The Italian state's spectacular collection of ancient art underwent a radical reorganisation in the run-up to 2000. It is now divided between the Terme di Diocleziano, Palazzo Altemps and here at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.
In the basement of the Palazzo Massimo is an extensive collection of numismatics showing coins from Roman times to the euro. On the ground and first floors are busts of emperors, their families and lesser mortals, in chronological order (allowing you to track changing fashions in Roman hairstyles). The ground floor covers the period up to the end of the Julio-Claudian line. In Room 5 is a magnificent statue of Augustus as pontifex maximus. Room 7 houses the undoubted stars of the ground floor, two bronzes found on the Quirinale showing a Hellenistic hero in the triumphant pose of Hercules and an exhausted boxer.
The first floor begins with the age of Emperor Vespasian (AD 69-79); portrait busts in Room 1 show the gritty no-nonsense soldier. Room 5 has decorations from Imperial villas - statues of Apollo and of a young girl holding a tray of religious objects are both from Nero's coastal villa at Anzio, and a gracefully crouching Aphrodite taking her bath is from Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli. Room 6 has two discus throwers, second-century marble copies of a Greek bronze original from the fifth century BC. In Room 7 is a peacefully sleeping hermaphrodite, another second-century AD copy of a Greek original.
The real highlight of the Palazzo Massimo, though, lies on the second floor, where rare wall paintings from assorted villas have been reassembled. The spectacular fresco from the triclinium (dining room) of the villa of Livia shows a fruit-filled garden bustling with animal life and displays a use of perspective that was rarely seen again until the Renaissance. Another, from the triclinium of the Roman Villa Farnesina (in Room 3), has delicate white sketches on a black background, surmounted by scenes of courts handing down sentences that have baffled experts for centuries. Also in Room 3 is a lively naval battle, from a frescoed corridor in the same villa. The three cubicoli (bedrooms) in Room 5 all have decorative stuccoed ceilings.