The Galleria Borghese, Rome.

……And its treasures.

The Galleria Borghese is most certainly one of the sights to see on a visit in Rome. It’s a real toss-up as to which is more magnificent: the museum built for Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1612, or the art that lies within it. The garden villa was commissioned in 1613 by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, an avid art collector, to house his impressive collection of Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque art, and it remains one of the most prestigious galleries in the city. The Galleria structure itself was commissioned by Cardinal Borghese in 1613 to showcase his fabulous collection of both antiquities and more “modern” works, including those he commissioned from the masters. The project of the property, channeling a suburban pleasure villa and the gardens, was started by Architect Flaminio Ponzio and was ultimately completed by Giovanni Vasanzio.

The noble Borghese family originally came from Siena and moved to Rome in the 16th century. It quickly grew in wealth and prominence thanks to their ties to the Roman Catholic Church. Camillo Borghese was, in fact, elected Pope Paule V in 1605, giving him largely unchecked powers. Since nepotism was a common practice at that time, the pope named his nephew Scipione Borghese as Cardinal. Scipione Borghese essentially headed the Vatican government and was able to accumulate significant wealth through papal fees and taxes but he was also a passionate and extravagant art collector. He invested much of his wealth into increasing the family art collection. He purchased and commissioned art by a variety of renowned Italian artists including Caravaggio, Raphael, and Titian. The Cardinal was particularly fond of the young sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini and helped him rise to fame in the 17th century. You can admire one of Bernini’s most famous pieces in the Galleria Borghese: the Apollo and Daphne, which depicts the moment when, to aid her escape from the pursuing Apollo, Daphne is turned into a laurel tree to prevent her from being burned by the sun god. Scholars believe that this striking work was particularly resonant for the Cardinal, who is believed to have been ridiculed for his homosexuality.

The Galleria is also noteworthy for its significant collection of Caravaggio paintings, including Boy with a Basket of Fruit, a portrait of the artist himself as Bacchus and St. John the Baptist.

One of the most famous works in the collection is Canova’s Neoclassical sculpture Pauline Borghese as Venus Victrix. Commissioned by Prince Camillo Borghese, it depicts his wife Paolina Borghese (Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister) as the mythical Venus reclining on a couch.

The Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery) boasts paintings by Raphael, Pinturicchio, Perugino, Bellini, and Rubens. The museum is a jewel that demonstrates the power of art sponsorship and reflects the personal finesse of Scipione Borghese.When the Borghese family encountered financial difficulties in the 19th century, Prince Camillo Borghese sold many pieces from the collection to the French state, then led by Napoleon Bonaparte.For this reason, the Louvre Museum in Paris includes a Borghese collection which consists of classical sculptures. The entire Borghese estate was acquired by the Roman government in 1902.

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