Inside Torlonia Collection’s Secret Laboratory

A day in the life of the Torlonia labs, where experts restore ancient masterpieces.

Lorenzo De Masi

Inside Torlonia Collection’s Secret Laboratory

Photos by Lorenzo De Masi

The Torlonia family amassed hundreds of antique marbles. The legendary collection includes a vast assortment of Greek and Roman statues: busts, vases, sarcophagi, and reliefs dating from the 5th century B.C. to the 4th century A.D., and it is considered one of the world’s most important private collections of Greek-Roman classical art. The works came to light, at last, after being largely hidden away for more than 70 years, in an exhibition in Rome at the Musei Capitolini in 2021.

© Fondazione Torlonia. Photo by Lorenzo De Masi.

The unique group of works incorporates multiple collections obtained by the aristocratic Torlonia family, including those of another noble family, the Albani; the sculptor and famed restorer Bartolomeo Cavaceppi; and the collector Vincenzo Giustiniani.

© Fondazione Torlonia. Photo by Lorenzo De Masi.

For the first time in history, Milan citizens will be able to see more than ninety works in person – rather than books – in a new show curated by Salvatore Settis and Carlo Gasparri opening at the Gallerie d’Italia at the end of May.

© Fondazione Torlonia. Photo by Lorenzo De Masi.

This event is the first stage of a traveling exhibition in major international museums and which will conclude with the identification of permanent exhibition spaces for the opening of a new Torlonia Museum.

© Fondazione Torlonia. Photo by Lorenzo De Masi.

Meanwhile, in the Torlonia secret laboratories, experts are working on many other sculptures from the collection. Contemporary restoration offers a moment of insight that casts new light on the history of the works.

© Fondazione Torlonia. Photo by Lorenzo De Masi.

While previous interventions aimed to recreate the entire sculpture, reconstructing missing or deteriorated parts, today they also have a cognitive value: for each work, a book is compiled with restoration data and drawings, telling the story of its conservation, complete with photographic and graphic documentation, the state of conservation, the techniques and the constitutive materials used. Depending on the condition of the marble, several cleaning procedures are utilized, rotating between mechanical, physical, and chemical.

Camillo Boschi is a contributing editor at Milano Art Guide, where he covers art, culture, and festivals.