The Collector in Rome


The young aristocrats of 18th century Europe journeying to Rome on their Grand Tour not only stimulated a travel industry but helped develop the souvenir market as well. No less a figure than Marie-Anne Elisa Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister, supplied English aristocrats and Russian tsars with copies of antique statuary to carry home as lasting reminders of Roman splendours. Many of the originals were carried home, too — until the Italian government put a stop to the drain. Now you need a licence to export an archaeological artefact.

However, copies — antique and modern — still make meaningful souvenirs of Rome. Please note: Even for copies, you should request an invoice showing the name of the seller and the buyer, plus the buyer’s passport number, to present at the border or airport.

Really attractive pieces — busts, covered vases, mosaics — crowd the cluster of shops that constitute Marmi Line. I saw a pair of silver-trimmed horn cornucopia at €4,000 that would have graced any aristocrat’s mantelpiece. But handsome items were available for much less, too.

The architecturally accurate etchings of Roman ruins produced by Piranesi in the 18th century are as evocative now as they were then. Piranesi sold the plates outright to the publishers, who were free to make as many copies as they could sell. Towards the end of his life, his children and students worked on
them and long after his death in 1778, some plates, still in continuous use,were steel-coated to see them through the wear and tear.

At antique print shops like Nardecchia, I saw large Piranesi prints made in his lifetime at around €6,000, prints produced at a later date from €1,000 to €1,500, and smaller ones at around €200. A copy in the open-air print market, at the Largo della Fontanella Borghese, would command €50.

If you would rather wear your trophy of Roman history, the jewellery at Massimo Maria Melis is the answer. Using bits of Roman glass that he sets in 21-karat gold, he produces unique earrings, necklaces, and cuff links in his workshop.

For stunning Melis-transformed earrings, created from postage stamp-sized fragments of semi-opaque, textured grey glass from a 2000-year-old Roman bowl, the price was €775. A necklace with a matching pendant on a gold chain was €285.

Copies of the artefacts of everyday Roman life at a wide range of prices fill the Antiquarium Municipale near the Vatican. A touching memento is the replica of the jointed doll found amongst the funeral accoutrements of one Crepereia Tryphaena.

Some of the most unusual souvenirs of Rome are on the shelves of Ai Monasteri where splendorous products made in Rome’s monasteries are for sale.Nowhere else are you likely to find the Queen of Hungary’s skin tonic, a formulation dating from the 17th century.And surely, nowhere else can you come away with a bottle of “Happiness Elixir” and change from €15.

Shop hours are usually 10.00 p.m. to 1.00 p.m. and from 3.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m., Monday to Saturday.

Sampling the ancient splendours of Rome

Marmi Line
Via dei Coronari, 141,143,144,145
Telephone: 06 68 93 795


Piazza Navona 25
Tel: +39 066 569 318

Massimo Maria Melis

Via dell’Orso, 57
Tel. + 39 066 869188

Antiquarium Municipale

Viale Parco del Celio 22
Tel: +39 067 001 569

Ai Monasteri
Piazza della 5 Lune
Corso de Rinascimento 89
Closed on Thursday afternoons.

Print Market
Largo della Fontanella Borghese
Open Mon to Sat, 8.00 a.m. – 1.00 p.m.

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