Museo Nazionale Romana
On my last day, I was not due to fly back until the evening,so I had the morning to make my last visit, so I decided to go and to do yet another great museum, the Palazzo Massimo, which is the main part of the National Roman Museum. This is adjacent to the Baths of Caracalla, and just across the Termini railway station piazza, so very convenient.
The ground floor is occupied by Imperial statues, mostly early, of the Julio-Claudian period. I particularly liked this full-size statue of Augustus dressed as a priest with his cloak worn over his head in priestly fashion. I have not seen any full-length statues of Augustus before, and it was very impressive.
I particularly liked it that they had clearly taken great care over the background to the statues: many of them had his dark reddish brown which made the statues stand out very well.
Will there is a fine collection of busts of noble women with elaborate hairstyles. Hairstyles ranged widely and changed rapidly in the Roman imperial era and it is often possible and often the best way of gauging the statue is by taking the hairstyle.
There are also two fine bronzes.
The best known is this statue of a Boxer at Rest.This is a Roman copy of a Greek original, possibly by Lysippus, the third of the great Greek sculptors, flourishing around 330 BC. The boxer is portrayed naked,. still wearing boxing gloves, the cestus, with leather straps up his arms. His head shows some of the wounds he has suffered in his career. The statue was discovered near the baths of Constantine in 1885 by the archaeologist Rodolpho Lanciani, where possibly it had been buried, possibly during the Gothic invasions. But how marvellous it would be to suddenly find a statue like this in the course of your excavations!
Now this is how I would like to be displayed! The original of this statue is probably by Lysippus, the third of the great Greek sculptors and it is thought to be based on a nude statue of Alexander the Great.
However the original of this statue probably dates to later in the second century BC and he could possibly be of Attalus II, King of Pergamum;or possibly it could be portraying a Roman noble who wanted to be represented as a Hellenistic prince.
But how marvellous that Alexander the Great was prepared to be portrayed in the nude like this! The spear is modern, and note that the head is smaller than the body – which is typical of the style of the Hellenistic sculptors.
The discobolos, or discus thrower is one of the most famous pieces of early Greek sculpture. It was originally carved by Myron around 460 to 450 BC at the end of the ‘Severe period’; this was the first copy to be discovered in 1791 on the Esquiline Hill and remains the best known. There is another copy in the British Museum with the restored head looking forward, but surely this copy is the correct pose.
This is one of the sexiest carvings from antiquity, known as the Sleeping Hermaphrodite. The original was said to have been carved by Polycles, who flourished around 155 BC, though the caption in the museum says merely it is by the ‘Asia Minor school’. This particular copy was discovered in 1880 during building work in advance of the Rome Opera house.
I always think it is rather a fraud. It seems to me to be a wholly realistic and rather voluptuous carving of a woman to which a penis and balls have been attached in the appropriate place. But from my knowledge of female anatomy, this is otherwise totally 100% female whereas a hermaphrodite should surely be halfway between male and female, somehow bisexual, combining the physical characteristics of both male and female. But it is very sexy all the same – which is why no doubt so many copies of it are known.
Some of the most impressive features of the Museum are on the second floor which is devoted to wall paintings. The showstopper is this garden room from the Villa of Livia, lying 12 km north of Rome. It was owned by Livia, the wife of Augustus. The villa was recognised as being hers in 1863 when a garden room was discovered which was eventually excavated in the 1990s and the wall paintings were brought to the Museo Nazionale where they are all installed around the room. They aim to give the impression that the room was looked out onto a garden with trees and birds flying around.
The other superb wall paintings come from the Villa Farnesini, where a luxury Roman villa was discovered in 1879 in the grounds of the Villa Farnesini on the banks of the River Tiber when engineering works were taking place to strengthen the flood defences. A rich villa was discovered, dating to early in the first century AD, and immediately destroyed though the wall paintings and mosaics were preserved and taken to the National Museum
There was also this long narrow room with a black decoration, perhaps to make it cool in the heat of the summer.
And with this, my exploration of the National Museum came to an end. My journey to Rome was over, and I made my way to the airport, and returned to London.