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10 Best Artworks of the Rome Capitoline Museums

If you are passionate about art and history you can't miss the Capitoline Museums in Rome. The collections of the oldest museum in the world will leave you amazed. Are you ready?

Isabel Catalán

Isabel Catalán

7 min read

10 Best Artworks of the Rome Capitoline Museums

View of the Museum | ©Faun070

Since Pope Sixtus IV donated a set of bronzes to the Capitoline Museums in Rome in the 15th century, its collection has continued to grow, becoming the main municipal museum of the city and an essential place to visit during a trip to the Italian capital.

Within its walls there is a lot to see. Authentic artistic treasures from different periods of which I give you a little preview in this post to help you contextualize what you can discover once you are there. Ah! And do not forget to take a look at the price of tickets to the Capitoline Museums and the opening hours of the Capitoline Museums to prepare your visit in detail.

1. The Capitoline She-Wolf

Capitoline She-Wolf Statue| ©Daniel Kelly
Capitoline She-Wolf Statue| ©Daniel Kelly

In the center of the Hall of the She-Wolf in the Capitoline Museums is the statue of the Capitoline She-Wolf, the symbol of Rome.

Legend has it that this she-wolf found the twins Romulus and Remus in the waters of the Tiber, near the Palatine Hill, and nursed them as if they were her own children. Both would later be the founders of the city, although many theories affirm that this myth is only an invention of the Romans to wrap the birth of the imperial city in epic glory.

The statue of the "Capitoline She-wolf" dates back to the 11th or 12th century and is made of bronze. It is believed to be a copy of an Etruscan statue that had a sacred role in Ancient Rome. The two small figures of Romulus and Remus that accompany "Luperca", on the other hand, were added to the ensemble later towards the end of the 15th century.

As a curiosity, in Piazza del Campidoglio (from whose belvedere there is one of the best views of Rome) there is a replica of the Capitoline She-Wolf that also attracts many eyes. Do not forget to take a picture!

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2. The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius

Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius| ©Tyler Bell
Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius| ©Tyler Bell

During the Roman Empire, equestrian statues were very numerous in the city, but what makes the statue of Marcus Aurelius special is that it is the only equestrian statue of Antiquity that survived the Middle Ages. During this period most of these works of art were melted down to mint coins with their bronze.

If the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius has reached our days is because he was confused with the Emperor Constantine I, who through the Edict of Milan stopped the persecution against Christians and gave freedom of worship in the Empire.

Today the statue is in the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Capitoline Museums and there is some debate as to its original location. The most likely seems to be the Roman Forum or Piazza Colonna (where the Antonine Column was) and not near the Basilica of St. John Lateran where medieval sources testify from the tenth century.

You can see a replica of this 2nd century A.D. bronze statue in Piazza del Campidoglio, where Michelangelo placed the original in the 16th century.

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3. The Dying Galata

Dying Galata| ©Javier Valero Iglesias
Dying Galata| ©Javier Valero Iglesias

Along with the previous ones, the statue of the Dying Galata is one of the most popular in the Capitoline Museums, as it shows with great realism the pain of a Gaul defeated in combat by King Attalus I of Pergamum, who fights against death and refuses to give in to his fate.

It is believed that this work is a Roman copy in marble of an earlier Hellenistic work in bronze, which is part of the Pergamon School that used to delve into the expression of pathos. Its artistic quality made it one of the most admired works of Antiquity by the European travelers of the Grand Tour.

It seems that the statue of the Dying Galatian was discovered during excavations at Villa Ludovisi in the early seventeenth century together with the statue of Gaul committing suicide (exhibited in the Altemps Palace of the Roman National Museum) as both were part of a sculptural group of four figures.

4. The Capitoline Venus

Statue of Capitoline Venus| ©Ana Rey
Statue of Capitoline Venus| ©Ana Rey

The Capitoline Venus is another of the most popular statues of the Capitoline Museums. You will find it in the so-called "Cabinet of Venus", on the first floor of the Palazzo Nuovo del Campidoglio.

