Galleria Borghese is Rome’s finest art gallery; a museum displaying some of the world’s greatest works of art in an exquisite setting.
The man behind this elegant villa and the art it contains was Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of a pope and wealthy man of taste. He built this lavish villa to show off his incredible, constantly-growing collection of antiquities, paintings by the leading artists of his day, and specially-commissioned pieces by the likes of Bernini. Apparently his methods of obtaining pieces were far from nice (extortion, debt-collecting, appropriation of church funds), but the resulting collection is one of the most impressive in the world.
Some of the Cardinal’s archaeological collection was sold to Napoleon by his brother-in-law, Camillo Borghese, and shipped to the Louvre. But much still remains, including ancient mosaics – casually incorporated into the Cardinal’s floors – and some masterly classical statues (some altered, repaired and ‘improved’ in later centuries).
As if in compensation for the works he dispersed, Camillo Borghese commissioned a statue of his wife Pauline, Napoleon’s sister, from Canova. Canova’s statue – a nude Pauline in classical pose – was considered rather scandalous, but is now one of the highlights of the gallery; a gleaming milky marble composition. Most of the gallery’s other great sculptures are by Bernini, dominating the centres of the decorated rooms where they are displayed: dramatic works on show include Daphne turning into a tree as she flees from an Apollo who is so handsome you wonder at her reluctance; Proserpine being carried off by Pluto. Also on the lower floor of the museum is a room dominated by Caravaggio canvases, including David with the Head of Goliath, Boy with a Basket of Fruit and Sick Bacchus.
Most of the paintings are in the upstairs gallery, which has a breathtakingly-fine collection. Works here include Titian’s enigmatic Sacred and Profane Love and Venus Blindfolding Cupid, two flattering self-portraits by Bernini and a vast array of other masterpieces.
Notes in English are available in each room, covering the art exhibits as well as the room frescoes and decorations.
Galleria Borghese is located in the huge park of the Villa Borghese, on Piazzale del Museo Borghese. You can walk across the park from the town centre, or you can take a bus or tram to a nearby street, such as Via Po.
A limited number of people are admitted at intervals to the gallery and you should really book at least a few days ahead to ensure entry. If you have left it too late, it may be worth turning up and enquiring whether there have been any cancellations or any visitors who’ve failed to arrive.
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