What to See at Borghese Gallery

By Aniket

Borghese Gallery is a vast art gallery in Rome housing a sanctuary of impressive collections by giants like Bernini and Caravaggio. 

Walking around, you’ll see the lively sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini that seem almost ready to move.

And the deep, touching paintings by Caravaggio that deliver strong emotions.

The Borghese Gallery is more than just a museum; it’s where you can travel back in time and see incredible art. 

Caravaggio Paintings 

The Borghese Gallery in Rome hosts an exceptional collection of Caravaggio paintings, showcasing six masterpieces by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.

There are six paintings, including Young Sick Bacchus, Saint Jerome Writing, and Boy with a Basket of Fruit.

Among these, “Bacchus” stands out, with Caravaggio’s realistic portrayal bringing the Roman god of wine to life in a strikingly human manner.

Caravaggio paintings on display at the Borghese Gallery in Rome:

Young Sick Bacchus (1593) 

Sick Bacchus is another notable artwork by Caravaggio presenting a realistic and sickly adolescent Bacchus with yellowed skin grasping a bunch of grapes.

This painting isn’t a direct self-portrait but might reflect Caravaggio’s personal struggles.

This piece depicts Bacchus, the Roman god associated with agriculture, wine, and fertility, as sick and weak.

Caravaggio himself battled with excessive drinking, and this painting shows that side of him.

Sick Bacchus is the last Caravaggio painting in room VIII of the collection before the exhibit moves on to sculptures by Bernini.

Saint Jerome Writing (1605) 

The painting of St. Jerome is remarkable because it depicts a crucial moment in translating the Bible from Greek into Latin.in Christian history.

It’s easy to overlook how hard it was to share knowledge in the past. 

Back in the fourth century in Rome, if you were a Christian who didn’t understand Greek, you were somewhat left out until St. Jerome came along.

Thanks to his translation into Latin, Romans who only knew Latin could finally read and embrace the Bible.

David with the Head of Goliath (1605)

David, a biblical figure, is often depicted in art, and this version by Caravaggio shows him victorious after beheading Goliath.

Caravaggio painted his own face as Goliath, which led to various interpretations of the painting. 

There are theories that the boy in the painting represents Caravaggio’s assistant, possibly his lover, or even Caravaggio himself, showing different stages of his life.

Another popular explanation is that Caravaggio painted it as a gift for Pope Paul V, seeking pardon for a crime he committed. 

However, he never returned to Rome and died shortly after, making this one of his last paintings.

Boy with a Basket of Fruit (1593)

This painting was created by Caravaggio when he was just 22 years old in Milan and is on display in Room VII of the Borghese Gallery.

In this painting, Caravaggio uses a technique called chiaroscuro, which translates to “light-dark.”, highlighting the subject’s details through the use of shadows. 

This piece is one of Caravaggio’s earlier works and subtly hints at his troubled life. 

Having lost his parents young and struggled with substance abuse, Caravaggio often depicted prostitutes or homeless individuals, evident in the dirt seen on their bodies.

However, this particular painting stands out as an exception.

The accuracy of Caravaggio’s portrayal of fruit was highly praised by Perdue, who noted the artist’s meticulous attention to detail. 

Narcissus (1597)

It is believed that Caravaggio painted the Narcissus between 1597 and 1599. 

It depicts the mythological story of Narcissus, a young man looking at his reflection in water and falling in love with it.

He got so obsessed with his reflection taht he could not leave the sight of his image, leading to his demise.

This composition highlights the theme of obsession with oneself and the tragic fate of Narcissus.

Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro, the dramatic contrast between light and dark, highlights the emotional intensity of the scene and Narcissus’s fixation on his own image. 

The painting is famous for its psychological depth and Caravaggio’s masterful handling of light and shadow to convey the story’s moral.

John the Baptist (1602)

Right beside “Boy with a Basket of Fruit,” you’ll find another Caravaggio painting, “John in the Wilderness,” showing a weary and thin St. John the Baptist. 

A casual art critic might think St. John looks so sad because he’s thinking about Jesus Christ’s coming sacrifice. 

But, those familiar with Caravaggio’s methods might guess he just used a street kid as a model who got bored during the session, and that’s what Caravaggio painted.

Historically, it’s said that Scipione Borghese and his uncle, Pope Paul V, took this painting, along with “Sick Bacchus” and “Boy with a Basket of Fruit,” from Giuseppe Cesari after he was allegedly jailed unfairly. 

This gave the Borghese family a chance to grab these artworks.

