The moment when the 4-meter-tall, 2,000-year-old gigantic Hercules statue was discovered in 1864 and its current state in the Vatican Museum.

Vatican Restorers Are Working to Bring a Colossal Roman Sculpture of Hercules Back to Its Golden Glory

The conservation work, funded by the Patrons of the Vatican Museums, will cost around $113,588.


Found in 1864 under the courtyard of Palazzo Pio Righetti in Campo de’ Fiori (Rome), in the area of the ancient theater of Pompey inaugurated in 55 BC,  Pope Pius IX Mastai received this gilded bronze statue. At the time of the discovery, the statue was laid horizontally inside a pit, covered with travertine slabs on which the following letters were engraved: F C S, or F (ulgur) C (onditum) S (ummanium).

The Heracles had been struck by lightning and, according to its burial by the Romans, it was laid to rest with the remains of a lamb as a ritual. The statue, extensively restored by Pietro Tenerani who created additions made mainly in plaster, depicts a young Hercules leaning on the club, with the knobs of the Hesperides in his left hand. Once dated between 390 and 370 BC,  the work, perhaps inspired by a model of Attic school, is now dated between the end of the 1st century AD and the beginning of the third century AD.

August 8, 1864, a bronze finger emerges from the earth and then a hand.
Twenty days later at the depth of 8-9 meters – at 3.30 m. from the ancient level – the entire statue is brought to light, the works are conducted by the architect Luigi Gabet

The statue is made of bronze with heavy gilding and is 3.83 meters high. It represents the young Hercules, who held in his right hand the club, of which several pieces have been found, and in his left hand the apples of the Hesperides, which were missing; the skin of the lion has been found under the back of the statue, but its original place was on the left arm, from which it hung up to a little beyond the knee. The right arm hangs along the body, to which it is joined by means of a prop; nevertheless, according to the attitude of the hand, the club cannot have touched the ground, but seems to be suspended in the air.

The feet were detached from the legs: one of these, as well as the base of the statue, was missing. There was the lack of the skull, that it seemed almost cut for a crown to begin. There was a breakup of the bronze, a defect of the fusion, to the top of the head, together with the crown, it must have had another inserted piece.

The statue is similar to models of the first decades of the fourth century BC.

There has been no intervention on the colossal bronze upon its placement in the Vatican. Therefore,  the detachment of the plaster additions are causing numerous critical issues which are also harmful to the phenomenon of oxidation of the bronze. A restoration intervention is necessary which, given its complexity, will be preceded by a thorough campaign of diagnostic investigations by the Scientific Research Laboratory according to the indications of the Metal Restoration Laboratory and the supervision of the Greek and Roman Antiquities Department.

Lisa and Rick Altig pictured next to the Hercules Mastai in the Sala Rotonda of the Vatican Museums.

with Monsignor Terrence Hogan

Our journey through Lent continues with the words of Monsignor Hogan, our North American Chapters Chaplain. This videos will help you prepare for and deepen your experience of this holy season.


Related Posts