The Villa Mattei in Rome, built in the 1580s, was renowned for its collection of antiquities. The collection was inventoried in 1614 on the death of the patron, Ciriaco Mattei. His will had established an entail on the villa and its decorations with the purpose of preserving the collection intact and in situ. Although the collection was dispersed in the 18th century and the garden's original design destroyed, the inventory together with 17th-century views make it possible to reconstruct the original layout and the location of the fountains and sculptural decorations. Two principal iconographic themes can be found in the decorations. The legend of Hercules and his labors is the subject of several of the fountains and of the labyrinth; there were also an unusual number of Hercules statues and herms in the garden. The Roman Circus with the games performed in it was represented in the Prato, the large hippodrome-shaped area by the main casino. The obelisk donated to Ciriaco by the Roman Conservatori in 1582 occupied the center of the area, and the terminal stepped exedra recalled the shape of the Roman circus, while statues placed in the Prato represented types of games performed in the circus. This paper relates the two themes to circumstances and events in the Mattei family history, explains the choice of themes, and suggests the probable purpose of the decorations.

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