Quirinale: the marvelous bronzes of San Casciano put on a show

Quirinale: the marvelous bronzes of San Casciano put on a show

There is little to go around it. What is about to open in Rome, in the magnificent spaces of the Quirinale is the exhibition of the year. Thirty-four statues and thousands of bronze coins bearing witness to a large curative thermal sanctuary will be exhibited from 23 June to 25 July and from 2 September to 29 October. Title of the exhibition: «The Gods return - The bronzes of San Casciano».

The exhibition presents to the public for the first time the discoveries made in 2022 in the Etruscan and Roman thermal sanctuary of Bagno Grande in San Casciano dei Bagni. «We resume exhibiting after the stop of Covid - informs Giovanni Grasso, adviser for the press and communication of the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella - this afternoon at 17:30 there will be the official inauguration of the exhibition with President Mattarella and the Minister of the Sangiuliano culture».

The exhibition is structured as a journey through the centuries within the landscape of the ancient Etruscan city-state of Chiusi. From the Bronze Age to the Imperial Age everything revolves around the hot water of the thermal springs of the sanctuary of San Casciano dei Bagni, where the ancients went to cure headaches and stomach pains and to pray to the Gods for a speedy recovery. In the excavations between September and October 2022, 34 statues and statuettes were found, thousands of bronze coins (many freshly minted, never circulated) and anatomical ex-votos. Inscriptions in Etruscan and Latin of the populations who frequented the sacred place were also found thanks to the exceptional state of conservation inside the hot water. The sanctuary probably also housed a medical school outside the tanks as evidenced by the discovery of polyvisceral plates and a thin gouge.

«The works were able to be preserved in a context devoid of oxygen, sealed by the mud of the thermal waters which has deposited over the centuries in the large tub: fruits, wooden objects and pine cones that we normally do not find except in contexts extraordinary - explains Luigi La Rocca, director general of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape. The found collection of bronzes of various types can be placed above all between the early Republican age and the early Roman imperial age (between the 1st century BC and the 3rd-4th century AD).

"I want to underline how the team work has started the restoration of what is on display in absolutely extraordinary times, which is only a selection of the objects found because the others are still under the care of our restorers".

Excavations will resume in the next few days. The sanctuary covers a vast area, in addition to the core of worship, and the Ministry of Culture is acquiring the privately owned land where the archaeological site is located. The objective of this year's excavation campaign is to understand the surrounding area and the terraced articulation of what must have been a scenographic terraced complex. The site of the sanctuary has been well preserved over the centuries due to the intervention of the local administration which decided to protect it in view of future research.

«In 1993 nothing could be seen, a place of mud, reeds, small vegetation, but it was recognized as Bagno Grande or Monte Santo - says Jacopo Tabolli, professor of Etruscology at the University for Foreigners of Siena - The mayor of San Casciano at the time telephoned to the Superintendence of Florence to affix a restriction. This thing doesn't happen often. Normally it is the task of the administration of cultural heritage. There was a sixteenth-century record of the presence of thermal baths on archaeological sites where the Medici arrived after an earthquake in 1575 and built a small portico». In doing this they ran into a series of broken altars, an indication of the presence of a votive place.

"This is the first intact sanctuary to be excavated adequately with an interdisciplinary team - warns Massimo Osanna, Director General of Museums of the Ministry of Culture - The other sanctuaries have never been excavated in a systematic way". An alleged lightning that fell on the sanctuary in the age of Tiberius meant that these statues were preserved. «It was a prodigy that had to be treated with caution - he continues - It is interpreted as a signal from a God and humans put in place a series of actions to purify the desecrated area. This meant placing the statues now found inside the oldest basin of the Etruscan sanctuary and sealing them in the mud by placing a bronze thunderbolt on top with a prehistoric flint». A fortune given that the ancient bronzes were almost all melted down between late antiquity and the Middle Ages, and are generally found in the sea like the Riace Bronzes. In the exhibition there is a selection of works that will be part of the permanent exhibition of the museum which will be housed in the Palazzo dell'Arcipretura of San Casciano dei Bagni, an ecclesial asset purchased by the State with a deed. The works portray deities, offerers and votive offerings. In the exhibition there is the marble statue of Aphrodite of the Doidalsas type, a Roman copy of the Trajan age (2nd century AD) from a Hellenistic original, found in the 16th century near the Doccia della Testa spring and the bronze statue of Apollo to shoot the arrow, dating back to 100 BC from the sacred basin of the Bagno Grande. For bidders, there is a person in a robe datable to the 1st century BC, who has affinities with the famous haranguer conserved in the National Archaeological Museum of Florence; and the male statue of a sick young man, represented naked and in a praying position. Then there are anatomical votives that reproduce parts of the human body, including a bronze ear with a dedication to the primigenial Fortuna, a deity who protected the spring from the earliest phase, and Roman coins offered in the imperial age. A separate room of the exhibition with thunder noises in the background evokes the fulgur conditum (the rite of buried lightning, by which everything within a temple or sanctuary that was struck by lightning had to be buried, as well as the thunderbolt itself), the bronze thunderbolt which was deposited together with a flint arrow inside a layer composed of tiles and pantiles, which sealed the ancient Etruscan basin, paving the way for the monumentalisation of the sanctuary, which took place in Roman times, during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (1st century AD).

The setting is immersive and with an aquatic flavor to recall the environment and landscape of the sanctuary: the hologram with Artificial Intelligence that reproduces the statue of a praying woman, currently under restoration, with her face framed by a mane of curls and two long braids that descend on the chest, is the symbol of the vows and hopes of the men and women who frequented these places, where the therapeutic properties of the water became salvific also through the intervention of the divinity.

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