Culture

Torlonia collection’s ancient sculptures back on show after restoration

ROME: One of the world’s biggest private collections of antique marble sculpture, from renderings of mythical creatures to statues of emperors, is bringing restored and will be returned to public display this month.

More than 90 of the of 620 Greek and Roman pieces in the Torlonia catalogue are to be shown in the Villa Caffarelli at the Italian capital’s Capitoline Museums from October 14.

In a workshop in central Rome, three artists have cleaned, whitened and reconstructed the collection accumulated by the aristocratic Franco-Italian Torlonia family, which grew wealthy managing the Vatican’s finances.

Valentina Raciti, who has worked on the restoration for four years, was passing an ammonium carbonate-soaked sponge over the figure of a reclining woman holding a crown on a tombstone when AFP visited.

Such pieces may already have been restored several times over the centuries.

“The way they restored things in the 18th-Century tried to imitate what was added, the flaws,” Raciti explains. “By contrast, we have an eye for the artistic side, but also try not to hide what we’ve done.”

Her colleague Elisabetta Lulli points out how “you can see the previous restorations, like in a history book” on a Greek sculpture known as “Il caprone in reposo” (“The resting goat”), on which legendary Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini worked.

“What’s especially interesting in this collection are all the inserts that have been made, either in marble or plaster,” says restorer Kine Settimini. “In short, all the interventions of the past, we catalogue them to get a general idea of the history of each piece.”

“It’s emotional just to touch” works like a bronze sculpture of Germanicus, a Roman general who was the older brother of Emperor Claudius and father of Caligula, says Anna Maria Carruba, the chief curator of the Torlonia collection.

“There’s a big difference between works preserved in museums and those in private collections,” she adds. “With art in museums, the observer is supposed to imagine the missing pieces back into places, so even if they aren’t nice to look at they have the charm of ancient things. In a private collection, by contrast, that’s unacceptable.”

The “Torlonia marbles” exhibition -- supposed to open in April but pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic -- was born of a partnership between the Torlonia foundation, Italy’s culture ministry and the luxury brand Bulgari. It is set for tours of Europe and the US before returning to a permanent space in Rome.

 

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