Make sure to notice how dirty the boy looks, particularly on his chest and shoulders. 

Caravaggio often chose models from the lower social classes to save money, so they look quite rough.

Palafrenieri By Caravaggio 

Opposite St. Jerome’s painting, there’s a large artwork called “Palafrenieri,” featuring Jesus, his mother Mary, and his grandmother Anne. 

Initially, the creators intended the painting for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. 

However, the authorities rejected it because they deemed the depiction of Mary, Jesus, and Anne inappropriate for the sacred space.

In the painting, Mary is wearing a dress that’s considered too revealing for the virgin mother of God. 

Jesus with red hair was often associated with negative traits in art and wasn’t well-received. 

Additionally, Anne, Mary’s mother, appears distressed. Her skin looks tough, and her expression is angry as Mary and Jesus step on a snake, symbolizing their defeat of evil.

Bernini’s Sculptures 

Bernini’s Sculptures
Image: Britannica.com

The gallery houses several of Baroque master Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s famous marble sculptures, such as Apollo and Daphne, The Rape of Proserpina, David and Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius. 

It holds the incredible personal collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, a major patron of the arts in the early 17th century. 

This intimate and opulent museum is renowned for its main entrance hall, where Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s marble sculptures of mythological scenes are highlighted. 

Among these, Apollo and Daphne capture the moment Daphne’s hands begin morphing into tree bark and leaves to escape Apollo’s grasp. 

In another important work, Pluto holds Proserpina by the thigh as he drags her to the underworld, her body twisting in a serpentine posture. 

Bernini’s technical mastery is also on display in Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius, depicting a Trojan hero fleeing Troy with his family.

Entrance Hall And Marcus Curtius Leaping Into Chasm

In the palace’s beautiful welcome area, you’ll find ancient Roman mosaics roped off on the floors.  

It is believed that these mosaics originated from the Baths of Caracalla in Rome.

Another thing you’ll notice is a beautiful ceiling with intricate designs in the rococo style featuring scenes from pagan mythology. 

If you turn your back to the door and look towards where the wall meets the ceiling, you’ll find an impressive relief sculpture by Pietro Bernini, the father of the famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

This sculpture is unique, depicting the legend of Marcus Curtius. 

According to the story, a large crack appeared in the ground in Rome after an earthquake in the fourth century B.C. 

Thinking this was a sign, the Romans asked a soothsayer what to do. 

He told them the gods wanted their most valuable treasure in the crack.

Marcus Curtius said that Rome’s most significant treasure was its bravery.

So, he dressed in full armor, got on his horse, and jumped into the crack, which then closed up, supposedly saving Rome.

Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love 

Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love
Image: Wikipedia.org

Nicolo Aurelio ordered this painting for his wedding to Laura Bagarotto in 1514. 

Initially called “Beauty adorned and Beauty unadorned” in 1613, it got its current name in 1693. 

The artwork shows a conversation between two versions of Venus, standing for the love of humans and gods, shown together but also highlights their differences. 

Venus, representing divine love, is naked and placed higher, showing purity and heavenly beauty. 

In contrast, the other Venus, representing human love and the joy of marriage, is dressed and closer to the ground. 

Cupid and roses between them highlight the theme of love, and a depiction of wild lust on a sarcophagus adds another layer to the painting.

Titian’s creation skillfully combines opposites, from how the figures are shown to their symbolic meanings, drawing on myths and Renaissance ideas.

Diana And Her Nymphs By Domenichino 

Diana And Her Nymphs By Domenichino
Image: Wikipedia.org

The painting in room number 14 features Diana, the goddess of hunting, who’s always with her group of nymphs. 

She’s also linked to desire and fertility. The story in the painting is about Diana and a man named Acteon.

Acteon accidentally sees Diana while she’s bathing, which surprises her. Annoyed, Diana splashes water on him, and he turns into a deer.

The situation gets worse when Acteon’s own dogs are let loose on him, and they end up killing him. 

You can see the story unfold in the painting, from Acteon spying through the trees to the dogs attacking and, finally, the deer being taken away.

The painting also has a bit of drama behind it. 

Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini wouldn’t sell it to Scipione Borghese, which got him thrown in jail like others.

The painting shows you don’t want to mess with Diana, and maybe Scipione Borghese was kind of like her in that way.

Raphael’s Entombment 

Raphael’s Entombment
Image: Wikipedia.org

This is a lithograph based on a drawing by Raphael from around 1506-07, which is now in the Louvre in Paris. 

