Planning a trip to Rome and you’ve heard about the marvels of the Borghese Gallery? You’ve happened upon a favorited secret in the Eternal City! The Borghese Gallery is one of the greatest collections of Baroque architecture on Earth. It is also one of the smallest museums in Rome. Here are the most famous paintings, sculptures and artworks inside the Borghese Gallery .
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14 Most Famous & Important Artworks Inside the Borghese Gallery of Rome
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.
This list is not in order of importance but in order of the visit. You don’t want to be running around crossing things off a list. When you walk in the front entrance of the Gallery, be sure to enjoy the first room and then turn left and head into the room dedicated to Caravaggio.
14. Entrance Hall & Marcus Curtius Leaping into Chasm
This is a beautiful welcome area of the palace. You can find ancient Roman mosaics roped off on the floors. The mosaics were believed to have come from the Baths of Caracalla in Rome.
You’ll also see an amazing rococo style vaulted ceiling, featured above, depicting different pagan scenes. If you stand with your back to the door and look up to where the wall meets the ceiling, you’ll see a wonderful relief sculpture by Pietro Bernini, father of the great Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
It is more than simply a relief. This sculpture shows Marcus Curtius famously throwing himself into a chasm. The chasm was created by an Earthquake in the 4th century BC. Pagans, believing nothing happens by chance, search for a reason why this earthquake would form a deep chasm right in the center of Rome.
An Augur said that the gods ask Romans to fill it with their most precious possession. Marcus Curtius responded that courage was Rome’s most valuable possession. He mounted his horse fully decorated and leaped into the chasm which closed around him saving the Romans.
13. Boy with a Basket of Fruit by Caravaggio (Room VIII)
This 1593 oil on canvas was done by Caravaggio aka Michelangelo Merisi at 22 years old. He was living in Milan at the time where he was from. The work now lives in Room VII of the Borghese Gallery for your viewing pleasure.
Caravaggio utilized an art form known as chiaroscuro which means simply “light-dark”. He uses shadows to accentuate the details fo his subject. An art form that started around the time of Raphael’s Transfiguration in 1520 but was not popularized until the Baroque period with Caravaggio and Rembrandt being champions of chiaroscuro.
This was an early painting for Caravaggio but among the first where you can sort of seeing the sickness inside of him. Caravaggio lost both his parents at an early age and abused many substances. Many of his subjects were prostitutes or the homeless. This can be seen by the amount of dirt on their bodies, this painting is an exception.
Perdue famously studied the fruit in this painting and made various remarks to the stunning accuracy of Caravaggio’s paintbrush. He didn’t miss a detail. A subject holding a bowl or basket of fruit could be compared to scoring a three-pointer in basketball from all the way across the court or landing a hail mary in American football.
Why? All the curves and color combinations made it extremely difficult to paint. One wrong brush stroke or move and the picture is no longer believable.
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12. Young St John the Baptist (Room VIII)
Right next to Boy with a Basket of Fruit is Caravaggio’s “John in the Wilderness”. Here you’ll find a tired and frail St. John the Baptist. The overwhelming sadness of this painting draws you in and pushes you away.
An art critic off the street would say that John is riddled with grief thinking of the up and coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Anyone who knows the work of Caravaggio would probably say that he hired a poor boy off the street who simply became bored and Caravaggio painted it.
History says that this painting, along with Sick Bacchus and Boy with a Basket of Fruit, was stolen by Scipione Borghese and his uncle Pope Paul V. They belonged to Giuseppe Cesari who had been allegedly imprisoned falsely. The Borghese duo found this to be an opportune moment to confiscate the art.
Be sure to notice the general dirtiness of the boy running across his chest and shoulders. Caravaggio was very accustomed to the streets and often saved money by finding models in the lowest of places.
11. St. Jerome by Caravaggio (Room VIII)
St Jerome is a wonderful painting that shows one of the most important events in Christian history; the translation of the Bible into Latin from Greek.
Many take for granted how difficult it was to spread knowledge for so long. Google, scarily enough, does everything for us. If you were a Christian living in Rome in the 4th century and didn’t speak Greek you really weren’t much of a Christian until St. Jerome.
He translated the bible from Greek to Latin which allowed the people of Rome, who spoke Latin, to read and adopt it.
