Four years after the agreement was signed to display a selection of ancient sculptures from the unparalleled collection of the princely Torlonia family, one year after the announcement that would finally go on display in March 2020, and seven months after that date came and went, the Torlonia marbles exhibit has actually opened. Ninety-six marbles of the 620 in the collection have gone on display at the Palazzo Caffarelli, a newly-renovated venue that is part of the Musei Capitolini system.
This is the first time the general public has been able to see any of the Torlonia masterpieces in person since the 1940s. The Museo Torlonia, the private museum in Trastevere where the ancient statues, reliefs, vases and busts the Torlonia amassed primarily by buying entire collections from impoverished Roman nobility, closed its doors in 1976. Not that they were ever wide open. Founded in 1875, the museum was very exclusive, with access granted to invited guests, dignitaries and scholars. So 101 years after the private museum opened, it was shut down on the pretext of roof repair. In fact, the Torlonia illegally converted the building into apartments and tossed the priceless collection into the basement to collect dust.
Since then, the state has tried to acquire the or at least arrange for its permanent display but for decades all dealmaking attempts and court cases failed. The 2016 agreement was a major breakthrough, but new problems cropped up when the pater familias Prince Alessandro Torlonia died in 2017. Those were sorted out just in time to hit the COVID wall. We’ll see if the Torlonia marbles manage to stay on display as planned this time. The exhibition is scheduled to run through June 29th, 2021.
The Torlonia Marbles: Collecting Masterpieces is arranged in five sections. Room 1 is dedicated to the Museo Torlonia. It includes the famous 1884 catalogue of its 620 marbles which was the first catalogue of an ancient sculpture collection to use photographs of all the works instead of illustrations. Room 2 features works excavated from Torlonia properties in the 19th century. Section 3 covers three rooms and is dedicated to the many marbles acquired from the 18th century collections of the Albani family and sculptor Bartolomeo Cavaceppi. Section 4 (in four rooms) features works collected by Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani in the 17th century. The final section spotlights pieces from 15th and 16th century collections of distinguished Roman families.
In a nod to the seminal catalogue that first documented the collection of the Museo Torlonia, a catalogue of the exhibition has been published that covers the artworks on display in exhaustive detail, from provenance to restorations to the latest research. Essays by specialists contextualize the pieces, delving into the history of antiquities collecting and museums themselves. The catalogue is available in English and can be bought online.