spectacular setting of Palazzo Farnese, aroused the admiration and amazement of visitors for over two centuries. When the collection was transferred to Naples, part of the works, including some of those from the Baths, remained in the Farnese Palace, only to end up, after a complex series of events, in various Italian and foreign museums. The same thing was also to happen to the fragments of the colossal sculptures and the other sculptures abandoned by the sixteenth century excavators and rediscovered during the nineteenth century. RouteDespite the dispersal of some pieces, the most important and substantial part of the sculptures from the Baths of Caracalla remains that of the Farnese collection, which is displayed in rooms XI - XVI on the ground floor of the museum. Nevertheless, the sculptures extracted from the Baths do not all date to the Severan period; in other words, they are not all contemporary with the construction of the Baths but date to various periods, the result of acquisitions and the plundering of buildings from previous periods. The figures and the groups represent an eclectic collection, selected due to their colossal proportions, their compositions and their themes according to the decoration needs of the Farnese Palace and their position within it. The most famous works are undoubtedly the Bull, possibly the largest sculptural group to survive from antiquity, and the statue of Hercules by the Athenian sculptor Glykon; a copy of the latter sculpture, the so-called Latin Hercules, is now on display in the court yard of the Royal Palace of Caserta, where it was transferred in 1788. Other important sculptures include the so-called Farnese Gladiator, the warrior group with a young boy, a statue depicting Athena, as well as a porphyry tub with handles in the shape of serpents and masks in the form of deities which is on display in the eastern courtyard of the museum. Although they do not belong to the Baths complex, several of the sculptures were displayed with it in the Farnese Palace, including the two restored sculptures restored as Flora and the so-called Lar or Genius of the Roman People, now on display in the same room in accordance with antiquarian tradition. The history of the sculptural collection has been profoundly affected by the restoration work carried out on the sculptures, which took place in two main phases. The first is the sixteenth century phase, contemporary with the formation of the collection and prior to its presentation in the Farnese Palace, when the cleaning, frequent reconstruction and replacement of fragments were entrusted to various artists, in particular to G.B. Bianchi who worked on the Bull, and to G. della Porta who worked on the statue of Hercules. The other phase of the restoration took place in the late eighteenth century and was entrusted to Carlo Albacini and was intended to prepare the marble works for being transported to Naples; however, the damage caused by the transport made it necessary for additional work by Neapolitan sculptors such as Calì, Brunelli and others.

Further information
Collection data

Palais Farnese; Itinerario farnesiano 1982; La Rocca 1989; De Caro 1994; Farnese 1995a; Farnese 1995b;De Caro 1999.

Location: Ground floor; rooms XI - XVI