During the 15th century, Rome saw the rising journey of the Borghese family. Thanks to smart political and economic choices, this dynasty was able to establish its importance in a very short amount of time.
In order to underline their power and fame, the Borghese built some of the most astonishing landmarks in Rome that we can still visit today.
Among them, it’s fundamental to mention the Borghese Gallery, erected to display the fine art collection of the family. In this guide, discover the Borghese Gallery art that makes this museum so special.
The Borghese Gallery
The idea to create an art gallery inside the Borghese Villa came from Cardinal Scipione Borghese, a passionate art collector who looked for a place to display and preserve his precious pieces.
Although this is one of the most difficult museums to visit in Europe, Cardinal Scipione Borghese intended use was even more private. Most of the art was of private use to show off during parties.
Today, the museum only allows 270 visitors to enter in one two hour time-slot. This article is only a snippet of what is contained inside the gallery. We offer an amazing but reasonably price two-hour private tour of the Borghese Gallery that could easily become the highlight of your trip to Rome.
If you can’t make it to Rome, we offer an interactive Virtual Guided Tour of the Borghese Gallery led by a live licensed guide from Rome!
The entire grounds, the Villa Borghese Gardens, is one of the largest and most beautiful parks in Rome today. Again, it was originally built as a private residence for this uber-wealthy dynasty. In the time of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, you would find mystical animals like peacocks running around to make it feel like a fairytale. Today, you’ll find Rome’s zoo.
The initial disposition might have changed a bit throughout the centuries, but the final stunning result has remained the same. Let’s have a look into what you might find once there and what you have to know to enjoy a great visit!
Visiting the gallery and gardens, the gardens are free, is easily one of the best things you can do while visiting Rome.
Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne
Bernini started to work on this sculpture in 1622 under the commission of Scipione Borghese and he finally ended its work in 1625. It is considered one of his masterpieces.
The statue is an incredible work of art for more reasons simply good old fashioned sculpting which is an understatement.
It tells a detailed story as you walk around it. Something you have to see for yourself in person.
Legend has it that Apollo was walking through the woods and encountered Daphne and Eros who many of us know as cupid. He began to mock and make fun of cupid, I imagine for his size, and eventually cupid became frustrated and retaliated.
Modern society only describes cupid’s good side. Shooting golden arrows and helping people fall in love. Well, he also had led arrows in his repertoire and I bet you can guess what they did.
He shot Apollo with a golden arrow and Daphne with the led one. Apollo saw Daphne and fell immediately in love. Daphne saw Apollo and the led arrow had the opposite effect.
Apollo raced after Daphne through the forest madly in love. Daphne pleaded with her father, who happened to be Penues the River God, to free her from Apollo.
If you start from Apollo’s back right food and walk around the statue counter-clockwise you’ll see Daphne’s metamorphosis into a Laurel tree. The statue group was designed to be placed in the center of the room and be viewed in motion.
Apollo, in turn, used his power of eternal youth and this is now the reason Laurel trees are evergreen!
Canova’s Paolina Borghese
Canova can definitely be considered the marble master of the 19th century in Italy.
The artist was entrusted with the sculpture in 1803 by Camillo Borghese to celebrate his marriage with Paolina Bonaparte, sister of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Canova dedicated an entire side of his atelier to this project, where Paolina used to go and pose for the artist.
The woman is portrayed as a winning Venus, showing an apple on her hand, a symbol of Venus’s victory after Paris’s choice.
Many say that Antonio Canova, the artist, was a very handsome man and that Paolina may have fallen for him. The apple in her hand may have also represented the temptation she had for Canova.
Paolina is covered only by a light blanket and she is portrayed in a relaxed pose. The bed is incredibly realistic. Again, a site that must be viewed in person.
As for every other Canova’s sculpture, even this one is made with white shiny marble that still preserves its initial splendor and colors.
Caravaggio’s David with Head of Goliath
Caravaggio, convicted with murder, spent all his life running from the police in order to avoid the death penalty.
This was not the first time he had killed and the Papal office could no longer protect him. Cardinal Borghese put a warrant on his head and Caravaggio left Rome.
In 1609, he painted David holding Goliath’s head and sent it to the cardinal Borghese hoping to receive the grace from him. Like many people who visit, Caravaggio had a deep love for the city and wanted to return.
It’s now confirmed that Goliath’s head in this painting is Caravaggio’s self-portrait, but, unlike other paintings where he used to portray himself, this time the artist seems older and sick.
Probably, Caravaggio wanted to send a clear message to the Cardinal by portraying himself this way, showing his remorse for the past and begging him to end his case.
Of course, the use of light remains Caravaggio’s fingerprint even in this work. It’s possible to see how the characters appear directly to the spectator from a black, dark background.
Cardinal Borghese accepted the painting, but did not offer a pardon. Caravaggio, plagued by drug and alcohol abuse, would later die of unknown causes.
Experts say it may have been syphilis or an infected sword wound. One thing is for certain, he died of very unsavory causes!
Raffaello’s Lady with Unicorn
Painted in 1506, the Borghese family acquired this work only in 1760 even though they didn’t know it was a Raffaello’s painting at the time.
This work was attributed to the artist only during the 19th century when its restoration took place.
Nobody really knows who the mysterious lady could be and yet today, her identity is still unknown.
This woman is portrayed while she’s directly looking at the observer, holding a unicorn in her hands; a sign of virginity.
Her pose, as much as the background, is a clear reference to Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with the Ermine.
Apparently, after several studies, it has been possible to establish the fact that Raffaello chose to portray a unicorn in her arms during a revision. At the beginning, in fact, the artist portrayed a dog instead.
Borghese Gallery location
The Borghese Gallery is located in the very heart of the Borghese Villa, one of the biggest parks in Rome.
You can find the museum in Piazzale Scipione Borghese 5 which is accessible from several entrances of the villa.
If you are already in the city center, you might find easier to reach the Borghese Gallery by climbing the stairs in Piazza del Popolo and entering directly in the villa.
In this case, after a small break to observe the city from above, you should keep walking in the park until you reach the gallery.
If you prefer a direct access, instead, you should reach Via Pinciana, situated in the north of Rome, and finding the gallery directly at the entrance.
Tickets and Reservations
What you absolutely have to keep in mind if you’re planning to pay a visit to this museum, it’s that reservations are mandatory, due to the high turnout.
You can book your visiting directly at the gallery and wait for your turn or, instead, planning it online on the gallery website.
Tickets are sold for 13 euros, plus 2 euros for the reservation rights – price often increase year to year so check the official website for prices.
The gallery is open from 9 am until 19 pm and the last access is at 17 pm. As the visits usually last two hours, the scheduled tours are generally between:
If you’d like to take a guided tour of the Borghese Gallery, check out our Borghese Gallery Story Tellers Private Tour. It is an excellent use of money. The gallery limits visitors which makes it feel more like a luxurious cocktail hour or reception unlike many other museums in Rome.
If you’d like to see the great works of the Borghese from the comfort of your own home, check out our virtual tour of the museum!