Rome's Top 10 : Galleria Borghese

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The Borghese Gallery is one of the world’s greatest small museums. A half dozen of Bernini’s best sculptures and Caravaggio paintings casually occupy the same rooms as Classical, Renaissance and Neo-Classical works. The setting is the beautiful frescoed 17th-century villa set in the greenery of Villa Borghese park, all of which once belonged to the great art-lover of the early Baroque, Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Scipione patronized the young Bernini and Caravaggio, in the process amassing one of Rome’s richest private collections.

  • Villa Borghese, off Via Pinciana

  • 06 328 101


  • (for reservations)

  • Open 9am–7pm Tue–Sun

  • Adm €10.50, €7.25 EU citizens 18–25, €4students, over 65, journalists

  • Max. viewing time 2 hours

The Borghese Collectors

Scipione used this 17th-century villa as a showplace for a stupendous antiquities collection given to him by his uncle, Pope Paul V, to which he added sculptures by the young Bernini. When Camillo Borghese married Pauline Bonaparte, he donated the bulk of the Classical sculpture collection to his brother-in-law Napoleon in 1809. They now form the core of the Louvre’s antiquities wing in Paris.

Façade, Galleria Borghese

There’s a decent café in the museum basement, although the Caffè delle Arti (06 3265 1236) at the nearby Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna is better, with a park view.

Entrance to the gallery is strictly by reservation. Book well ahead of time – entries are timed and tickets often sell out days, even weeks, in advance, especially if an exhibition is on.

Top 10 Exhibits
  1. Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne

    A climactic moment frozen in marble (1622–5). As Apollo is inches from grabbing Daphne, the pitying gods transform her into a laurel.

  2. Bernini’s Rape of Persephone

    Bernini carved this masterpiece at age 23 (1621–2). Muscular Hades throws his head back with laughter, his strong fingers pressing into the maiden’s soft flesh as she struggles to break free of his grasp.

  3. Bernini’s David

    Young Bernini’s David (1623–4)) was the Baroque answer to Michelangelo’s Renaissance version. The frowning face is a self-portrait.

  4. Caravaggio’s Madonna of the Serpent

    Baroque tastes disliked this altarpiece’s lack of ornamentation (1605). It spent only weeks on St Peter’s altar before being moved to a lesser church then sold to Borghese.

  5. Canova’s Pauline Bonaparte

    Napoleon’s sister caused a scandal with this half-naked portrait (1805–8), lounging like a Classical goddess on a carved marble cushion.

  6. Caravaggio’s Self-Portrait as a Sick Bacchus

    This early self-portrait (1593) as the wine god was painted with painstaking detail, supposedly when the artist was ill. It shows finer brushwork than later works.

  7. Raphael’s Deposition

    The Borghese’s most famous painting (1507), although neither the gallery’s nor Raphael’s best. The Perugian matriarch Atalante Baglioni commissioned the work to honour her assassinated son (perhaps the red-shirted pall-bearer).

  8. Bernini’s Aeneas and Anchises

    Pietro Bernini was still guiding his 15-year-old son in this 1613 work. The carving is more timid and static than in later works, but the genius is already evident.

  9. Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love

    Titian’s allegorical scene (1514), painted for a wedding, exhorts the young bride that worldly love is part of the divine, and that sex is an extension of holy matrimony).

  10. Correggio’s Danae

    A sensual masterpiece (1531) based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Cupid pulls back the sheets as Jupiter, the golden shower above her head, rains his love over Danae.

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