Bronze Prince

In February of the year 1885, excavators working along a slope of the Quirinale Hill in Rome came upon this over life sized bronze statue of a heroic figure. A month later, another statue was uncovered, the Bronze Boxer (see below). Both were incredible finds, both rare bronzes from the 2nd or 3rd centuries BCE.

Bronze Boxer

The Bronze Boxer is, in my mind, one of the greatest sculptures ever created. It’s not of a god or goddess or mythical being, but an eloquent portrait of a working man, a man whose job is brutal and exhausting. All of this is conveyed in this remarkable work with its painstaking details such as the ‘boxing gloves’ (see image below) and his crooked nose and cauliflower ear. Over 2000 years old, its survival is a miracle and an indication of the high level of artistic and technical talents of sculptors and founders from the Hellenistic era, where these artists turned their sights to creating works that depicted ordinary people rather than ideal mythic beings.

August Augustus

This is a detail of the famous statue of the Roman Emperor Augustus from around 12 BCE, called the Via Labicana Augustus, named after its find spot. The work shows Augustus as a priest, specifically Pontifex Maximus, a title that the popes of Rome would later adopt. It represents an important concept regarding the imperium: that the emperor is both a political and religious head of state.

Cupid’s Kiss

Detail of a Cupid and Psyche statue in marble in the Capitoline Museum, Rome.

Vespasian’s Vows

The Roman Emperor Vespasian followed the controversial reign of the much-hated Nero. The new emperor quickly moved to institute a new set of laws around 70 CE, the Lex de imperio Vespasiani. These new laws were inscribed on bronze plaques so they could be publicly displayed, including this very rare surviving one.

Capitoline Queen

A detail of a beautiful figure in the Capitoline Museum in Rome.

Rome’s Twins

In the background of this shot of a pigeon enjoying the waters of a fountain, are the twins Romulus and Remus and their She-Wolf mother, a legend of the founding of Rome. The sculpture’s are found on the Capitoline Hill of Rome (see post below).

Old Man River

On the Capitoline Hill in Rome, in front of the Senate building, is a huge statue that’s an allegorical figure of the River Tiber. He holds, as many aquatic allegories do, a rudder. There’s a pendant to him as well, a similar allegorical figure representing the Nile River, thus they signifyed the great scope of the Roman Empire. But the Tiber figure didn’t always signify the Tiber. Originally, during ancient times, it represented the Tigris River, thus, like the Nile, it alluded to the farthest reaches of the Empire. It was only later that the recumbent figure’s symbolism was changed, when Michelangelo moved the figures to their present location in his refurbishing of the Capitoline Hill structures. By then, the Renaissance, the Tigris didn’t have any particular significance for Romans. It had been absorbed into Muslim lands centuries before. Indeed, it was only then that the She-Wolf and the twins Romulus and Remus were added to the ensemble to make it clear that the figure now symbolized Rome’s famous river (see post above).

Dying Gaul

This marble statue is likely a Roman copy of a Hellenistic original done in bronze. The original probably dates from around 225 BCE, commissioned by King Attalus of Pergamon (in present-day Turkey) to commemorate his victory over an army of Gauls. The Gaul, dying of his wounds, is wearing a torque around his neck, a distinctive type of jewelry worn by the Gauls. It’s now in the Capitoline Museum in Rome.

Happy Saints

While most of the early mosaics of the church of San Paolo fuori la Mura (St Paul Outside the Walls) were destroyed in a 19th century fire, they were carefully restored. The earliest mosaics date from the early 4th century, donated by the famous Byzantine, Ravennese Princess and Consort Galla Placidia, whose mausoleum is one of the wonders of Ravenna. In this detail, martyrs carry the crowns that mark them as the Elect of Heaven. I like the fellow in the lower row third from the right. He looks like he’s just seen you taking a picture of him and he’s so happy you’re going to post it on your blog.

Nereo and Achilleo

The church of Saints Nereo and Achilleo is a 4th century basilica in Rome found close to the monumental ruins of the Baths of Caracalla. The proximity of the church to those ruins meant that the ecclesiastics could forage for loot, and found a huge porphyry urn and placed their pulpit on top of it. The mosaics date from the period of the papacy of Leo III, the early 10th century, showing here the Transfiguration of Christ.

Striding Saints

The church of Saints Cosmas and Damien, which overlooks the Roman Republican Forum in Rome, also has some of the city’s most remarkable mosaics in the apse. Saints Cosmas and Damien were brothers, both doctors who would not take money for their services, thus they became known as the Anargyroi or ‘unmercenary’ (lit. ‘without silver’) saints. They were martyred in the great anti-Christian era of the 280s, during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. Here, St Peter presents St Cosmas (who holds the bejeweled wreath-crown of martyrdom) to Christ, who stands in the center of the apse decorations, which date from the 6th to 7th century CE.

Santa Maria in Trastevere

Trastevere, a medieval district of Rome west of the Tiber, is one of Rome’s most scenic quarters, but also contains some of its most beautiful works of art and architecture. The mosaics of the apse of Santa Maria in Trastevere (literally, the name means ‘across the Tevere’, that is, ‘across the Tiber’) date from the early 13th century, and are purported to be the work of Pietro Cavallini. In keeping with the church’s dedication, the central subject is the Coronation of the Virgin (see below).