The first time Ruth and I went to the Borghese Gallery we were very lucky. We got in. However, we didn’t know that we were restricted to 2 hours, so we saw only the first floor. The second time we went to the Borghese Gallery, we weren’t so lucky. We didn’t get in. The third time we went to the Borghese Gallery, December 26, 2013, I was wiser. I bought tickets on-line in advance and we got to see the 2nd floor.
In fact, we started on the 2nd floor after waiting in an incredibly long line. The Borghese Gallery is one of the biggest attractions in Rome. On TripAdvisor almost 3,000 visitors rated it Excellent and only 178 found it Average. Be further warned, when the guy in the coat room tells you that your small camera bag will keep you from entering, believe him. Photography is strictly forbidden.
Upstairs, as it turned out, was mostly wall art like the painting below from the generous Borghese Gallery website as are the two active sculptures. That’s Raphael’s “Unicorn & Virgin” and I learned from the English translation near it that only a virgin can hold a unicorn. That leaves Pauline out. This abundance of paintings and sculptures was done by familiar names like Perugino and Bernini. There were even some by artists whose names didn’t end in i or o. I had to keep reminding myself to pay attention to the ceilings, floors, and doors which were often as impressive as the art. Another Raphael came with a story about famiglia Borghese. Pope Paul helped his nephew obtain what I was finally seeing, Raphael’s “Deposition of Christ”. The Pope arranged for it to be stolen from a family chapel for Scipione, who was not actually a Borghese. The Pope gave Scipione Caffarelli, the Roman Catholic Church’s head librarian who attracted large stipends, the right to use the Borghese name.
Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Pope Paul V, started this gallery because the family needed a private residence to both entertain and provide a place for the results of his passion for collecting, a lot of it said to be homoerotic. But that’s another story. By the beginning of the 17th century, the Borgheses already had 3 palaces in the city, but they needed a party villa outside Rome. The Borghese’s neighbors were Medicis. Today, of course, the city has surrounded Pincian Hill park and gardens.
The first floor was familiar, but I looked forward to re-seeing Scipione’s Caravaggios and Pauline. Stuffed with a lot of Imperial Roman art and Bernini sculptures, this floor’s most jaw-dropping room was the Entrance Hall, which the Borgheses, voracious landowners who bought up entire towns and had close ties to the Vatican, decorated to show their power.
In one first floor room were 5 of the Borghese’s 7 Caravaggios. There are only 79 of his paintings known to exist in the world. Three were destroyed in Berlin in 1945. But that’s another story. One of the 5, “Little Bacchus”, was owned by a man named Cavaliere. Cardinal Borghese ordered a house search in which unauthorized weapons were found. Cavaliere was put in prison and sentenced to die. His only escape was to hand over Bacchus to the unscrupulous Cardinal.
Antonio Canova’s magnificent sculpture “Venus Victrix” is in the Room of the Vase. Pauline Borghese Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister, posed for it. Said to be a sex adventurer (she had an affair with Niccolò Paganini), Pauline was Prince Camillo Borghese’s 2nd wife, and she clearly had no problem with undressing. When I see this white marble wonder, my eyes are torn between her exposed flesh and the cushion on which she is sitting. Canova was so skilled that he managed to make marble look just like silk with real folds.