In the early 17th century the villa was owned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese – the favourite nephew of Pope Paul V (1605 – 1621).
Cardinal Scipione had a ruthless passion for art and employed some pretty unscrupulous methods to obtain pieces he desired, however his unique style of combining new with antique resulted in the influence of his villa extending far beyond the high quality of his collections. His architects, sculptors and painters launched Roman Baroque, a style that would be imitated throughout Europe.
Among the many marble sculptures by the master Bernini are these two busts of Cardinal Scipione. A crack in the marble on the forehead of the first bust led Bernini to make another identical bust.
With so much to see in Rome, Galleria Borghese is easy to miss but if you plan to visit Rome, do add it to your itinerary – you will be so glad you did. Here is a peek at some of the beautiful paintings, artwork and sculptures that caught my eye.
Look up in each of the 20 rooms and you will be amazed by the incredible artwork on the ceiling. The one above is In the Room of Aurora, painted in 1782 by Domenico Corvi.
The ceiling fresco below, depicting the Apotheosis of Romulus in the entrance hall was painted in 1775 by Mariano Rossi. The auspicious subject was chosen to celebrate the birth of Marcantonio Borghese’s first son.
Just a warning, don’t be surprised if you find yourself with a sore neck after visiting the gallery as time flies when you are staring at the incredible trompe l’oeil paintings on the ceiling.
The year 2020 will mark 500 years since Raphael’s death and Galleria Borghese will kick off the celebrations with a major diagnostic investigation into the famous panel of the Deposition, one of the artists most important works and a cornerstone of Scipione Borghese’s collection.
The panel was completed in 1507 and placed in a church in Perugia where it remained for 101 years until Cardinal Scipione had it stolen with the help of friars, so that he could add it to his collection.
Jacopo Bassano’s Last Supper, painted in 1542, is one of the master pieces of 16th century Italian painting. Inspired by Leonardo’s painting with it’s elegant grouping of figures, this scene features barefoot fishermen at the moment when Christ asks who will betray him.
The Galleria Borghese has a unique collection of Rome’s most famous painter Caravaggio, father of the Baroque style. His life-like approach to painting fruit and plants was new for the time and opened up a new chapter in the particular genre known as still life.
There is a huge collection of Bernini sculptures, the sculpture of David was one that stood out for me.
Cardinal Scipione commissioned the statue of David, confronting the giant Goliath armed only with a sling around 1623 to the then 25 year old Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
24 year old Bernini created this masterpiece for Cardinal Scipione. It depicts Apollo, the god of light, after being struck by an arrow from Cupid, the god of love, chasing the nymph Daphne who had dedicated her life to Diana the goddess of hunting. Daphne cries out to her father – the god of the woods for help and he turns her into a laurel tree. Bernini captures the moment her legs turn into roots, her hands turning to leaves and her body turning to bark.
Underneath the statue is an inscription : “Those who love to pursue fleeting forms of pleasure, in the end find only leaves and bitter berries in their hands.”
The villa stayed within the Borghese family until 1901 when it was sold to the state. In 1903 the park was handed over to the Rome City Council while the Palazzina and art collection remains the property of the state.
You can buy tickets to the gallery at the door, however only 300 people are allowed into the gallery in 2 hour shifts. To avoid disappointment booking online in advance will help you skip the queue.
With so much to see and do in Rome, I am so glad I spent mornings walking through the Villa Borghese Park, there are some great coffee spots and the Galleria Borghese was a definite highlight of my visit.