MARCUS CURTIUS THROWING HIMSELF INTO A CHASM – Pietro Bernini 1617
The imposing sculptural group is the result of successive reworkings of an ancient archeological find, a horse carved in Pentelic marble that was restored by the sculptor Pietro Bernini, Gian Lorenzo’s father, in 1617. At the same time he added the figure of the rider to turn it into a representation of the legendary episode of Roman history in which Marcus Curtius throws himself into the chasm. In Livy’s version of the story, a chasm had opened up in the Roman Forum. The seers declared that the pit would not close until what the Romans held dearest was thrown into it. Claiming that the most valuable of Roman possessions were arms and valor, Marcus Curtius leaped into the chasm, fully armed and on horseback. In the courtly rhetoric of the 17th century, the image of the Roman hero was used as a metaphor to celebrate Cardinal Scipione’s action when, astride a mule, he had brought comfort to the city’s population during the flooding of the Tiber in 1607. As a payment made to the sculptor on 28 April 1617 demonstrates, the restoration of the equestrian statue was carried out in that year. Pietro Bernini executed other similar restoration work for the Borghese. However, he received commissions not only for restoration but also for appraisals of antique sculptures. In accordance with the practice of reusing antique works for ornamental purposes that had been in vogue in Rome since the end of the 16th century, in 1776 this sculpture was still displayed on the facade of the Borghese Gallery. Set up outside the Borghese villa at the time, the equestrian statue was moved inside the Borghese gallery during the works carried out by Marcantonio Borghese from 1785 onward and, under the direction of the architect Antonio Asprucci (Rome 1723-1808), placed in its current location.