Marcus Curtius Throwing himself into the Chasm

Marcus Curtius Throwing himself into the Chasm is a Pentelic marble statue by Pietro Bernini. Its height is 220 cm. The statue is located in the Salone of Borghese Gallery in Rome.


Marcus Curtius is a youthful mythological Roman who advertised himself to the gods of Hades. He is mentioned shortly by Varro and at length by Livius. He is the legendary namesake of the Lacus Curtius within the Roman Forum, the location of his supposed sacrifice.

After an earthquake in 362 BC, a colossal bottomless pit abruptly opened in the Roman Forum, which the Romans endeavored to fill in vain. Hopeless, they counseled an augur who responded that the gods requested the most precious ownership of the country. The Romans questioned the caution and struggled to think of what that was. Finally, a young soldier named Marcus Curtius castigated them and responded that Romans’ arms and courage were the nation’s most valuable possessions. Marcus rode and jumped into the Chasm on the back of his horse, entirely and fastidiously armed and decorated. Promptly, the bottomless pit closed over him, saving Rome.

The Lacus Curtius in the Forum was evidently built on the location of the pit, and receives its title from him.


The story of Marcus Curtius, sacrificing himself for the cause of the commonwealth, became a well-known topic during the Renaissance due to etchings made by the German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder (1507/1508) and the Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius (1586). It was also depicted in the celebrated Nuremberg Chronicle by Hartmann Schedel (1493). However, a bas-relief, apparently found in a garden close to the Forum Romanum in 1553, appears to have been leading in most images.

It dates from the Early Empire, but may have been replicated from a 3rd- or 2nd-century BC piece.

Pietro Bernini added the rider’s figure to the antique horse (1st or 2nd centuries BC), transforming the sculpture into an equestrian statue of Marcus Curtius. By lowering the position of the rearing horse, the artist has managed to create the illusion of the hero throwing himself into a chasm, thus becoming the symbol of Roman virtue because, by his sacrifice, he saved his country. 


In 1606 Scipione Borghese assisted the victims of the Tiber flood: this gesture allowed a parallel to be drawn between Marcus Curtius and the cardinal. As a payment made to the sculptor on 28 April, 1617 demonstrates, the restoration of the equestrian statue was carried out that year. Pietro Bernini created other similar restoration work for the Borghese. However, he received commissions for restoration and for appraisals of antique sculptures.

Current location of the sculpture in the salone dates from Antonio Asprucci’s refurbishment of the villa in 1776, when the sculpture was restored again by Agostino Penna.

Borghese Gallery in Rome,
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Author: Pietro Bernini

Pietro Bernini

Pietro Bernini (born 1562, Tuscany — died 1629, Rome), Italian late Mannerist sculptor who was invited to Rome in 1605/06 to work for Pope Paul V (1605–21) on the decorations of the Paolina (Borghese) Chapel in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where he carved the coronation of Clement VIII (1612–13), as well as the marble relief Assumption of the Virgin (1607–10) in the baptistery. He was the father of famous sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

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