(Re)-Discovering Caligula

June 30, 2014 / Art & Archaeology
Genzano, Lazio

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.

busto prima intervento copia
trono prima intervento copia

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.



Roberto Civetta

by Roberto Civetta

Roberto Civetta restores artwork and antiques for a living, and is incredibly grateful for the chance to work on some of the greatest fresco, oil, stone, and architectural masterpieces that Italy has to offer. More info available at www.civettaroberto.com

15 Responses to “(Re)-Discovering Caligula”

  1. Mariasilvia

    Che orgoglio, che bell’articolo. Sei bravissimo! Grazie

  2. L’Italia per fortuna è piena di persone eccezionali, alcune sono state costrette ad andare all’estero, quelle che rimangono riescono ad emergere solo attraverso un impegno non comune: bravo Roberto e grazie per il tuo lavoro!

  3. What a rewarding and fascinating story. I, too, hope that more of the statue is discovered and Roberto’s work can continue. True dedication to art. Thank you.

  4. Incredibly proud to know such talented artist! Please keep rappresenting Italy this way!

  5. David Bridges

    Bravo Roberto! One more treasure rescued and restored by the people who care about their rich history. Thank you and the officials who discovered it. Next over in Lazio, we will visit the museo.

  6. louise

    Amazing! What a labor of love. Thank you for bringing life back into the art, and art back into our lives.

  7. Jan Johnson

    Grazie Roberto. You are justifiably proud of your work – truly a labour of love. Thank you for sharing this amazing piece of history.

  8. Rosanne Barrett

    Bravo, Roberto, and grazie from all lovers of art and of Italy!

  9. roberto

    Thank you so so much, to everybody. I’m so happy to have received your kind comments…

  10. marianna

    Thank you for this article. How wonderful for you to be able to “work” on this beautiful piece of antiquity.

  11. Nelia Ruiz

    One can weep at the heartless “cannibalism” done to the statue, but thanks to Mr. Civetta and his sister, the statue is not lost forever. I hope to be able to enjoy viewing the work on my next trip to Nemi.


Leave a Reply