From: Villa Medici, Rome
RA Collection: Art
On free display in The Dorfman Architecture Court
The cast is of pilaster fragment which is now set in a wall in the Loggia di Cleopatra of the Villa Medici in Rome. It formerly belonged to the Della Valle collection which was purchased in 1584 by Ferdinando de' Medici. There are eleven extant fragments of what originally were four large exquisitely decorated pilasters.
The fragments are now spread across four different collections including the Villa Medici Rome and the Uffizi in Florence. The fragments were documented from at least since the middle of the 16th century but their influence was seen across Italy from the 1470s in decorations such the interior of the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino and as inspiration for the painted pilasters in the Loggia of Raphael in the Vatican.
The decorative scheme of vegetation and flowers refers to felicitas temporum or happiness, fertility and prosperity of the times and the depiction of numerous animals refers to natura felix or the blessedness of nature. The original monument which featured these four pilasters almost certainly dates to the first half of the first century AD. Their sheer size indicates that they either came from a temple or an honorific arch.
The Medici acquired the Della Valle collection and displayed these large pilaster fragments in the entrance of their palace. However, in the mid-18th century the entrance was revamped, and the pilasters removed. Four were then set into walls of the ‘Loggia of Cleopatra’.
The companion pilaster 12/2287 was faithfully drawn and published by Giovanni Battista Piranesi in 1778 in his Vasi, Candelabri, Cippi, Sarcofagi... (plate 10), at which point both the eagle and the bird appear to have had heads. The Royal Academy preserves the head of the eagle but not the bird on the vine. Thus this cast post-dates 1778 but should pre-date 1795 when restorations were made.
The RA Academy has four of casts from the Villa Medici, 12/1399, 12/1471, 12/1187 and 12/2288.
2495 mm x 975 mm x 150 mm, Weight: 176 kg