National Roman Museum
History and museums
The National Roman Museum (in Italian: Museo Nazionale Romano) is a museum, with several branches in separate buildings throughout the city of Rome, Italy.
Founded in 1889 and inaugurated in 1890, the museum's first aim was to collect and exhibit archaeologic materials unearthed during the excavations after the union of Rome to the Italian Kingdom.
The initial core of its collection originated from the Kircherian Museum, archaeologic works assembled by the antiquarian and Jesuit priest, Athanasius Kircher, which previously had been housed within the Jesuit complex of Sant'Ignazio. The collection was appropriated by the state in 1874, after the suppression of the Society of Jesus. Renamed initially as the Royal Museum, the collection was intended to be moved to a Museo Tiberino (Tiberine Museum), which was never completed.
In 1901 the State granted the National Roman Museum the recently acquired Collection Ludovisi as well as the important national collection of Ancient Sculpture. Findings during the urban renewal of the late 19th century added to the collections.
In 1913, a ministerial decree sanctioned the division of the collection of the Museo Kircheriano among all the different museums that over the last decades had been established, such as the National Roman Museum, the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia, the Museum of Castel Sant'Angelo.
Its seat was established in the Charterhouse designed and realised in the 16th century by Michelangelo within the Baths of Diocletian, which currently houses the Epigraphic and the Protohistoric sections of the modern Museum, while the main collection of Ancient Art was moved to the nearby Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, acquired by the Italian State in 1981.
The reconversion of the environments of the ancient Bath-houses/Charterhouse into an exhibition space began on the occasion of the International Exhibition of Art of 1911; this effort was completed in the 1930s.
The palace was built on the site once occupied by the Villa Montalto-Peretti, named after Pope Sixtus V, who had been born Francesco Peretti. The present building was commissioned by Prince Massimiliano Massimo, so as to give a seat to the Jesuit Collegio Romano, originally within the convent of the church of Sant'Ignazio. In 1871, the Collegio had been ousted from the convent by the State which converted it into the Liceo Visconti, the first public secular high school of Italy. Erected between 1883 and 1887 by the architect Camillo Pistrucci in aneo-cinquecentesco style, it was one of the most prestigious schools of Rome until 1960. During World War II, it was partially used as a military hospital, but it then returned to scholastic functions until the 60s, when it was moved to a newer seat in the EUR quarter.
In 1981, lying in a state of neglect, the Italian State acquired it for 19 billion lire and granted it to the National Roman Museum. Its restoration and adaptation began in 1983. and completed in 1998, eventually becoming the main seat of the Museum as well as the headquarters of the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma (Agency of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities of Italy in charge for the Archaeological Heritage of Rome). The museum houses the Ancient Art (Sculpture, Painting, Mosaic Work and Goldsmith's Craft from the Republican Age to the Late Anquity) as well as the Numismatic Collection, housed in the "Medagliere", i.e. the Coin Cabinet.
One room is also devoted to the mummy that was found in 1964 on the Via Cassia, inside a richly decorated sarcophagus with several artefacts in amber and pieces of jewellery also on display. Sculptures of the period between the late Roman Republic and the early imperial period (2nd century BC to 1st century AD), include
Frescoes, stucci and mosaics, including those from the villa of Livia, wife of Augustus, at Prima Porta on the Via Flaminia. It begins with the summer triclinium of Livia's Villa “ad Gallinas Albas”. The frescoes, discovered in 1863 and dating back to the 1st century BC, show a luscious garden with ornamental plants and pomegranate trees.
The Museum's numismatic collection is the largest in Italy. Among the coins on exhibit are Theodoric’s medallion, the four ducats of Pope Paul II with the navicella of St Peter, and the silver piastre of the Pontifical State with views of the city of Rome.
The Palazzo Altemps is located in the modern rione Ponte, part of the Campus Martius, and directly north of the Piazza Navona. In the ancient Rome, this site was only 160 meters from the Ponte Elio, and was one of the two main marble ports on the Tiber River in Rome. The other was located in what is now Testaccio. In 1891, during the construction works to build the embankments that now hold back the Tiber River, the remains of this dock were uncovered. The marble was worked—into statuary, sculptural decoration, or architectural decoration— in shops, the ruins of which have been found in the zone between the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, the Chiesa Nuova, and the Tiber River. A few of these ancient shops bear signs of hasty abandonment after the time of the emperor Trajan; tools and even unfinished statues were discovered in some cases.
