One of the things that make Rome the incredible city that it is are the many statues you’ll be able to spot – real works of art by world-famous artists such as Bernini and Michelangelo, to name a few. Free to admire in the most important Rome piazzas and streets; located inside beautiful churches; or spotted at one of the many fantastic art galleries and museums of the Eternal City, there are so many statues in Rome that it’s impossible to name them all.
In this post, I select the most famous statues in Rome, share their story and a few useful tips to admire them in all their glory.
Curious to find out more? Continue reading to discover the unmissable sculptures in Rome.
The Most Famous Statues In Rome
Statues Located In Rome’s Museums
Possibly one of the most iconic images of Ancient Rome – and in fact one of the most iconic statues of Rome – this bronze sculpture depicts the very roots of the city’s foundation. Housed in the Capitoline Museum since 1471, it illustrates how a she-wolf fed the twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, one of whom went on to become the founder of Rome (albeit legendary).
Though it’s been suspected that the statue is Etruscan, and dates back to around the 5th century BC, the origin of the wolf is disputed. And, in fact, the twins were added much later in the 15th century!
Boy With Goose
One of the most famous statues of Rome, it represents a boy choking a goose. It’s made of marble and it actually is the copy of a Greek statue made by Boethos of Calcedonia and dating back to the 3rd century BC.
Also located in the Capitoline Museums, and once again a replica of a Hellenistic statue, it represents the Dying Galatian (or dying Gaul).
The Discobolus, or “Disc-Thrower,” is a Greek statue (not Roman) and dates back to 450 to 460 BC. Even though the original bronze statue is lost – which according to ancient texts was sculpted by Myron – there’s a 1st century AD copy of the original, which is famous in its own right. This was discovered in 1781 and sits in the National Museum of Rome.
Once upon a time, Adolf Hitler purchased this statue for 5 million Lira. It was formerly on display in the Glyptothek – a museum in Munich – until its eventual return to Rome in 1948.
Though it’s a fragment of a statue, this doesn’t make the so-called Belvedere Torso any less impressive. Standing at 1.59 meters tall, the marble has been sculpted into the body of a nude male dating back to the 1430s, and can be found in the Museo Pio-Clementino in the Vatican Museums.
It was originally thought that this statue was a 1st century BC piece by an unknown artist called Apollonius of Athens, but is now widely believed to be a 15th-century copy. The figure is also unknown but has been variously described as Hercules sitting on the Nemean Lion, or Greek hero Ajax contemplating.
Paolina Bonaparte Statue
Sculpted by Antonio Canova and located in Borghese Gallery, the statue depicts Paolina Bonaparte as Venus Victrix, pleasantly relaxing on a dormeuse while holding an apple. The statue was commissioned by Camillo Borghese, husband of Paolina, and created in 1808.
Sculptures at the Ara Pacis
Located at the sides of the Ara Pacis – a massive altar that dates back to the 1st century AD to celebrate a period of peace under Augustus’ rule – there are various beautiful statues. The altar – and many other statues – can be admired inside the Ara Pacis Museum.
Admission to Ara Pacis Museum is €11. You should book your visit in advance.
Statues In Rome’s Churches
You’ll find this sculpture by Michelangelo in St Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican City. Dating back to the mid-15th century, this marble statue is interesting in that it is the only piece in existence that Michelangelo ever signed.
The sculpture itself is a depiction of Jesus draped across the lap of Mary following his crucifixion. A somber piece, it was commissioned by Jean de Bilheres, a French cardinal, as a monument for his own funeral. It’s a classic balance of Renaissance ideals; beauty and naturalism, and by all means one of the unmissable statues in Rome.
Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica is free. For a smoother visit, you may want to consider getting a reserved entrance and self-guided tour – for more information, click here.
Check out my post Where To See The Works Of Michelangelo In Rome.
St. Peter’s Statue
Another statue inside St. Peter’s Basilica, it was made by Arnolfo di Cambio in the 13th century. Pilgrims visiting the church would walk by the statue and kiss its foot, which now looks consumed compared to the rest of the statue.
Moses, The Tomb of Pope Julius II
This is another masterpiece by Michelangelo, often thought to be one his finest. It’s an architectural ensemble that makes up the Tomb of Pope Julius II but one particular statue figuring among the many on this wall tomb really draws the eye.
And that’s the depiction of Moses. Michelangelo himself considered it to be his most realistic. On completion, legend has it that the artist knelt before the statue and commanded it to, “Now speak.”
There has been much discussion over the years on this statue – not least in the fact that it seems to have horns! You can see it in all its glory in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli on the Esquiline Hill.
Talking Statues of Rome
One of the notorious “talking statues” of Rome, this Hellenistic-style sculpture is thought to date back to the 3rd century BC and is very much stitched into the history of Rome. Discovered in Parione in the 15th century, the weather-worn sculpture now sits in the corner of the Palazzo Braschi, close to where it was unearthed.
