What is today the Borghese Gallery was born in the early 17th century as an out-of-the city walled villa dedicated to idleness. It housed the collection of paintings and sculptures of Rome’s second most powerful man: Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V and one of the city’s most irrepressible and famous characters.
Scipione’s love for art, combined with his undisputed power, allowed him to gather an amazing private collection of art, comprising both the ancient, the modern and the contemporary – hence a perfect collection. Scipione’s rapacious desire for artistic masterpieces was so great that he was known to have had artists imprisoned to confiscate their works, and he even had Raphael‘s famous ‘Deposition’ removed from its original altar in Perugia in order that it might decorate his villa.
The Villa – once surrounded by woods and countryside landscapes where hunting delighted the cardinal and his friends – is now within the city centre in the heart of Villa Borghese, one of Rome’s biggest public parks: the Borghese Gardens. The gardens are still decorated by the sculptures and architecture that graced the Villa since the Baroque and through the neoclassical period of its existence.
Our Borghese Gallery Tour: Caravaggio, Bernini, Titian, Raphael and more
Despite Caravaggio‘s controversial life and disrespect for authority, Scipione Borghese recognised the revolutionary potential of his art. He spared no expense in securing Caravaggio’s works, (which were often turned down by the commissioners because they were deemed to be irreverent and unconventional).
The paintings that we will discover on our Borghese gallery tour, chart the artist’s dramatic and short period of life, from early successes like ‘The Boy with basket of fruit’; mature masterpieces such as the ‘Portrait of St. Jerome’, through to the artist’s humiliating exile, expressed with dark power in the gruesome ‘David’ with the head of Goliath. Here the lifeless, staring features of the severed giant’s head are revealed as those of the artist himself, to represent his personal request for redemption from a murder, of which he was guilty. The intense drama and disturbing realism of paintings such as this will change the face of art forever, with Caravaggio becoming one of the fathers of modern art.
Gianlorenzo Bernini, whose many masterpieces can be admired in the Gallery, would become the most famous sculptor of his generation and one of the greatest artists in history.
The artist’s amazing interpretation of ancient mythology and his revolutionary conception of three-dimensional space created a completely new language of art, in that Baroque vision where fiction and reality became deeply unified. This is exemplified in the sorrowful ‘Rape of Proserpine’, where the flesh of the abducted nymph comes alive and real, to what is considered his highest work: the ‘Apollo and Daphne’ which he created for the Borghese palace. Daphne, pursued by the ancient god of music, is caught in a moment of perpetually arrested transformation – no longer the beautiful woman she was, but not yet the inert tree she would become. Bernini has managed to capture this fleeting moment of metamorphosis for all eternity.
Where to discover wonderful art masterpieces in Rome
Our tour of the private Borghese Gallery with 12 people or less per group, will take you through one of the world’s finest art collections. This personal and slow-paced tour reveals masterpieces by Caravaggio, Bernini, Titian and Raphael.