The Capitoline Museums reveal priceless masterpieces.
It’s not always easy to present guests with an exceptional menu, but if Rome were a hostess, she would certainly offer an incredible variety to her visitors. Apart from its artistic wonders, Rome offers the tourist and the art lover over 140 other invaluable treasures: perfectly efficient museums, most of which have been restored and equipped with every comfort, and that, needless to say, are overflowing with incredible works of art. In fact, as often happens in cities of art, the museums themselves are priceless masterpieces. This is the case of the Capitoline Museums, a very important piece of Rome’s history. The two structures situated on the sides of the Piazza del Campidoglio and the central building, already conceived as museums centuries ago, have been re-opened to the public. Its exceptional location and the contributions that artists left behind over the years make a visit to the Museums even more fascinating. The enchanting architectural design of the piazza, which appears before us as we climb the monumental staircase, is a result of the genius of Michelangelo.
The site has been the seat of municipal government throughout the city’s history. In ancient times, the Capitoline was the political and religious centre of Rome. The Temple of Jupiter was founded on the southern summit of the hill in 509 B.C. and became the symbol of Rome’s authority as caput mundi, head of the world. During Christianity, the Capitoline lost its political importance and was completely abandoned.The Capitoline took on its new occupation in 1471 when Pope Sixtus IV gave the Romans four bronze statues previously preserved in the Lateran palace, decreeing the opening of the first public museum in the world. Plans for repaving the piazza, the renovation of the facades and the addition of the Palazzo Nuovo were drawn up by Michelangelo. The facade of the pre-existing Palazzo Senatorio was transformed, while the medieval and Renaissance interior was preserved. In 1565, under Pope Pius IV, works on the Palazzo dei Conservatori were initiated. The project was finally completed with the construction of the Palazzo Nuovo, on the left side of the piazza, inaugurated only in 1734.
The Capitol is a museum complex of enormous historic and cultural value, of which the piazza, the palaces, the archeological and artistic collections, and the main ancient monuments (now that the underground passage connecting the buildings has been reopened) all play an important role. The formation of the Capitoline collections of ancient art began in the 15th century with Pope Sixtus VI’s gift of the four bronze statues: the She-wolf, the Spinario (a sculpture of a boy trying to remove a thorn from his foot), the statue of Camillo, and Constantine’s head. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the artistic masterpieces which were situated on the hill were taken away and preserved by the Church, which, as a symbolic gesture of great importance, gave them back to the Romans to be positioned on the sacred hill.
The palace situated on the left side of the piazza is called Palazzo Nuovo (New Palace) because it was built after the other two, namely, Palazzo Senatorio and Palazzo dei Conservatori. Though each of the numerous masterpieces in the complex deserves a special mention, the museums’ protagonists are without a doubt the well-preserved, imposing and beautiful sculptures. Also well-worth seeing are the mosaics, busts, halls, inscriptions, stuccos, frescoes, tapestries, reliefs, coloured marble panels and flooring. In the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, pieces of the colossal statue of Constantine are preserved.
The famous Sala della Lupa (Room of the She-wolf) gets its name from one the most suggestive symbols of the history of Rome, the She-wolf feeding Romulus and Remus. This bronze is one of the four sculptures which gave life to the history of these museums.In the 18th century, a number of popes acquired masterpieces with a double intention: that of limiting their dispersion and of establishing the Scuola del Nudo dell’Accademia di San Luca on the Capitoline Hill. This wise and farsighted policy assured the preservation of a number of masterpieces which otherwise would have been scattered all over the world. The painting gallery, situated in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, conserves works dating back from the late Middle Ages to the 17th century, amazing witnesses of the changes that took place in Italian art through the centuries. The Capitoline Hall of Medals, located in Palazzo Clementino, comprises the numismatic, medal, and jewelry collections. Brought together in 1872, this vast collection includes ancient and modern coins, medieval and Renaissance jewelry, 19th century medals and much more.
The Tabularium is also worth the visit, the ancient Roman Record Office where the official acts of the Roman state, together with the bronze tabulae, were kept. The visitor can pass from one Palazzo to the other by using this tunnel which runs below the level of the museums but overlooks the Roman Forum on the other side. The number of masterpieces on display at the Capitoline Museums is so huge that more than one visit is needed to appreciate them. The reopening of the museums represents a source of growth for the capital’s artistic and cultural heritage which must be protected and on view to all.