Sperlonga, Italy

Travel to Sperlonga

The Sperlonga sculptures are a large and elaborate ensemble of ancient sculptures discovered in 1957 in the grounds of the former villa of the Emperor Tiberius at Sperlonga, on the coast between Rome and Naples. As reconstructed, the sculptures were arranged in groups around the interior of a large natural grotto facing the sea used by Tiberius for dining; many scholars believe he had the sculptures installed. The groups show incidents from the story of the Homeric hero Odysseus, and are in Hellenistic "baroque" style, "a loud, full-blown baroque", but are generally thought to date to the early Imperial period.

As Tacitus and Suetonius recount, the grotto collapsed in 26 AD, nearly killing Tiberius, and either then or in a later fall the sculptures were crushed into thousands of fragments, so that the modern reconstructions have many missing elements. A museum was established in 1963 at Sperlonga to display the reconstructed sculptures and other finds from the villa, with cast reconstructions of the large groups, which are described by the classicist Mary Beard as "creative reinventions". As in the first picture here, many elements can be seen twice, as pieced-together originals, and as reconstructions using plaster casts of original pieces, filled out with educated guesswork.

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