The creation of the Capitoline Museums has been traced back to 1471, when Pope Sixtus IV donated a group of bronze statues of great symbolic value to the People of Rome. The collections are closely linked to the city of Rome, and most of the exhibits come from the city itself.
The Capitoline Museum has two parts: The Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo.
Pope Sixtus IV was responsible for the creation of the Musei Capitolini's nucleus when in 1471 he donated to the Roman People some bronze statues that had previously been housed in the Lateran (the She-Wolf, the Spinarius, the Camillus and the colossal head of Constantine, with hand and globe).
The return to the city of some traces of Rome's past greatness was made even more important by their collocation on the Capitoline Hill, the centre of ancient Roman religious life and seat of the civilian magistrature from the Middle Ages onwards, after a period of long decline.
The sculptures had intitially been arranged on the external façade and courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori. The originary nucleus shortly became enriched by the subsequent acquisition of finds from excavations taking place in the city, all of which were closely linked to the history of ancient Rome.
During the middle of the 16th Century a number of important pieces of sculpture were set out on the Capitoline Hill (including the gilded bronze statue of Hercules from the Boarius Forum, the marble fragments of the acrolith of Constantine from the Basilica of Maxentium, the three relief panels showing the works of Marcus Aurelius, the so-called Capitoline Brutus, and important inscriptions (including the Capitoline Fasti, discovered in the Roman Forum).
The two colossal statues of the Tiber and the Nile, currently outside the Palazzo Senatorio, were moved at about the same time to Palazzo del Quirinale, while the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius was brought form the Lateran in 1538 on the wishes of Pope Paul III.
The overall layout of the collection was altered in the second half of the XVI century, when the museum acquired an important group of sculptures following Pope Pius V's decision to rid the Vatican of "pagan" images: notable works of art increased the collections thereby adding an aesthetic dimension to their hitherto generally historical nature.
With the building of the Palazzo Nuovo on the other side of the square it became possible from 1654 onwards to house in a more satisfactory manner the large collection of works that had been gathering in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, by utilising part of the new building.
The Capitoline Museum, however, was only opened to the public during the course of the following century, after the acquisition, by Pope Clement XII, of a collection of statues and portraits of Cardinal Albani. Pope Clement inaugurated the Museum in 1734.
A few decades later, in the middle of the XVIII century, Pope Benedict XIV (who was responsible for the addition of fragments of the Forma Urbis from the Age of Severus, the largest marble street-plan of ancient Rome) founded the Capitoline Picture Gallery, which saw the conflation of two important collections, the Sacchetti and the Pio.
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