There was also likely a temple to Apollo located in this area, over which has been built the church of Sant'Apollinare.
In the Middle Ages and onwards, the Campus Martius was divided between by the Ghibelline eastern zone, led by the aristocratic Colonna family, and a western zone by the Guelfs, led by the Orsini family. The division was mostly abandoned after the Great Schism in the 15th century, and the Campus Martius underwent a period of urbanization, leading to the present Palazzo Altemps.
The building was designed in the 15th century by Melozzo da Forlì for Girolamo Riario, who was related to Pope Sixtus IV. There is still a fresco on one wall of the Room of the Sideboard in the Palazzo that celebrates the wedding of Girolamo to Caterina Sforza in 1477, showing the silver plates and other wedding gifts given to the couple. When the Riario family began to decline after the death of Pope Sixtus IV, the Palazzo was sold to Cardinal Francesco Soderini of Volterra, who commissioned further refinements from the architects Sangallo the Elder and Baldassarre Peruzzi.
When the Soderini family fell on hard times, he in turn sold it in 1568 to the Austrian-born cardinal Mark Sittich von Hohenems Altemps, the son of the sister of Pope Pius IV. Cardinal Altemps commissioned the architect Martino Longhi to expand and improve the palazzo; it was Longhi who built the belvedere. Cardinal Altemps accumulated an impressive collection of books and ancient sculpture. Though his position as the second son in his family meant Marco Sittico Altemps became a cleric, he was not inclined to priesthood. His mistress bore him a son, Roberto, made Duke of Gallese. Unfortunately, Roberto Altemps did not enjoy the Palace long; he was executed for adultery in 1586 by Pope Sixtus V.
The Altemps family continued, though, to mix in the circles of Italian nobility throughout the 17th century. Roberto's granddaughter Maria Cristina d'Altemps married Ippolito Lante Montefeltro della Rovere, Duke of Bomarzo.
The Palazzo Altemps became the property of the Holy See in the 19th century, and the building was used as a seminary for a short time. It was granted to the Italian State in 1982 and after 15 years of restoration, inaugurated as a museum in 1997.
It houses the museum's displays on the history of collecting (sculptures from Renaissance collections such as the Boncompagni-Ludovisi and Mattei collections, including the Ludovisi Ares, Ludovisi Throne, and the Suicide of a Gaul (from the same Pergamon group as the Dying Gaul) and the Egyptian Collection (sculptures of eastern deities). The palace also includes the historic private theatre, at present used to house temporary exhibitions, and the church of Sant' Aniceto.
In 1981, digging on a derelict city-centre site in the Campus Martius between the churches of Santa Caterina dei Funari and San Stanislao dei Polacchi, Daniel Manacorda and his team discovered the colonnaded quadriporticus of the Theatre of Lucius Cornelius Balbus, the nearby statio annonae and evidence of later, medieval occupation of the site. These are presented in this branch, inaugurated in 2001, which houses the archaeological remains and finds from that dig (including a stucco arch from the porticus). The Crypta Balbi is located at Via Delle Botteghe Oscure 31 at the corner of Via M. Caetani.
As well as new material from the excavations, objects in this museum come from
The building's basement contains archaeological remains; to see them, the visitor must be guided by a member of museum staff.
The first section ("Archaeology and history of an urban landscape") presents the results of the excavations, and puts them in the context of the history of the area. As well as the remains from the site itself, this section also tells of the Monastero di Santa Maria Domine Rose (begun nearby in the 8th century), of medieval merchants' and craftsmen's homes, of the Conservatorio di Santa Caterina dei Funari (built in the mid-16th century by Ignatius of Loyola to house the daughters of Roman prostitutes) and of the Botteghe Oscure.
A second section ("Rome from Antiquity to the Middle Ages") is the Museum of Medieval Rome and illustrates the life and transformation of Rome as a whole between the 5th and 10th centuries AD.
Within it, a 16th-century garden and outdoor displays of altars and funerary sculpture and inscriptions.
Still preserved, and used mainly for temporary exhibitions whilst a permanent exhibition of finds from some important urban excavations is in preparation.
On the first floor
Restored in 1991. Devoted to sculptures found on baths sites in Rome, including the bronze Athlete and Boxer (now on display at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme) from the Baths of Constantine.