The splendid small palace that hosts the Borghese Gallery was built at the beginning of the seventeenth century as the private residence and for public representation of the Borghese family in the favorite public park of the Romans (Villa Borghese).
From the very beginning it housed the collection of cardinal Scipio (1579-1633), nephew of Pope Paul the Fifth Borghese. The picture-gallery had already been transferred there in 1615 and in 1625 about two hundred pieces of ancient sculptures were also transferred there. The original core of the collection testifies cardinal Scipio’s deep interest in antiquity, classicism, and the innovative artistic currents of the time, excluding Medieval art. The collection was increased in the course of time through confiscations, donations, and purchases and was further enriched at the end of the seventeenth century by the inheritance of Olimpia Aldobrandini. In 1807 prince Camillo Borghese, husband of Paolina Bonaparte, had to hand over to Napoleon much of the archaeological collection (154 statues, 160 busts, 170 bass-riliefs, 30 columns, and several vases that today constitute the Borghese Fund at Louvre in Paris). In 1902 the Italian State purchased the rest of the collection and the palace. A long restoration has given back the original white marble color to the façade and rebuilt the external double-flight staircase according to the original design. Currently the collection consists of sculptures, bass-riliefs, and ancient mosaics, sixteenth-seventeenth century paintings, and sculptures. They include masterpieces by Antonello da Messina, Giovanni Bellini, Perugino, Pinturicchio, Veronese, Raphael (Deposition), Domenichino (Diana’s hunt), Titian (Sacred and profane love, Venus blindfolding Love), Correggio (Danae), Caravaggio (Youth with a fruit basket, the Madonna of the footmen, David with Goliath’s head), Rubens (Pietà) and magnificent sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Apollo and Daphne, the Rape of Proserpina, David) and Canova (Paolina Borghese).
Apollo and Daphne Carrara’s marble cm. 243 Gian Lorenzo Bernini
This life-size marble sculpture, begun by Bernini at the age of twenty-four and executed between 1622 and 1625, has always been housed in the same villa, but originally stood on a lower and narrower base set against the wall near the stairs. Consequently anyone entering the room first saw Apollo from behind, then the fleeing nymph appeared in the process of metamorphosis: brak covers most of her body, but according to Ovid’s lines, Apollo’s hand can still feel her heart beating beneath it.Thus the scene ends by Daphne being transformed into a laurel tree to escape her divine aggressor.
Pauline Bonaparte(1805-1808) Antonio Canova
This marble statue of Pauline in a highly refined pose is considered a supreme example of the Neoclassical style. Antonio Canova executed this portrait between 1805 and 1808 without the customary drapery of a person of high rank, an exception at the time, thus transforming this historical figure into a goddess of antiquity in a pose of classical tranquillity and noble simplicity.
The Deposition (1602) oil on canvas cm. 180×137 Pieter Paul Rubens
Pieter Paul Rubens, the genius of European Baroque, painted his Deposition during his first stay inRome. Rubens provides us with an extraordinary interpretation of the theme of the incarnation of the divine and human nature of Christ, suspended between death and potential future life. All the shades of the spectrum of light are apparent in the flesh tones, with an opalescence that develops that mother of pearl quality first introduced by Federico Barocci (see also the contrast between the living hand of Mary Magdalene and the bluish tinge of Christ’s as compared with Raphael’s painting).
Madonna of the Palafrenieri (1605) oil on canvas cm. 292×211 Michelangelo Merisi called Caravaggio
On 16 April 1606, the large, new canvas of the Madonna of the Palafrenieri was removed from one of the most important altars in St. Peter’s after only a month, because of its lack of decorum and deviance from figurative tradition. It was then exhibited in Cardinal Borghese’s collection in the hall of honour in the palazzo del Borgo and later transferred to the entrance hall in the Villa Borghese.
The novelty of this painting lies in the existential and human drama of the three figures facing danger. St. Anne, in antique style, detachedly contemplates the scene, as Mary teaches the young Jesus how to crush the serpent, symbol of sin and heresy. Darkness envelops the figures set in an undefined place, but an unnaturally bright light bursts forth from above bathing the child’s skin in a warm glow.
Pluto and Proserpina (1621-22) white marble cm. 255 Gian Lorenzo Bernini
The large marble group of Pluto and Proserpina by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, shows Pluto, powerful god of the underworld, abducting Proserpina, daughter of Ceres. By interceding with Jupiter, her mother obtains permission for her daughter to return to earth for half the year and then spend the other half in Hades. Thus every spring the earth welcomes her with a carpet of flowers.
