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The Roman villa of Chiragan

© J.-B. Pech
© J.-B. Pech
All of the works on the second floor come from Martre-Tolosane, a village situated about sixty kilometers southwest of Toulouse. They were discovered in a hamlet called Chirgan, at the site of a large Roman villa located along the Garonne and the road leading to Tolosa.

The Buildings

Above all, a Roman villa has an agricultural purpose. This enables the production and accumulation of the crop produced on the estate. A villa is also a place of luxury where the owner can flaunt his wealth and culture with magnificent architecture and painted and sculpted decorations that are at times sumptuous.
The villa of Chiragan seems to have been occupied from the first to the fourth century. Sixteen hectares of buildings were located here; however, one could imagine that the estate that this giant villa commanded could have attained a thousand hectares. Among the group of buildings, we can distinguish two types of allocation. There are the buildings allocated to farmers, and those that were genuine palaces designed for the master of the estate and equipped with a monumental portico, numerous gardens, small interior courtyards, Roman baths…

The Sculpture Bound to the Architecture

Hundreds of different types of marble facings testify to the sumptuousness of the villa. The fragments of pilasters and door jambs are characterized by the rich foliage made up of acanthus leaves.  If one looks closely at the details, one can see a mass of insects and small animals.

© J.-F. Peiré
© J.-F. Peiré

Hercule's labors

These sculptures dating from the end of the third century represent one of the museum’s major collections. One would probably imagine them built into the upper level of the walls in a very large room or along a long portico in the villa of Chiragan. We should not forget that the works were once very expressive with lively colors that once covered a large portion of the sculptures but have since disappeared.

Each scene is depicted like a painting and represents one of the labors imposed on Hercule to seek penitence after having killed all of his children when he was driven mad by his step-mother Hera.

© J.-F. Peiré
© J.-F. Peiré


Six large medallions decorated with busts are on display. At least a dozen of this type of sculptures was displayed in the villa of Chiragan. Also, the three large isolated heads on pedestals were originally placed in a circular frame. Presenting a character on a circular form, reminiscent of a shield, was greatly appreciated during the Roman period. For example, we find this true in the silverwork and on the marble sarcophagi of noble families.
Here, it is a representation of the gods. Most notably, we recognize Minerva, goddess of wisdom, war, and artisanal crafts. She is recognizable by her helmet and her goat skin covered breast-plate, called an aegis, on which the head of the gorgon Medusa appears. Medusa is a mythological monster that changes whoever meets her gaze into stone.

The Roman villa of Chiragan

Replicas of Greek Sculptures

In ancient Greece, bronze was the material most often used by sculptors. The technique used for working this metal allowed a more precise reproduction of anatomic details than stone or marble. During the periods after Antiquity, bronze antiques were melted, and the metal was reused. Therefore, we lost almost all of the Greek sculptures.
Since the Roman conquest of the Greek world, the large bronze sculptures, immediately appreciated by the new conquerors, were copied and reproduced in marble; however, some variants in the gestures and poses appear in relation to the original work. These Roman replications representing gods and heroes decorated the wealthiest homes. The works discovered in the villa of Chiragan prove this well. Chiragan certainly distinguishes itself by the number of impressive Roman replications discovered in the same location.
These sculptures were chiseled in Roman workshops before being exported.

© J.-F. Peiré
© J.-F. Peiré


Since the first excavation of the villa of Chiragan, in 1826, dozens of Roman marble portraits were unearthed. Today they form one of the most important collections in Europe and the second in France, after the Louvre’s collection.
The villa of Chiragan also housed portraits of successive Roman emperors and two of their wives for more than four centuries.
Next to the imperial busts are many other busts representing people who are unknown to us but are certainly men close to power.

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