Musei Capitolini – Capitoline Museums, Rome
The Musei Capitolini (Capitoline Museums) in Rome is one of Italy’s largest and oldest museum institutions, the museum is specially focused on painting, sculpture, and archaeology.
History and building complex – the origins of the first modern museum
The origins of the museum date back to 1471, when Pope Sixtus IV created on Capitoline Hill a permanent exhibition of antique statues “for the Roman people”. Based on that early exhibition, substantially expanded in the meantime, in 1734, Pope Clement XII founded the Capitoline Museum, generally regarded as arguably the first modern museum in history.
The museum complex, which overlooks the Campidoglio square designed by Michelangelo Buonarroti on top of Capitoline Hill, is formed by an ensemble of palaces and underground spaces: Palazzo dei Conservatori – housing the classic sculpture collection and the Pinacoteca Capitolina paintings, Palazzo Nuovo – retaining the original exhibition layout dating back to 1734, Palazzo Caffarelli, and the Galleria Lapidaria – an underground gallery where a selection of Roman marble inscriptions are on show. From the Galleria Lapidaria, the visitors enter the Tabularium, an imposing structure once housing the ancient Roman State archives, on the Roman Forum’s western edge.
Apart from Palazzo Caffarelli, the palaces were originally built during the Middle Ages, and thereafter modified, enlarged, and renovated in the middle 16th century after plans by Michelangelo and, after his death, by other architects including Giacomo della Porta, and Girolamo Rainaldi.
View of the Capitoline Museum inner courtyard in 1759, drawing by Joseph Natoire; image courtesy of the Louvre Museum, Paris
Main facade of Palazzo dei Conservatori on Campidoglio square; photo: MauroC
Collections and exhibitions of art and archaeology
The Capitoline museums hold exceptional collections of art and archaeological artifacts, which comprise antique Egyptian, Greek, and Roman sculptural works, antique vases and mosaics, a famous ensemble of Roman Emperors’ busts, and a collection of old masters’ paintings and sculptures including works by Pietro da Cortona, Lorenzo Lotto, Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, Peter Paul Rubens, Guido Reni, Caravaggio, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, among others.
The museum also retains the original copy of the famous Roman equestrian statue of emperor Marcus Aurelius (that in the middle of Piazza del Campidoglio is actually a modern replica).
The Capitoline museums also hold collections of jewels, coins, medals, and photographs.
Masterpieces on view in the museum’s galleries include the Capitoline She-wolf bronze (either 5th century BC or medieval), the Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius bronze (161-180 AD), the statue of the Capitoline Gaul (2nd century AD), the Statue of Capitoline Venus (2nd century AD, a Roman copy from the original by Praxiteles), the heard of the colossal statue of Constantine (313-324 AD), Good Luck (1595, also known as The Fortune Teller) and St John Baptist (1602) by Caravaggio, Romulus and Remus by Rubens (1612), and the Bust of Medusa by Bernini (1644-1648).
Additional services and programs
The Capitoline Museums host special exhibitions and events, educational programs for schools and children, art workshops, seminars, conferences, and concerts.
The museum complex includes a garden, a cafe, and a bookshop.
The museum’s complex is accessible to physically impaired persons; the museums also feature subtitled video guides and tactile panels for people with hearing impairment and visual disabilities.
Gallery of images
Capitoline Museums, Palazzo dei Conservatori, area of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus with a statue of Hercules in gilded bronze (2nd century BC); photo: Shu
The Capitoline She-wolf bronze (5th century BC or medieval), detail; photo: Darren and Brad
Fragments of the colossal statue of Constantine (313-324 AD) on view in the Capitoline Museum’s courtyard; photo: cszaboads
Marble heads dating to the Roman Empire period; photo: Ho visto nina volare
Sarcophagus with Putti, ca. 3rd century AD; photo: Mike Steele
Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD), detail; photo: Damian Entwistle
The Capitoline Gaul (2nd century AD, also known as the Dying Gaul); detail; photo: Marius Jennings
Bronze horse from the Alley of Palms, 6th or 4th century BC; photo: Marius Jennings
Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi), Good Luck, 1595, oil on canvas; photo: Mike Steele
Cover Image: the Campidoglio square with the main entrance of the Capitoline Museums on the right; photo: Bruno
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