The city of Rome, Italy is filled with artwork of all kinds as it has been a central location for artists since the days of the Roman empire many centuries ago. Rome was heavily influenced by its Greek neighbors and many of the most notable Italian artists that have existed in the last millennium have strong ties to Greece.
Sculpture has remained one of the most prominent means of expression used by Roman artists to commemorate certain leaders, as well as gods or goddesses.
Various museums and other locations in Rome are loaded with a number of sculptures dating back to the Greek Classical era, as well as those from the Italian Renaissance. Some of the most celebrated sculptors in history have been of Italian descent and have produced works that are displayed in Rome or the surrounding cities.
Here are our selections for 10 of the most famous statues in Rome.
Famous Statues in Rome
1. Pietà – Michelangelo
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was one of the Italian Renaissance’s greatest artists who is more commonly known as Michelangelo. He was a gifted painter, but most critics and art historians view him as one of the greatest sculptors of all time.
He produced a number of masterpieces that adorn the halls of Rome’s cathedrals, as well as those in other major cities throughout Italy.
One of his most celebrated sculptures is simply known as Pietà. Completed in 1499, this incredible statue depicts a scene in which Mary, the mother of Jesus, holds her son’s lifeless body in her arms.
The work was originally intended to be a funeral monument for the French ambassador to Rome, Cardinal Jean de Bilhères. However, once it was completed, the sculpture was deemed to be too magnificent to be displayed as only a funeral piece and was instead placed in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
The sculpture is perhaps most famous for the intricate detail that Michelangelo was able to depict. Everything from the hands of Jesus to the face of Mary and especially the clothing and robes she is wearing are all done with incredible, lifelike precision.
2. The Capitoline Wolf
One of the most iconic statues in Rome is the Capitoline Wolf, which was created to commemorate the legend surrounding the founding of the city of Rome.
The exact date of this unique sculpture is unknown, but stories from various parts of Rome’s history claim that the statue was created during the 5th century B.C. by the Etruscans. According to recent radiocarbon dating techniques, the statue was dated to be as old as the 11th or 12th century A.D.
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The Capitoline Wolf legend states that two twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, were cast into the Tiber River when their great uncle Amulius usurped the throne of their grandfather, King Numitor. The story states that the two children were rescued by a she-wolf who nursed them and kept them alive until they were found by a shepherd.
The bronze statue is somewhat smaller compared to most other works in Rome that are as prominent. The she-wolf is standing as the two children suckle beneath her. She is baring her teeth as if to be protecting them from some type of threat.
3. Belvedere Torso
One of the most famous statues in Rome is also one of the most mysterious works one might find in the city. The sculpture known as the Belvedere Torso is a massive marble statue that stands at more than 1.5 meters in height.
The exact date of completion is unknown, but many art critics and scholars once believed it could have been as old as the 1st century B.C.
Many once believed the statue to be a depiction of Hercules, a popular hero of Greek and Roman lore that was known for his incredible feats of strength.
The Belvedere Torso is actually signed on the front of the base with some indication of its identity. The signature states: “Apollonios, son of Nestor, Athenian.”
Although it’s just a piece of a statue that was much larger at one time, this work was once displayed in the Vatican during the 1500’s. It was said the Michelangelo greatly admired the sculpture and often visited the Vatican to view it during his career.
4. Moses – Michelangelo
Many of the most famous statues from the city of Rome are centered around figures from the Christian Bible and the Catholic faith.
Michelangelo, who was perhaps the most well-known sculptor to have ever lived during the Italian Renaissance, is credited with producing one of the most highly-regarded sculptures of a Biblical figure from the time period.
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The sculpture is titled Moses and depicts the widely-known Bible hero seated with a very serious expression while holding two stone tablets. This is a portrayal of a scene from the Bible in which Moses is said to have climbed Mount Sinai and God delivered to him the Ten Commandments on two large stone tablets.
The bearded form of Moses was done with exceptional detail and the marble statue is considered to be one of Michelangelo’s greatest works since it was completed in 1515.
5. Augustus of Prima Porta
Numerous statues in Rome were dedicated to some of the greatest figures from the height of the Roman Empire. One such work is titled Augustus of Prima Porta and was created sometime in the 1st century A.D. to commemorate one of the more well-known leaders of the Roman Empire, Augustus Caesar.
