The reopening to the public of the Borghese Gallery, has been greeted as the most important event which has taken place in the art world in recent years. This superb Seventeenth century collection gathered by the homonymous Cardinal is not practically untharmed but also enriched by historical items added at the end of the Eighteenth century.
The building was threatened by serious problems of stability and considered unfit for use for a long time because of the widespread hydro-geologic disorder that has affected the whole area, therefore the villa was closed for long time. This has prevented Romans and tourists from enjoying one of the richest and most elegant museums that the Capital can boast.
The building is a typical example of “villa of the delights” of Renaissance memory, the splendid suburban residence situated outside the Pinciana Gate is one of the few examples of that belt of patrician residences swept away during the building boom which occurred after the annexation of Rome to the Reign of Italy. It providentially escaped one of the typical real estate speculations of that time, and was acquired by the Italian State in 1902 along with its collections, the property of the park was only subsequently transferred to the City of Rome.
The original nucleus of the villa was built at the beginning of the Eighteenth century when Scipione Borghese, an unrivalled patron and collector, became a cardinal of Pope Paul V and therefore the beneficiary of large incomes.He then decided to transform an ancient, anonymous Sixteenth century vineyard into the prestigious suburban family residence and a place for cultural and mundane pleasures enriched by an unlimited collection of ancientmarbles and creations of both famous and promising artists then working in Rome. The result was a building projected by the architects Flaminio Ponzio and Vasanzio, and carried out between 1613 and 1615.
The mansion has a U shaped plan on the model of the Sixteenth century Villa Farnesina at the Lungara, with an antique facade which is completely encrusted with basreliefs and ancient statues. By contrast the sobriety of the interiors was meant to create a neutral background against which the superb art collection could stand out.
Interestingly the artworks were not always gathered by lawful means:“acquisitions” enforced during the night(as in the case of the famous Baglioni Deposition by Raffaello), paintings extorted under threat of jail (as happened to the Domenichino) or generously withdrawing from the treasury of the Apostolic Chamber allowed to gather works of exceptional value, that still today dazzle visitors with their beauty, in the mansion. Such works as those by ancient artists such as Raffaello, Perugino, Dosso Dossi, Beccafumi, Sodoma, Lotto, Bronzino, Niccolò dell’Abate, Parmigianino, and works by contemporary artists such as Reni, Guercino, Domenichino and Albani and Algardi, were the rich booty of the audacious acquisitions made by Scipione. But his greatest ”acquisition”was the collection of some of the absolute masterpieces of Seventeenth century art created by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and by his protégé Gianlorenzo Bernini.
The sculptor is represented in the Gallery by works that are the full expression of his artistic evolution, from the juvenile attempts represented by the Amalthean Goat , the Ermafrodito, the Enea and Anchise, the David, the Apollo and Daphne and the Rape of Persephone, to his more mature works such as the busts of Paul V and Scipione Borghese and the group of the Truth disclosed by Time. The collection of handwritings by Caravaggio is also extraordinary, it allows one to interestingly compare juvenile works like that of the Young Ailing Bacchus, the Boy with the basket of fruit to the more mature works like that of the Madonna of the Palaffrenieri, Saint Jerome and Saint John the Baptist.
The David with the head of Goliath is particularly interesting with regards to biographical vicissitudes,where the head is generally recognised as the last dramatic self-portrait of the artist before his premature death. The austere yet extremely adorned aspect of the Scipione villa,whose only concession to decoration was the fresco of the loggia on the back painted by Lanfranco in 1624,was completely reversed at the end of Eighteenth century when Marcantonio Borghese started a total renewal that transformed the Seventeenth century mansion into a real workshop of the incipient neoclassic style;a group of the most successful artists and craftsmen of his time generously adorned every site of the mansion with rich plastic and pictorial decorations whose extreme elegance is expressed at the highest level by the frescoed vault of the entrance celebrating with complex historical allegory the birth of the first-born child of Marcantonio.The result of this radical refurbishing is to create a subtle thematic counterpoint between architecture and decorations.
Such unique balance between container and content is the extraordinary ruling spirit of the Borghese Gallery.
Address Piazzale del Museo Borghese
Visiting Hours Every day from 9.00 am to 7.00 pm; Admission every 2 hours, Closed Monday, Dec. 25, Jan. 1
Telephone e Fax 06 32651329; Bookings 06 32651329; Fax guided tours for groups 06 8555952
Price € 8,50; concessions € 5,25; free admittance for those aged under 18 and over 65 (EU)