Dear friends, I’m so happy to introduce a good friend and new ItalianNotebook contributor, Roberto Civetta. Roberto does some incredible work.. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about it.
Gaius Caesar Germanicus, third Roman Emperor (37 – 41 A.D.), better known as Caligula, given his preference for the caliga (leather sandal) worn by the Roman Legionary soldiers, is believed to be the figure represented in the extraordinary colossal sculpture seized by the Guardia di Finanza‘s art and archaeology theft division in January 2011, (which I had the opportunity to restore).
The sculpture – which received quite a bit of media attention upon its (re)-discovery – was found packed into a shipping container that was about to leave for Switzerland, where a less-than-scrupulous London antique merchant (not new to this kind of illegal trade) was waiting to receive it and sell it on to collectors. It is carved from a single block of Aphrodisia marble from Greece, yet had been broken into three pieces by the looters to make transport easier, and perhaps to earn more money by having more “pieces” to sell.
It is certainly a male figure on a throne, larger than life (approx. 4′ wide x 7′ tall), missing the head, part of the chest, and the right leg. The throne leans back a little, and the curved back of the throne ends on a tympanum that rests on pilasters finely decorated with bas-reliefs.
It will be permanently kept at the Museo delle Navi Romane (Archeologist Dott.ssa Giuseppina Ghini is the director), well worth a visit, located on the shore of Lake Nemi, an area that was of great interest to the Julian-Claudian dynasty to which Caligula belonged and where he built his two mega-yachts/floating palaces.
The sculpture (seized last minute by the Guardia di Finanza) comes from the ruins of a Roman residential complex by the lake. Upon learning about this site during their investigations, the Finanza turned it over to the Archaeological Superintendency of Lazio which is now excavating and studying the ruins where a number of other fragments of the statue were subsequently found (which I also restored and worked on for three months). Unfortunately the head has not been found yet, although there is an ongoing investigation among the clandestine antiques market by the Finanza.
I’ll never forget how awestruck I was when I first saw the masterpiece (which was unfortunately in pretty poor shape after the grave-digging looters had gotten their hands on it). The pieces were all on their sides in storage at the museum. It was love at first sight, and I decided then and there to work on it pro-bono for the Museum, for this division of the Finanza, for academia and for Italy, fully aware of the time it would take. I corralled my sister, Maria Teresa, in the project as well, who I have worked with over the years in many art, architecture, and antiquity restoration projects.
I learned quite a bit too from the restoration. Through careful observation of the sculpture, direct contact with the raw material, and the scientific analysis conducted I now feel I know the techniques used by the sculptor, I gained a better understanding of the ageing process of stone sculpture in general, and I was also happy to discover that it had conservation work done on it by one of my colleagues at some point during these past 2000 years. All this gave me a chance to reconstruct its history and re-establish that unity necessary to appreciate it aesthetically.
It was a long job and was conducted “in progress” as they say, inside the Museum, under the curious eyes of the day to day museum visitors who all showed great interest in each phase of the operation. After the substantial cleaning, consolidating, and fracture-repair processes, the two larger pieces (the bust and the throne) were finally united through the use of stainless steel rods, which I am quite proud to have done in such a way as to be reversible so that if at some future date other pieces of the statue are re-discovered as well, it will be quite easy to integrate those (hopefully soon to be found) missing parts too.