This larger-than-life depiction of the powerful figure stands at more than 2 meters tall and weighs more than 1,000 kilograms.
It was nearly lost to history until it was discovered in 1863 during an archaeological excavation of Villa of Livia, which was the home of Augustus Caesar’s wife, Livia Drusilla.
This work boasts incredible detail and historians are still unaware of who created the masterful statue. It is believed to be a copy of an older bronze statue that was likely carved by Greek sculptors as there were few in Rome at this time who were capable of producing such a detailed sculpture.
6. The Statue of Saint Peter, Saint Peter’s Basilica
Saint Peter is one of the most prominent figures from the New Testament and he is viewed as the founding member of the Catholic church. Many artists during the Italian Renaissance produced various works depicting the apostle and his various exploits during the lifetime of Jesus Christ and afterward.
One of the most prominent works that portrays the famous saint is known simply as The Statue of Saint Peter. This statue sits in Saint Peter’s Basilica, which is also home to such works as Michelangelo’s Pieta, the Monument of Pope Alexander and the supposed grave of Saint Peter himself.
The black statue is made out of bronze and is seated on an elaborate marble chair. The statue is credited to Arnolfo di Cambio, a famous artist from Tuscany who likely created the bronze in the 1200’s. Many of the Catholic faith travel to the site to kiss the feet of the statue.
7. Habakkuk and the Angel – Bernini
One of the most elaborate statues that still stands in Rome today is known as Habakkuk and the Angel. This famous work was done by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a renowned sculptor and architect who lived during the 17th century and created a number of incredible works that can be seen throughout the city.
Created in 1661, the statue is a depiction of the well-known Biblical story in which Habakkuk, a Judean prophet, made stew that he intended to give to reapers working in a nearby field.
An angel appeared and instructed Habakkuk to take the stew to Daniel, who was imprisoned in a lion’s den.
Habakkuk was somewhat resistant to the angel who then led the prophet by the crown of his head to the city of Babylon where Daniel was being held. The large marble work sits in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome.
8. Fontana dei 4 Fiumi
One of the most famous fountains in Rome that’s also a prominent landmark is the Fontana dei 4 Fiumi.
This elaborate work sits at the Piazza Navona in Rome and was made as a statue that would honor the four river gods and the four major river systems that are located in the four continents through which the Catholic church had spread its influence over.
It was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and commissioned in 1651 by Pope Innocent X. The four rivers that are represented are the Rio de la Plata in South America, the Danube in Europe, the Ganges in Asia and the Nile River in Africa.
A massive Egyptian style obelisk stands in the middle of the structure with the image of a dove holding an olive twig on the very top.
This dove and olive twig was indicative of the story of Noah’s Ark and was also the emblem of the Pamphili family, who had a large palace facing the monument that still stands today.
9. Daniel and the Lion – Bernini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s fascination with the story of Daniel and the lion’s den was the driving force behind the statue he created depicting Habakkuk, as well as another famous statue that still stands in Rome.
This work is titled Daniel and the Lion and was created in 1657 for the then cardinal-priest of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo.
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The cardinal-priest, Fabio Chigi, was later elected pope under the name Alexander VII.
Like most of Bernini’s other sculptures, this work depicts the human form in motion as Daniel is stretching upward while praying to God. The prophet Daniel is kneeling on a pedestal while a lion is seen behind him licking his heel.
10. Dying Gaul
The Roman Empire was surrounded by enemies in 2nd and 3rd centuries B.C. as their power stretched throughout much of the region along the Mediterranean Sea.
The forces of the Roman Empire fought intense battles with the native people of western Europe who were known as the Celts or the Gauls. One statue commemorating these warriors and the battles the Roman Empire fought with them is titled the Dying Gaul, or Dying Galatian.
This statue is believed to have been made some time between 200 and 350 B.C. and is most likely a copy of an earlier work that has since been lost to history. The life-sized statue was carved out of white marble and depicts an incredibly realistic nude Gaul soldier sitting on the ground, suffering from a sword wound in his lower chest.
The work is believed to be highly realistic as the Gauls were said to fight naked and often had characteristic hairstyles and mustaches similar to the one depicted that were a symbol of status and virility. The soldier is seen sitting on his shield with his sword lying beneath him.