Discovering Musei Capitolini: the first public museum, from 1471
Ob immensam benignitatem Aeneas insignes statuas - priscae excellentiae virtutisque monumentum - Romano populo unde exorte to fuere restituendas condonandasque censui: a dedication that represents its birth certificate, the birth of the most ancient public museum in the world, that is Musei Capitolini.
So, maybe you are now wondering when and how it happened. Let's analyze it.
When did the Musei Capitolini open?
The inscription on the tomb you can see in front of Palazzo dei Conservatori entrance is the evidence of the gift Pope Sisto IV gave to the Roman people, in 1471. It's made of four sculptures: the Lupa, the Spinano, the Camillo and the bronze head of Costantino, with the hand and the globe. The works where moved into the Palazzo dei Conservatori courtyard, by the will of the Pope. The gift represents the beginning of the creation of the Musei Capitolini, as it was one of the first actions that made the Roman archaeological heritage something useful and not just collection materials.
As the inscription shows, the gesture the Pope did has a very strong symbolic value, because it is not only a gift, but the restitution of something representing the greatness of Rome to the Roman people.
We just have to make a little digression, now. It is defined a restitution, because after the end of the Roman empire and the Barbarian invasions affected it, the thesaurus Romanitatis was saved and stored in the church for all the Middle Ages. The Pope Sisto IV gave the inheritance of the empire and its magnificence to the Roman people.
It deserves just one more reflection about the political value of the gesture: it seemed to be the consecration of the ancient and central hill by the Church, declaring the intention of affirming the Pope power on the Campidoglio, also influencing the structure of the square.
Before and after Pope Sisto IV
The gift represents an important change for the Museum history. The design the square had is represented on a drawing by Marten van Heemskerck, and on a fresco situated in the Sala delle Aquile, in Palazzo dei Conservatori. Those sources show the mediaeval structure the square had in 1500.
In the first years of the 1500's, there still was the group of the Lion biting the horse, on the top of the entrance stares at Palazzo Senatorio. This work - the only one situated there even before the Pope gift - represented the locus iustitiae, that is the place where the death verdicts where pronounced. The Lion - now part of the Capitolina collection - was the symbol of the juridical power of the senatorial authority.
Between the end of 1400 and the beginnings of 1500, very important works where moved to the Campidoglio. The role of the Capitoline Hill as the first public museum began to strongly assert itself thanks to this impressive antique historical and artistic heritage. Among the first works collected after the ones the Pope gave, we can't forget the bronze statue of Hercules found in the Foro Boario, in Pope Sisto IV times. The statue was acquired by the Conservatori who placed it in front of their building as a monument dedicated to Rome glory.
The two documents we have just quoted, tell us the Hercules was moved to the courtyard for first, and then inside the Appartamento dei Conservatori. Another area we can't forget about the collection is the one of the 150 statues - less than the project - donated by Pope Pio V to purify the Vatican by the pagan idols.
From this moment on, the Capitolino Hill has been decorated by statues that enrich the collection.
When did the Musei Capitolini open to the public?
In 1734, by Pope Clemente XII, as the first public Museum. His successor Benedetto XIV inaugurated the Pinacoteca Capitolina. In that occasion, they acquired the collection of Sacchetti's and Pio's.
During that times the collection got enriched by new important works, such as the "Galata morente", the "Satiro in rosso antico", the group "Amore e Psiche", the "Venere Capitolina " and the "Forma Urbis marmore". The Severian "Forma Urbis Marmore" is a very important historical and topographic source, divided in 26 squares, situated on the stairs to the first floor, located in the museum, until the beginning of the 21st century.
The history of the collections was affected by a tragic event: the 1797 Tolentino act, ordered the transfer of many famous works - such as the "Bruto", the "Venere Capitolina" and the "Galata" - to France. Thanks to Canova, after the end of Napoleon's Empire, many works went back home.
Despite of it, nowadays visitors can admire a secular collection so rich to require the enlargement of the museum, in another building - the Centrale Montemartini - in 1997.
What you can't miss
The history of the creation of the collection and its structure in the museums would be very interesting, but even very long to be told, so we will just highlight a few works you can't miss, to let you be curious about discovering the others by yourself.
The most famous work in the Museum surely is sure the equestrian statue of Marco Aurelio. The one situated in the square is just its copy. The original one is situated in the Esedra of Marco Aurelio in the Giardino Romano, behind Palazzo dei Conservatori.
The painting of S.Giovanni Battista by Caravaggio, the portrait of Carlo d'Angiò by Arnolfo di Cambio and the Protomoteca are only some of the suggestions that you can't miss during your visit at the first Public Museum.
Do you want to stay in Rome?
For this location we recommend Hotel Panama Garden, ideal for discovering Rome thanks to its strategic location.