The group was executed between 1621 and 1622. Cardinal Scipione gave it to Cardinal Ludovisi in 1622, and it remained in his villa until 1908, when it was purchased by the Italian state and returned to the Borghese Collection. In this group Bernini develops the twisting pose reminiscent of Mannerism, combined with an impression of vital energy (in pushing against Pluto’s face Proserpina’s hand creases his skin and his fingers sink into the flesh of his victim).
Seen from the left, the group shows Pluto taking a fast and powerful stride and grasping Proserpina, from the front he appears triumphantly bearing his trophy in his arms; from the right one sees Proserpina’s tears as she prays to heaven, the wind blowing her hair, as the guardian of Hades, the three-headed dog, barks. Various moments of the story are thus summed up in a single sculpture.
David (1623-24) white marble cm. 170 Gian Lorenzo Bernini
It was Cardinal Scipione Borghese who commissioned the statue of David, confronting the giant Goliath and armed only with a sling, executed between 1623 and 1624 by twenty-five-year-old Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The youth’s tense facial expression(fig.1) is modelled on Bernini himself as he struggle with his tools to work the hard marble. The oversize cuirass leant to David by King Saul before the encounter lies on the ground with the harp David will play after his victory, which is decorated with an eagle’s head (fig.2), a symbolic reference to the Borghese family.
Boy with a Basket of Fruit (1571 – 1610)
Oil on canvas, 70 cm × 67 cm (28 in × 26 in) Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
The painting dates the time when Caravaggio, newly arrived in Romehis native Milan, was making his way in the competitive Roman art world. The model is his friend and companion, the Sicilian painter Mario Minniti, at about 16 years old. The work was in the collection of Giuseppe Cesari, the Cavalier d’Arpino, seized by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1607, and may therefore date to the period when Caravaggio worked for d’Arpino “painting flowers and fruits” in his workshop; but it may date a slightly later period when Caravaggio and Minniti had left Cavalier d’Arpino’s workshop (January 1594) to make their own way selling paintings through the dealer Costantino. Certainly it cannot predate 1593, the year Minniti arrived in Rome. It is believed to predate more complex works the same period (also featuring Minniti as a model) such as The Fortune Teller and the Cardsharps (both 1594), the latter of which brought Caravaggio to the attention of his first important patron, Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte.
At one level the painting is a genre piece designed to demonstrate the artist’s ability to depict everything the skin of the boy to the skin of a peach, the folds of the robe to the weave of the basket. Also note the shadow along the back wall; Caravaggio is probably painting the shadow of him and his canvas. The fruit is especially exquisite, and Professor Jules Janick of the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Purdue University, Indiana, has analysed them a horticulturalist’s perspective:
The basket … contains a great many fruits, all in nearly perfect condition and including a bi-colored peach with a bright red blush; four clusters of grapes — two black, one red, and one “white;” a ripe pomegranate split open, disgorging its red seeds; four figs, two of them dead-ripe, black ones, both split and two light-colored; two medlars; three apples—two red, one blushed and the other striped, and one yellow with a russet basin and a scar; two branches with small pears, one of them with five yellow ones with a bright red cheek and the other, half-hidden, with small yellow, blushed fruits. There are also leaves showing various disorders: a prominent virescent grape leaf with fungal spots and another with a white insect egg mass resembling that of the oblique banded leaf roller (Choristoneura rosaceana), and peach leaves with various spots.
The analysis indicates that Caravaggio is being realistic, in capturing only what was in the fruit basket; he idealizes neither their ripeness nor their arrangement—yet almost miraculously, we are still drawn in to look at it; for the viewer it is very much a beautiful subject.
At another level commentators have remarked the sensuality of Minniti as portrayed by Caravaggio, with his bared shoulder, slender throat, and languid gaze – so much so that more than one connoisseur over the centuries has taken Minniti for a girl. But if there is a hint of sensuous longing in Caravaggio’s portrayal of Minniti, there is none in Minniti himself: he gives every appearance of a boy posing for a friend with a heavy basket, a little tired, but obliging. This is the first evidence of the psychological, as well as physical, realism that would mark Caravaggio’s mature works.
Rome, Piazzale del Museo Borghese, 5
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Tuesday-Sunday: 8.30 am – 7.30 pm;
Last admission: 5.30 pm;
Ticket office close at 6.30 p.m;
Closed: Monday, 25 December 2011 and 1 January 2012.
Please note: admission is strictly reduced at only 360 persons every 2 hours (mandatory exit at the end of time slot)Admission is strictly reduced at only 360 persons every 2 hours (mandatory exit at the end of time slot).