Why is it referred to as a talking statue? Starting soon after its discovery, Romans would traditionally attach criticisms and satire of the government (or each other) to the statue. Other statues like this appeared, leading to an informal network referred to as the “Congress of Wits.” In fact, as early as 1509, the notes were collected yearly and distributed in book form, becoming well known throughout Europe.
The tradition of leaving these lampooning memos, poems and witticisms to Pasquino – and other statues in Rome – is kept up to this day.
The other talking statues of Rome are Marforio, Madama Lucrezia, Abate Luigi (abbot Luigi), Il Babuino (the Baboon), and Il Facchino (the Porter). The last two are also drinking fountains.
Statues of Rome Located In Piazzas
Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius
Located in Piazza del Campidoglio, on Capitoline Hill, this bronze statue is a replica of an ancient Roman statue. The original is now on display at the nearby Capitoline Museums. This iteration of the statue only dates back to 1981.
Either way, it’s a powerful statue and one of the best known statues in Rome. The emperor – thought to be Marcus Aurelius – sits up high on his horse, with his hand outstretched in the gesture of “adlocutio,” which was employed by emperors when addressing troops. Marcus Aurelius ruled during a period of relative stability between 161 and 180 AD.
General Garibaldi Monument
Located in Piazza Garibaldi on the Janiculum Hill, this sculpture is a depiction of Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi entitled “The Hero of Two Worlds.” It was designed in 1895 by Italian sculptor Emilio Gallori.
The statue was replaced during the Fascist era by ideological symbols, but a copy of the statue was put in its place again in 1943. Allegedly, the statue was turned in 1929 to point towards the city of Rome instead of the Vatican.
Statue of Giordano Bruno
This looming statue was erected in 1889 in the Campo de’ Fiori. Depicting a hooded figure, the inscription at the base reads: “To Bruno – From the Age He Predicted – Here Where the Fire Burned.”
The monument was sculpted in memory of the execution of Giordiano Bruno, who was burned here at the stake in 1600 for heresy. He became well known after this as sort of a martyr for science and free thought. Today, the statue is an important place for various groups of advocates of free-thinking, who place wreaths here on each anniversary of Bruno’s execution.
Statues on the Altare della Patria
The Altare della Patria (meaning “Altar of the Fatherland”) is a huge structure built in honor of Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of unified Italy. This dominating monument – a Neoclassical interpretation of the Roman forum – is intricately sculpted with a multitude of statues, including friezes, depicting the regions of Italy personified.
Located on the Capitoline Hill at the former center of Ancient Rome, there are various statues to admire at this monument. There are the goddess Victoria riding on quadrigas, various equestrian sculptures, statues depicting “Thought” and “Action,” among others. It’s an impressive sight.
Column of the Immaculate Conception
This 19th century monument, situated in the Piazza Mignanelli, is an imposing sculpture of the Virgin Mary. She stands atop the marble column, approximately 11.8 meters tall, which is edged by marble statues of biblical figures.
It’s here that, every year since 1953, pontiffs have placed a bouquet of flowers at her feet. Help is required from the Roman fire brigade to get high enough to do so. This is done in honor of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Statues in the Forum
Completed in 113 AD, this column was raised in triumph of Emperor Trajan’s victory in the Dacian Wars. It’s located in the ruins of Trajan’s Forum, north of the Roman Forum, and is very famous for its elaborate bas relief which spirals up the column itself. These images depict the wars between the Romans and the Dacians (modern-day Croatia).
The ancient design of the column incorporated a spiral staircase. Consisting of 185 steps, and entered through a small doorway, this would have given ancient tourists the chance to soak up the surrounding views of Trajan’s forum through 43 window slits and a viewing platform at the top.
And the statue at the top? That’s not Trajan. It’s St. Peter, and it was added much later by Pope Sixtus V in 1537.
Bernini Statues In Rome
The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa
Created by Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the mid-17th century, this marble monument – known in Italian as Estasi di Santa Teresa – is housed in a shrine in the Cornaro Chapel in Santa Maria della Vittoria (also designed by Bernini). Thought to be one of the masterpieces of Roman Baroque, this statue depicts Saint Teresa swooning in religious ecstasy as an angel carrying a spear swoops down.
The intentional depiction of sensual pleasure – not just religious iconoclasticism – as imagined by Bernini, was highly influential on artists and writers of the day.
Make sure to read my post Where To See The Works Of Bernini In Rome.
The statues in the Fountain of the Four Rivers
One of Bernini’s masterpieces, the Fountain of the Four Rivers is located in Piazza Navona. Surmounting the fountain there’s one of the 13 obelisks of Rome.
The statues of the fountain symbolize the 4 great rivers known at the time: the Nile (depicted in the form of a male with his head covered and turning away from the observer, as to represent the unknown origins of the river); the Ganges; the Rio de la Plata (depicted as a man holding silver coins and covering his face with an arm, out of fear of losing his wealth – danger being represented by a small snake); and the Danube (depicted as horses and flowers to represent the fertile lands of the Danube).
