The Torlonia Marbles

Marino Tourlonias (1725-1785) was from Auvergne, a mountainous region in central France splattered with dormant volcanoes just waiting to wake up. Although Tourlonias’ origins were humble, his ambition was not. He moved the family to Rome where he changed their name to Torlonia and began accumulating a huge fortune thanks to his role in administering Vatican finances.

Before Ferraris, yachts, and Rolex watches, rich men used to show off their wealth by creating huge art collections. And since they were very very rich, the Torlonias collected a lot. Today their collection is immense and includes 620 catalogued marbles. The marbles, for years in storage in need of restoration, were made available to the public last summer. That’s why, on a hot, sweaty day in July, Chloè and I scootered to Capitoline Hill anxious to see the newly exposed marbles.

Hercules carries a club.

The problem with visiting major exhibitions, I’ve learned, is that there’s only so much I can observe before my eyes start drowning and transforming everything into a big blur. It’s best if I just waltz around attentively observing everything until something captures my attention. And, at the Torlonia exhibit, that special attention was captured by a statue near the exit. Even without looking at the object label it was easy to recognize Hercules thanks to his identikit– a club in one hand, quinces in the other, and a lion skin hanging on his arm.

But this is not what attracted me to the statue. What attracted me to this Hercules was his highly mended body (that looked as if a Praxiteles had been mugged by Frankenstein). I have a fascination for things that have been mended because:

Mending is a philosophy. And a measurement of value.  If something must be mended, it means it has been used, thus is useful. 

But mending a statue such as the one above takes much more than a bottle of glue and a couple of clamps. It takes years of preparation, experience, and, above all, patience.

There is a big difference between creating something ex-novo as opposed to repairing something made by another. An artist creates according to his own needs and ideals. Whereas a restorer, that is, an artisan, is subservient to the artist’s intent and does not create for himself but for the artwork’s posterity.

Take a beautiful broken statue and an artisan capable of repairing it and you have an excellent example of the need for interconnectedness.

It doesn’t matter how wonderful the statue was when intact, had it not been for the artisan, Hercules would still be a broken man.

So viva l’artista but long live the artisan.

Related: COLLEZIONE TORLONIA + Torlonia + Capitoline Museums, in Villa Caffarelli + Torlonia Collection   + The Torlonia Marbles Uncovered with Olga Cuckovic + The Aesthetics of Mending. + Bulgari Continues Its Epic Roman Patronage with the Priceless “Torlonia Marbles”


p.s. The Torlonia Collection began at a public auction where the statue collection of famed restorer, Bartolomeo Cavaceppi (1717-1799), were sold.

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3 Responses to The Torlonia Marbles

  1. Pingback: Beautiful flaws | to work as a sculptor

  2. Yvonne says:

    I never knew that Hercules carried quinces, but thanks to you mentioning them, and the wonders of online searches, I now know the very convoluted and dramatic story of how and why Hercules got them.

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