The first catalogue Barracco published outlines the principles that guided his collection: “I found that it was impossible to study Greek art in depth, without knowing the older art forms (Egypt and Asia) that provided the initial impetus to Greek art. I therefore extended my collection to include some teaching examples of Egyptian, Assyrian and Cypriot sculpture.
By taking advantage of favourable circumstances, I was able to create a small museum of comparative ancient sculpture. Besides a few gaps, which I soon hope to remedy, the most significant schools of antiquity are appropriately represented: Egyptian art in all its main stages, from the time of the pyramids to the era when the Pharaohs lost their independence; Assyrian art in its two periods: the Assur-Nazir-Habal and the Sargonid Dynasties; and then Cypriot art, which is the least significant of the others.
Greece's archaic period, the major schools of the V and IV century, as well as the Hellenistic era are all equally represented. The same is true for Etruria. A small section has been reserved for Palmyrene sculpture, one of the last exponents of the classic art form".
In order to implement his ambitious project, Barracco relied on the assistance of two of the most highly regarded experts in ancient art at the time: Wolfgang Helbig, Second Secretary at the prestigious Germanic Archaeological Institute, who later retired to the magnificent Villa Lante on the Gianicolo, where he remained actively involved in the antiquities business of the city; and, Ludwig Pollak who moved to Rome after studying archaeology in Vienna, to then quickly become one of the leading personalities in Rome's cultural life, especially in the trading of antiquities. Pollak, with his interests ranging from classical to modern art, soon established himself as a close friend and advisor in the area of art purchases.
The collection, which encompassed works to create a “museum of comparative ancient sculpture”, included Egyptian, Assyrian, Phoenician, Cypriot, Etruscan, Greek and Roman artworks, as well as some Medieval artefacts.
Barracco focused considerable attention on Egyptian art, with the collection including some noteworthy fragments of funerary sculpture, dating especially to the earlier Dynasties. Together with these items that were acquired on the international market, the collection also has some significant artefacts that were found during excavations carried out during the nineteenth and early twentieth century at various Italian sites: proving how far Egyptian culture had penetrated into Italy during the Roman era. Worthy of attention is the sphinx of a queen from the XVIII Dynasty (1479-1425 B.C.), which was discovered at the Isis Sanctuary at Campus Martius; and of great significance is the head of the Pharaoh Sethi I (XIX Dynasty, 1289-1278 B.C.), which was reused as building material for the Savelli Castle in Grottaferrata.
Assyrian art is represented by a valuable series of reliefs, which showcase scenes from war, the deportation of prisoners of war and hunting. These originate from the Royal Palaces at Ninevah, Nimrud and Khorsabad in northern Mesopotamia. These findings that date from between the IX and VII centuries B.C. can be attributed to the prominent kings of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Of special significance is the fragment depicting a kneeling winged genius, which is typical of the mythical-symbolic language used in Assyrian art; this item originates from Nimrud, and dates to the reign of Assurnasirpal II (883 -859 B.C.).
An interesting section of the Museum houses examples of Cypriot art, representing the cross-over between the Eastern and Greek worlds. Various figures of deities, such as the typical Herakles-Melquardt (V century B.C., hybrid between the Greek and Phoenician world), images of offerers and even a small toy cart that was discovered in a tomb, provide a unique opportunity to view Cypriot artworks when visiting Rome.
In addition to some significant Etruscan finds, the Museum is dominated by the comprehensive collection of Greek sculptures. Besides the noteworthy examples of ancient art that was produced both in Greece and its western colonies, there are important examples from the major classical art schools of classical Greece: high quality copies from the originals by Myron, Phidias, Polykletos and Lysippius are representative of some of the most celebrated masterpieces of V and IV century B.C. Greek sculpture. A special place is reserved for the high number of original Greek artworks in proportion to the relatively small collection.
A series of Hellenistic artworks provide the visitor with an opportunity to appreciate the most characteristic expressive forms of Roman art: there are portraits, a fragment from a significant historic relief, a large head of Mars originating from a public monument and some tombstones from Palmyra, in Syria. The final exhibits in the collection include tiles from the Cathedral in Sorrento (X-XI century) and a fragment from the Medieval apse mosaic at Saint Peters (XII-XIII century): “My collection ends here, a few thousand years from when it started, with the early Dynasties of the Egyptian kings.”
Giovanni Barracco was born to a noble family from Calabria, and was the eighth of twelve children. He served as a Member of Parliament for the united Italy for more than fifty years, and dedicated his life to creating this impressive collection of ancient sculpture. He donated this prestigious collection of some 400 artworks to the Municipality of Rome in 1902, together with the building that he had built to house it. In 1938, town planning constraints resulted in the demolition of the Museum designed by Gaetano Koch, located between Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Lungotevere. It was only in 1948 that the collection found a new home in the current Palazzo Regis, also referred to as the “Smaller Farnesina” (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome). The building is an example of elegant sixteenth century architecture dating back to 1523, and has been attributed to Antonio da Sangallo.
In 1990, the Museum's layout was completely reorganised, with the sculptures set out according to the civilisation they belonged to. The collection was displayed as if the pieces were in a private home: using elegant iron and mahogany bases and bright and spacious display cabinets for the smaller artefacts. The result is a small highly elegant, but user-friendly museum, which draws visitors in and accompanies them on their voyage of discovery through the civilisations of the Mediterranean, just as Barracco had envisaged.
BEFORE PLANNING THE VISIT, CONSULT THE NOTICES
From June to September: Tuesday-Sunday 13.00 - 19.00
From October to May: Tuesday-Sunday 10.00 - 16.00 (24 and 31 December: 9.00 - 14.00)
Closed: Monday, 1 January, 1 May, 25 December;