The drawing was a study for Raphael’s painting “The Borghese Entombment,” completed in 1507 and currently in the Galleria Borghese, Rome. 

This print is part of a series from the Lawrence Gallery showcasing copies of Raphael’s drawings.

The painting originally was the main part of an altarpiece for a church in Perugia, made to honor Atalanta Baglioni’s son Grifonetto, who was killed in 1500. 

Raphael started working on it around 1505, with many sketches leading to the final piece. 

It shows Christ being carried to his grave, a scene that mixes traditional themes with Raphael’s storytelling.

Scipione Borghese, a relative of Pope Paul V, moved the painting to his collection in Rome in 1608.

Napoleon took it to Paris in 1797, but it was returned to Rome in 1815.

The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun

Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun
Image: Wikipedia.org

This sculpture shows a young god, Jupiter, milking a goat named Amalthea, who is looking at him. 

A small faun, Pan, drinks milk from a bowl behind the goat. 

The first known mention of this sculpture at Villa Pinciana was in 1615.

No one knew who made it for a long time until 1926, when it was credited to Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a famous artist. 

Some people question if Bernini really made it, but it’s still seen as an early sign of his great skill. 

The sculpture is thought to symbolize a hopeful return to a peaceful and prosperous time, inspired by the story of Amalthea and connected to Paul V from the Borghese family, who was pope at the time.

Paolina Borghese as Venus Victrix 

Paolina Borghese as Venus Victrix
Image: Wikipedia.org

Paolina Borghese as Venus Victrix” is a renowned neoclassical marble sculpture created by the Italian artist Antonio Canova between 1805 and 1808. 

The sculpture commissioned by Camillo Borghese, husband of Paolina Borghese and brother-in-law of Napoleon Bonaparte, portrays Paolina as the Roman goddess Venus.

Made between 1804 and 1810 in Rome, the sculpture shows her partly covered, creating a very attractive image.

Paolina Borghese was a prominent figure of her time, known for her beauty, charm, and influence, chosen as the most beautiful of two other goddesses.

She is depicted reclining on a couch, partially draped in fabric that accentuates her voluptuous figure. 

Her pose is relaxed and alluring, with one arm raised above her head and the other resting on her hip. 

Her expression is serene and confident, embodying the timeless allure of the goddess Venus.

In this portrayal, Paolina embodies the idealized beauty and grace of Venus, evoking the classical ideals of harmony, balance, and perfection.

It represents not only the beauty of its subject but also the artistic genius of its creator, immortalizing both Paolina Borghese and Antonio Canova in the annals of art history.

Gladiator Mosaics 

Gladiator Mosaics Borghese
Image: Wikipedia.org

In 1834, seven pieces of ancient Roman mosaics were found during an excavation at the Borghese estate near Rome. 

These artworks showed scenes of hunting and gladiator fights, likely from a wealthy Roman villa. 

The piece we’re talking about has colorful pieces making up a scene of a panther hunt with two levels: dead panthers on top and a fight below. 

There’s a panther not fighting on one side and just the feet of another animal on the other side. 

Showing gladiator and hunting scenes in homes back then was a way for rich people to show off their status and bravery.

Lady With Unicorn By Raphael 

Lady With Unicorn By Raphael
Image: Wikipedia.org

In 1506, Raphael painted a picture that the Borghese family bought in 1760, not knowing it was by him. 

It was only during a 19th-century restoration that people realized Raphael made it.

The painting is in room number nine and shows a woman holding a unicorn, which symbolizes purity, but no one knows who she is.

Her way of sitting and the background remind people of another painting, “Lady with the Ermine” by Leonardo da Vinci. 

Later studies found out that Raphael first painted a dog with the woman, but then changed it to a unicorn.

The Deposition By Raphael

In 1507, Raphael painted “The Deposition” on wood panels for Atlanta Baglione in memory of her son, who died. 

The painting is in room number nine and includes figures carrying Jesus to his tomb, one of whom looks like her son, Grifonetto Baglione.

Grifonetto was part of a plot to take over leadership positions in his city on July 3rd, 1500.

However, the plan failed, and he ended up being denied refuge by his ashamed mother when he tried to come back. 

He was killed after a confrontation with Gian Paolo Baglione, the new family head.

Years later, his mother asked Raphael to make the painting for him. 

However, the painting doesn’t show Jesus being taken down from the cross as the title “The Deposition” suggests since that scene is far in the background.

Raphael was creative with the scene, showing his talent in depicting a lifeless body with realism.

Featured Image : Stock photos by Vecteezy