5. Palafrenieri by Caravaggio (Room VIII)
Directly across from St. Jerome you’ll see a massive painting known as Palafrenieri.
Basically you see Jesus, his mother Mary, and Mary’s mother Anne. The work was originally created to be a centerpiece in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome but was seen as too vulgar. The commission was dropped and Cardinal Scipione Borghese stepped in and picked it up at bargain-basement prices after the painting was moved around a bit.
Mary is pictured with a low-cut dress which is not befitting of the virgin mother of God. Jesus also has red hair, which has evil significance in paintings, which was received poorly. Finally, Anne, mother of Mary, has a rather troubled look on her face. Her skin is leather and anger shows in her eyes as Mary and Jesus step on the snake to thwart out evil.
10. David with the Head of Goliath (Room VIII)
David is a heavily portrayed figure due to his importance in biblical history. This particular version by Caravaggio shows David beheading Goliath as he looks down in triumph.
Caravaggio painted his own likeness as the head of Goliath which was a seed to many theories to the meaning behind this work. Many of Caravaggio’s paintings are extremely sexual in nature and this one is no exception. Notice the placement of the boy’s sword in his crotch. Some believe the boy is the likeness of “Cecco” who was a studio assistant and possibly a lover of Caravaggio.
Others believe that David is also a self-portrait of Caravaggio thus displaying a younger and older version of Caravaggio. Many avenues can be taken at that point.
The most popular explanation, by tour guides that is, is that the painting was created as a gift to Pope Paul V. Caravaggio killed a man in a bar fight a few years early and fled Rome. He had been on the run for some time with a death sentence on his head. When he was granted a pardon he may have painted it as a gift to Paul V.
Unfortunately, he never returned to Rome. Caravaggio, plagued with illness due to his lifestyle, died on his return in 1610. This was one of his last paintings.
9. Sick Bacchus by Caravaggio (Room VIII)
Sick Bacchus is another famous painting by Caravaggio found in Scipione Borghese’s former estate. You may be wondering, “How many paintings did he paint?” He has over 300 known works in existence. He could paint one in two to three weeks which made him very fast.
Sick Bacchus is not a self-portrait but possibly a portrait of Caravaggio’s inner-self. Bacchus is widely known to be the Roman god of agriculture, wine, and fertility. This immediately makes him one of the world’s most beloved gods!
The oil on canvas shows a very sick and depleted Bacchus. Caravaggio struggled with substance abuse – drinking in particular. The image clearly portrays that with very little to be missed. This is the last painting by the Baroque master in room VIII before moving on to sculptures by Bernini.
8. Aeneas, Anchises & Ascanius by Bernini (Room VI)
Completed in 1619, Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius is one of the lesser spoken about Bernini sculptures. It is a beautiful portrayal of Aeneas’ flight from Rome, as described in the Aeneid after Troy was sacked by the Greeks.
Aeneas leaves with his father on his shoulder, Anchises and son Ascanius in tow. They would leave Troy and land in Italy where later their lineage, Romulus, would come to found the city and people of Rome. His father carries a pot with the ashes of ancestors and two Roman household gods.
As you can see, in the 17th century the people of Rome were obsessed and defined by their linage as Romans. Who wouldn’t be?
The sculpture is an incredible sign of Bernini’s future talent. From the engineering feat of carrying so much weight with such little support to the details in the body.
Be sure to take a look at the difference in the skin between father, son, and child. The older father’s skin hangs and sags. Son is in his prime with tight skin. The toddler son still carries baby fat. This is a very difficult thing to realize when working with stone and trying to make sure the entire thing didn’t topple over on you.
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7. The Rape of Proserpina by Bernini (Room IV)
This really shows Bernini’s engineering marvel. The statue was literally designed for the room, a beautiful Baroque touch to tie in your surroundings, and features a violent twisting scene of Pluto coming to claim his wife Proserpina.
It was completed around 1622, a few years after the last statue. Today, Bernini’s most famed statue in the gallery is Apollo and Daphne, for good reason but in the 17th century, this was undoubtedly the prize of Borghese’s collection. Notice how it is designed for his largest entertaining room and the attention of his guests.
The story is that Pluto, the god of the dead and underworld, came to abduct Proserpina, goddess of agriculture and daughter of Jupiter, the god of gods, while she was picking flowers one afternoon.