Fontana del Tritone
The Fontana del Tritone is an iconic fountain crafted by Baroque sculptor, Bernini, which can be found in the Piazza Barberini. At its center is an impressive, muscular depiction of the Greek god of the sea, Triton.
This grand structure shows the sculpted god sitting atop four dolphin fins and raising a conch shell to his mouth, from which water flows into the base of the fountain. It’s thought to represent the passage describing the Great Flood in Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses. As with the Trevi Fountain, there is also a tradition of throwing coins into the Fontana del Tritone while facing the other way.
Apollo and Daphne
Created between 1622 and 1625, this is another Baroque beauty by Bernini. It is an illustration of the story of Apollo and Daphne, again taken from Ovid. In the story, Apollo mocks Eros – the god of love – who then shoots Apollo with one of his arrows, causing him to fall in love with river nymph, Daphne. Eros also shoots Daphne with an arrow of lead, causing her to hate and fear Apollo, so when Apollo pursues her, she flees.
Eventually she asks her father, the river god Peneus, to help. He transforms her into a laurel tree, signifying eternal chastity. The statue depicts the moment she begins turning into a tree. It is housed in the Galleria Borghese.
The Abduction of Proserpina
One of Bernini’s most famous statues located in Borghese Gallery, it represents Proserpina as she is taken to the underworld by Pluto, and a fantastic reference to one of the most famous Roman myths. The technique used in creating the statue is unique as it gives it lots of movement.
Dating back to 1623-1624, this is one of the most famous statues of Rome’s Renaissance period. It depicts David ready to throw hid deadly blow. It’s a representation of power and ability, and once again Bernini was able to recreate the movement in incredible detail.
Angels on the Ponte Sant’Angelo
The beautiful Ponte Sant’Angelo was completed in 134 AD by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. It was built to connect the city center to his own (then) newly constructed mausoleum – which is today known as the Castel Sant’Angelo.
Along the bridge are the large statues of 10 angels, all holding instruments of the passion (i.e. things used leading up to and during the crucifixion of Christ). There’s an angel holding thorns, one holding a cross, another clutching nails and even one with a sponge. These statues are part of a project led by Bernini and his disciples
On top of the Castel Sant’Angelo itself is a bronze statue of Archangel Michael, by Flemish sculptor Peter Anton von Verschaffelt, which was placed there in 1753. According to legend, it was here that Michael is said to have appeared following a plague in 590, hence the name.
Statue of the Elephant
Located in Piazza della Minerva, this statue made by Bernini in 1667 represents an elephant carrying an obelisk on its back. Back when the statue was introduced to the public, the artist faced severe criticism as the statue was thought to be ugly!
Located at the foot of the Spanish steps, this fountain was commissioned to Bernini in 1623 by Pope Urban VIII. The statue in the fountain represents a sinking ship.
Other Beautiful Statues In Rome
Angel of Grief
Located in the lesser visited non-catholic cemetery of Rome, this sculpture represents an angel crying. The author is William Wetmore Story, who sculpted it in 1894 when his wife died.
Sculpture of Caesar
This is one of the lessers famous statue Rome’s most famous leader and can be found in front of the Roman Forum. The statue doesn’t date back to antiquity, but instead to 1932, when Mussolini ordered bronze statues of famed Roman emperors – including this one of Julius Caesar – to be built around the city.
Boxer At Rest
This Hellenstic bronze statue, dating back to between 330 and 50 BC, was discovered on Quirinal Hill in 1885. Bronze statues from this era are rare, as they were often melted down throughout the ages to form new things, making this piece even more special.
The work is a realistic depiction of a boxer, still wearing his leather hand wraps, and with swollen facial features, as he rests – presumably after a round. It was created during a Greek period of art that dealt less with heroic depictions and idealistic bodies, and more concerned with realistic, emotional themes.
You can see this stroke of genius at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. Admission is €10.
Statue of Leonardo Da Vinci
One of Rome’s more unusual statues can be found at Rome’s Fiumicino-Leonardo Da Vinci Airport. Beckoning visitors to the city, the 18-meter statue was unveiled in the 1960s. It’s a bronze depiction of the ancient artist holding his “aerial screw” design, which Da Vinci imagined to be a sort of flying machine.
Though millions of people have flown over the statue, it wasn’t until 2006 – when the statue was renovated – that a secret was discovered. One of the workers came across a small doorway in the statue. Inside were two parchments; one written in classical Latin which tells the history of the surrounding area back to antiquity, the other is a list of people who were present at the unveiling.
Make sure to check out my other posts:
- The Most Famous Landmarks In Rome
- The Best Museums In Rome
- Where To See The Lovely Cats Of Rome
- The Most Beautiful Squares In Rome
- The Nicest Monumental Fountains In Rome
- The Seven Hills Of Rome
- The Most Interesting Facts About Rome
- The Best Virtual Tours Of Rome
- The Best Markets In Rome
- The Most Famous People From Rome