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.
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Main Pieces at 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. 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!
Bernini’s Apollo and Dafne
Bernini started to work on this sculpture in 1622 under request of Scipione Borghese and he finally ended its work in 1625. The sculpture tells the story of Apollo who, after having seen Daphne for the first time, felt desperately in love with her. Daphne, scared by the god, started to run away until when Apollo got able to capture her once for all. This work magically displays the final moments of the chasing, when Apollo has finally reached Dafne and he’s about to touch her. The god is then portrayed with his muscles in tension while Dafne is portrayed as if she wanted to avoid this final hug, symbol of her appeasement to the god. The final result is a combination of moves and vibrations that keep this sculpture alive since centuries.
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. Paolina is covered only by a light blanket and she is portrayed in a relaxed pose. 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 Holding Goliath’s Head
Caravaggio, convicted with murder, spent all his life running from the police in order to avoid the death penalty. In 1609, he painted the David holding Goliath’s head and sent it to the cardinal Borghese hoping to receive the grace from him. 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 tired. 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.
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. Her pose, as much as the background, is a clear reference to the 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 only the second time. 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.
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 9:00-11:00 am, 11:00-13:00 pm, 13:00-15:00 pm, 15:00-17:00 pm and 17:00-19:00 pm. If you’d like to take a guided tour of the Borghese Gallery, check out our Borghese Gallery Story Tellers Private Tour.
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