Out of sadness, Proserpina stopped making the world bloom and all things died. Jupiter intervened and made a deal with Pluto. Proserpina would spend half the year with Pluto and half the year above ground. It is an incredible story as you see how early persons struggled with the idea of seasons and how to explain it. A story of gods makes it easier to digest.
The statue behind it is phenomenal and was met with rave reviews upon its completion. An incredibly violent twisting action shows Pluto in all his strength taking Proserpina from the world.
Make sure you look for three things. First, Pluto’s fingers gripping into Proserpina’s thighs (above). You get the feeling and texture of our legs and how they differ from Pluto’s hand. His fingers grip into what is quite literally the thigh of a woman. Obviously all an illusion by the master Bernini – they’re literally cut from the same stone.
Second, you can see the sweat dripping from Pluto’s back. No, it’s not a watermark or stain. It is Bernini giving life to stone. Finally, look for light coming through the cloak of Proserpina. Bernini sands it down so thin it is almost transparent.
6. Apollo & Daphne by Bernini (Room III)
Bernini started to work on this sculpture in 1622 under the commission of Scipione Borghese and he finally ended his work in 1625. It is considered one of his masterpieces due to the details and motion combined with its fragility. It is with little argument the masterpiece of the gallery.
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!
5. David by Bernini (Room II)
The story of David is among the most portrayed stories in art. Why? This is where it all began for religion. It is also a great story of victory over insurmountable odds.
Creating a David scene after Michelangelo creates DAVID is very difficult. Michelangelo did David after victory. Relaxed and confident. Bernini decided to do David before the fight.
Bernini creates a smaller version of David as David was small. He shows him in full strain pulling back his sling-shot like devise to unleash hell, or maybe heaven, on Goliath. Make sure you take a look at David’s brow. The look on his face screams, “I hope I don’t miss.”
4. Pauline Bonaparte by Canova (Room I)
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.
3. The Deposition by Raphael (Room IX)
The Deposition (of Christ) was completed in 1507 on wooden panels by Raphael for Atlanta Baglione after the death of her son. The painting shows Jesus being carried by figures, one of which is the likeliness of Grifonetto Baglione, away to his tomb.
Grifonetto conspired with others to create a cue to overthrow current heads of households and followed through with it on July 3rd, 1500. They were unable to cross enough names off the list and fled. When they returned to town Grifonetto attempted to gain refuge in his family house but his mother, stricken with shame, denied him.
He was met in town by Gian Paolo Baglione, who was a survivor and current head of household, and conflict ensued. Atlanta had a last-minute change of heart and ran to protect him but it was too late. He’d been killed.
Some years later she commissioned Raphael to create The Deposition in his name. The painting actually depicts something different. The biblical scene of Deposition is when Jesus is removed from the cross. This is not that as Mt. Calvary is far in the background.
Raphael must have taken some creative liberties here but the art speaks volumes to his skill. Creating a believable scene like this is very difficult. How do you show a lifeless figure with limbs unsupporting of their weight?
2. Lady with Unicorn by Raphael (Room (IX)
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. In the beginning, in fact, the artist portrayed a dog instead.
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1. Diana and Her Nymphs by Domenichino (Room XIV)
Unless you’ve studied art, this painting probably hasn’t come up on your radar but I, Sean from Youtube, certainly do love it. It is a great last piece of art for this visit.
Diana is the goddess of the hunt who is constantly escorted by a band of nymphs. She also represents lust and fertility. The story at play here is Diana and Acteon. Acteon happens to stumble upon Diana while bathing and caught her off guard. Diana splashes him with water out of frustration and he turns into a deer or stag.
Not so bad but his own dogs are released on him and kill him. You can see the scene unfold from right, where the man peaks through the trees, to the dogs being released, and the stag being carried away after the successful hunt.
Pietro Aldobrandini refused to sell the painting to Scipione Borghese, both cardinals and ended up in jail like many others. The painting displays how you cannot mess with Diana. Maybe Scipione Borghese was the female version of her.
Tickets & RSVP
Price: 13 euros + 2 euros for the reservation fee. Price often increases with exhibitions.
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.
Why was the Borghese Gallery Built?
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.
How to Get to the Borghese Gallery
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.