On the Scene with Bill Wilson: Palazzo Altemps

Text and photos by Bill Wilson

Courtyard of the Palazzo Altemps with sculptures positioned as originally placed by Cardinal Altemps.

Courtyard of the Palazzo Altemps with sculptures positioned as originally placed by Cardinal Altemps.

It is fitting that the ancient art section of the Museo Nazionale Romano should find its home in the Palazzo Altemps, which was built by the Riario family in the late 15th century. Acquired in 1568 by Cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps, whose uncle was Pope Pius IV, the building was renovated and afforded the Cardinal a setting to display his collection of sculptures, vases and manuscripts.

 A side view of the Ludovisi Ares in the Salla della Piattaia.

A side view of the Ludovisi Ares in the Salla della Piattaia.

Two of the more famous pieces in the Ludovisi collection are contained in the Sala della Piattaia (Room of the Plate Rack). The Ares can be seen with Eros playing at his feet.

A front view of the Ludovisi Ares gives a better view of Eros playing at his feet.

A front view of the Ludovisi Ares gives a better view of Eros playing at his feet.

The second famous piece on display in the same room is the group of Orestes and Electra at the grave of their father Agamemnon.

Front view of Orestes and Electra

Front view of Orestes and Electra

View from behind.

View from behind.

There are several rooms in the palace devoted to the Public and Private Cults which include items brought from Egypt to Rome in ancient times.

 Rooms of Public and Private Cults. The bust at the far end is of Pharaoh Amenemhet III

Rooms of Public and Private Cults. The bust at the far end is of Pharaoh Amenemhet III

The bust of the Pharaoh Amenemhet III is the oldest surviving example of art from the Middle Kingdom to be brought to Rome during the imperial era.

This is a statue of the bull-diety,  Apis, who was originally worshipped in Memphis, the ancient capitol of Egypt. In Roman times it was associated with the cult if Isis.

This is a statue of the bull-diety, Apis, who was originally worshipped in Memphis, the ancient capitol of Egypt. In Roman times it was associated with the cult if Isis.


It is easy to get so caught up with the magnificent pieces of sculptures and other objects that you miss some of the finer points of decoration in the rooms of the Palazzo. That is the reason I didn’t get a picture of the plate rack fresco in the Room of the Plate Rack, however I did get picture of the obelisk in the Room of the Obelisks.

he obelisks painted as part of the window frame give the room its name.

he obelisks painted as part of the window frame give the room its name.

The Room of the Painted Perspectives might have originally been a chapel based on some of the decoration, but was turned into the main hall.

 The Room of the Painted Perspectives

The Room of the Painted Perspectives

The frescoed walls provide a perfect backdrop for the sculptures that seem to come to life in another world.

 A relaxed Hercules

A relaxed Hercules

A playful Satyr

A playful Satyr


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