Text and Photos by Bill Wilson
In the years 1621 to 1623 Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi assembled a collection of ancient marble sculptures that have become known as the Boncompagni Ludovisi Marbles to be displayed at his villa. These sculptures were to have a great influence on the Baroque culture. Having been restored by sculptors like Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Alessandro Algardi, they were reproduced in various medium and served to inspire artists such as the Spanish painter Velazquez, who saw then while staying in Rome and John Singleton Copley who used them in the background of his elegant portraits.
When Rome was named the Capitol of the unified Italy in 1861 there was pressure to build in the area of the Villa Ludovisi because its open parkland provided much needed space. The collection was dispersed but the Italian state was able to acquire much of it in 1901. Currently the sculptures are part of the display at the Museo Nazionale Romano/ Palazzo Altemps. In addition to the sculptures that were kept part of the collection, also on display is the famous “Ludovisi Throne” which was discovered in the area of the villa in 1887.
In the English version of the guidebook, Museo Nazionale Romano, Nunizo Giustozzi explains, “It is now generally agreed that the craving on front represents the mythical birth of Aphrodite from foam, the perhaps not so allusive fruit of the severed genitals of Uranus after his son Cronus threw them into the sea…she is helped to emerge by the young and strong arms of the Horai.”
There isn’t the same general agreement on how it might have been used, where it came from or when it came to Rome.
The Juno Ludovisi is another famous part of the collection that has inspired poets, artists and writers. Goethe declared her his first Roman love. In a story by Henry James she comes alive.
Most scholars have identified this head as a young and idealized portrait of Antonia Minor, the Emperor Claudius’s mother, who was deified after her death in 37AD. Others think it may be the head of Livia the wife of Emperor Augustus.
This Sarcophagus found in Rome in 1621 is one of the largest ever found. The theme of victory over the Barbarians is a common one in decoration of sarcophagi from the second half of the 2nd century to the first half of the 3rd century AD. The deceased is the figure in the center with his arm outstretched.