Ca. 1560. White marble, 185.2 x 124 cm.
The eagle and weapons are part of a funerary monument from the period of Emperor Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.). This sculpture was found with many other works in the country villa of Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus (64 B.C.-13 A.D.), a well-known general and colleague in arms of Emperor Augustus. It probably adorned the upper part of a rectangular marble pedestal containing the urn with the general's ashes. Around 1650, at the behest of Cardinal Girolamo Colonna, the Italian sculptor, Orfeo Boselli (1600-1667), added a bust of the Emperor Claudius (now lost), placing it on top of the eagle. The sculpture then received the mistaken name, The Apotheosis of Claudius. The pedestal used by Boselli to complete this monument by an unknown sculptor was made around 1620 for Alberico Cybo Malaspina (1532-1623), the Prince of the Italian cities represented on its four sides. In 1664, Colonna gave the monument to Felipe IV. In Spain it was interpreted as a symbol of the apotheosis of the king: the eagle, a heraldic animal of the Hapsburg family, takes flight from the pile of arms toward the gods. On his back, he carries the bust of a Roman emperor, the distant forebear of the Hapsburgs who inherited the Holy Roman Empire.