Wednesday 9 June 2021

What Happens to Private Antiquities Collections? Pressure mounts for Italy to buy Torlonia Marbles

Photo: Courtesy of Sky TG24/Corriere della Sera 

As a landmark exhibition in Rome draws to a close, there are still no clear indication of the Italian government's plans for long-hidden group of ancient sculpture, considered to be the finest group of Greco-Roman antiquities still in private hands (James Imam, 'Pressure mounts for Italy to buy Torlonia marbles—world’s finest collection of Greco-Roman antiquities still in private hands', Art Newspaper 3rd June 2021 ) The fate of 620 classical sculptures of a former aristocratic collection is again being discussed as an exhibition of the Torlonia collection at the Capitoline Museums in Rome comes to an end. So far no negotiations seem to have begun between the family and Italian government about a possible purchase. Meanwhile photographs of the Torlonia collection have recently emerged showing it stored in poor conditions in Rome.
Trafug’Arte, an investigative podcast series by the news channel Sky TG24, which aired an episode on the marbles on 30 April, obtained a series of photographs of the collection taken by Italian culture ministry officials in 2015-16, while cataloguing the works in storage. They are the first images of the Palazzo Torlonia storerooms to be published in more than 40 years—since a 1979 investigation by the magazine L’Espresso—and suggest that the sculptures have been neglected in dirty, damp conditions. “The marbles were in a precarious state and stored in deplorable conditions without precautionary measures,” says a former culture ministry official, who saw the collection when he entered the store in 2015 and asked to remain anonymous. 
Some are estimating the value of the collection to be worth €250m. 
The sculptures have been held at the Palazzo Torlonia since 1875, when Prince Alessandro Torlonia created a private museum. Largely inaccessible after the Second World War, the collection was moved into three rooms of the building in the 1970s by a descendant, Alessandro Torlonia, who converted the palazzo into apartments without planning permission.  

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