This sculpture is a replica of a Hellenistic one created by Praxiteles in the fourth century B.C. It was found in the vicinity of the Basilica of San Vitale in the seventeenth century and Pope Benedict XIV bought it from the Stazi family to donate it to the Capitoline Museums.

It represents the goddess Venus coming out of the bath naked, in an attitude of recollection and has been the subject of numerous replicas known as "Capitoline Venuses".

5. The head of the colossal statue of Constantine

Remains of giant statues| ©Sakena
Remains of giant statues| ©Sakena

In the same room of the Palazzo dei Conservatori where the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius is located, you can also contemplate the head of the colossal statue of Constantine, which was part of a seated statue of the emperor dated in the third century A.D. of which other parts are still preserved and that you can also see during the visit to the Capitoline Museums.

The remains of the colossal statue of Constantine were located in the Basilica of Maxentius in the Roman Forum in the 15th century.

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6. The Spinario

Spinario Statue| ©Javier Valero Iglesias
Spinario Statue| ©Javier Valero Iglesias

This bronze sculpture belonging to the first century BC is another of the most popular works of the Capitoline Museums for its unique pose and unusual subject matter. In fact, during the Renaissance it became highly appreciated and gave rise to several replicas such as those exhibited in the Louvre Museum in Paris or in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

The Spinario depicts a seated boy looking at the sole of his left foot to remove a thorn that has stuck him.

7. The Bust of Medusa

Bust of Medusa| ©Ana Rey
Bust of Medusa| ©Ana Rey

In Greek mythology, Medusa was a snake-haired woman who had the power to petrify anyone who dared to look her in the eye.

This bust is a work created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 17th century that represents the exact moment of the metamorphosis. The artist's intention with this sculpture was to show the sculptor's talent while playing with the viewer, who can be "stunned" like Medusa when admiring his skills with the chisel.

You will find this work of art on display in the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Capitoline Museums.

8. The Marforio

The Marforio in the Capitoline Museums| ©Ana Rey
The Marforio in the Capitoline Museums| ©Ana Rey

Another of the most famous works of art in the Capitoline Museums is the Marforio, a colossal marble sculpture dating back to the first century A.D., which originally adorned a Roman fountain from the Flavian period.

It represents the personification of an ocean or a river and was found in the 16th century in the Forum of Augustus, next to the temple of Mars Ultor. Today it can be seen in the courtyard of the New Palace.

9. The Mosaic of the Doves

Painting El Mosaico de las Palomas (The Mosaic of the Doves)| ©Andrés Campillo Castejón
Painting El Mosaico de las Palomas (The Mosaic of the Doves)| ©Andrés Campillo Castejón

This fantastic 2nd century mosaic found in the Villa Adriana in Tivoli during the 18th century is believed to be a Hellenistic copy of the work Soso of Pergamon made to decorate the palace of King Eumenes II of Pergamon.

The Mosaic of the Doves is an excellent example of the degree of skill that reached the mosaic technique in Rome creating very realistic effects with only a few tesserae of glass and marble.

You can see this work in the Hall of the Doves. There you will also have the opportunity to see other interesting findings such as other mosaics, bas-reliefs and some bronze tablets with engraved laws.

10. The Bonaventure of Caravaggio

Buenaventura painting by Caravaggio| ©Caravaggio
Buenaventura painting by Caravaggio| ©Caravaggio

Finally, in the room of Santa Petronilla you can see the canvas of Bonaventure, one of the first works of the painter Caravaggio that was quite revolutionary for the late sixteenth century as it left the dominant historical framework at the time (where the biblical and mythological themes abounded) to focus on the daily life of the people of that time.

La Buenaventura depicts a gypsy girl predicting the future to a naive young man who also steals the ring from her hand, taking advantage of the fact that he is distracted by her smile.

In addition to the theme, so different from the usual, this work caused a stir among the aesthetes of the time. The reason? Look at the girl's hands because Caravaggio depicted them dirty, reflecting the lack of hygiene of the working classes of the time.

As I said, this did not please the aesthetes who in their paintings did not make any concession to everyday life but claimed that in art beauty should be prioritized and elevated above social issues.

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