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Where to find the best sculptures in Rome

Where to find the best sculptures in Rome

Planning to visit Rome for the first time? We have a huge list of things to recommend to you.

After you’ve visited the main sights like the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Pantheon, it's time for you to get a little more intimate with this great city. We will take you through a more sophisticated itinerary of the 10 most important statues in Rome.

Did you know that the Vatican Museums have a sister? It’s called the Borghese Gallery, and here you can immerse yourself in the most important artwork of Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

The first one that we highly recommend is Apollo and Daphne. This is a Baroque marble statue sculpted by Bernini between 1622–1625. The genius had a great idea to position the statue where it can be seen from the room’s entrance. Viewing the statue from this angle allows you to see the reactions of Apollo and Daphne at the same time, so that you can immediately understand what is happening in the depicted story.

After visiting Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, we continue to another more important statue that you will find in the same gallery. This is Paulina Buonaparte as Venus Victrix, created during the neo-Classical period by the master Antonio Canova from 1805–1808, when Canova decided to ask Paulina to pose naked for him. She didn't hesitate at all, but rather loved to be depicted as “Venus victorious.” The sculpture and its creation were considered a bit shocking in Catholic Rome, but since Paulina was the sister of Napoleon Buonaparte, she couldn’t have cared less – after all, her brother took over Rome and forced the Pope to crown him as its new Emperor.

The Palazzo Massimo alle Terme is home to the Boxer at Rest, a Hellenistic Greek bronze statue of a seated nude boxer, created by the famous Greek sculptor Apollonius of Athens, which dates from 330 BCE. This masterpiece is a great example of the Hellenistic period. One of very few bronze statues in Rome, the Boxer at Rest is preserved in such great quality that you can see the boxer’s bruised face and broken nose. He is also depicted bearded, which was probably very characteristic of that period. The lips, wounds and scars on the face were originally inlaid with copper. In this statue, you can see great naturalism: the blood on his face, his expression, and the amazing musculature shown in the torso. The same artist made the beautiful marble torso in the Vatican Museums called the Belvedere Torso, depicting Ajax.

The Boxer at Rest was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in the United States in 2013.

Michelangelo Buonarroti's Pietà in Saint Peter’s Basilica

Pietà means pity or sorrow, and is a type of artwork that always depicts Mary holding a dead Christ. Michelangelo sculpted his Pietà for the first Saint Peter’s Basilica when he was 23 years old. Everyone from Europe came to see who had made this masterpiece, because no one knew who young Michelangelo was. Everyone kept attributing the work to different artists, until one day, Michelangelo decided to chisel his own signature onto Mary's chest. Later, of course, everyone would know who Michelangelo was, and in 1501 he would create the most famous statue in the world: David, which you will now find in the Gallery of Academia in Florenze. In 1508, he began painting the Sistine Chapel. From that point onward, his name was changed from Michelangelo to “the Divine Michelangelo.”

Laocoön and His Sons in the Vatican Museums

Laocoön was the priest in Troy at the time of the Trojan Wars. He was the only one that didn't have a good feeling about the wooden horse, so he told his people, “Beware the Greeks, even when they are bearing gifts!” The previous director of the Vatican Museums once said that those who know this statue know everything in life.

Johann Joachim Winckelmann mentioned this statue in 1763, and Pliny the Elder also praised it in his Naturalis Historia, so it’s clear that for centuries, everyone has been talking about this beautiful sculpture made from one block of marble. It was discovered by Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere and Michelangelo was sent to make sure it was the original statue, created by the three Greek sculptors Athenodoros, Agesander, and Polydorus. One of the best examples of Hellenistic sculpture on the planet, this statue started the first public museum in the world, the Vatican Museums. Today it is located in the Museo Pio-Clementino.

The Belvedere Torso is another spectacular sculpture on display inside the Vatican Museums, in the Museo Pio-Clementino. This block of marble from the first century BCE inspired every great artist in much later periods, including Rodin, who created his statue The Thinker based on it. You will also admire the Belvedere Torso’s influence in the Sistine Chapel, because Michelangelo got inspired as well and decided to use it as reference for the beautiful glorified Christ in The Last Judgement, a painting so lifelike that it looks almost as if Christ is coming down to talk to you. Michelangelo’s fresco painting is very vivid and full of colors, and you can notice it at the beginning of the main altar as soon as you enter the Sistine Chapel.