Borghese Gallery History

By Aniket

Cardinal Borghese, an art-loving Cardinal, built a Baroque gallery in the 17th century to house his collection.

Filled with Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces by Caravaggio, Raphael, and others, the gallery became a public museum in 1903. 

The Villa, designed by architect Flaminio Ponzio, was intended to be a countryside retreat on the outskirts of Rome and is now a cultural gem showcasing the Borghese legacy.

A Brief History of Borghese Gallery

1600s: The Borghese family, originally from Siena, relocates to Rome.

1605: Camillo Borghese becomes Pope Paul V and appoints his nephew, Scipione Borghese, as a Cardinal.  

Scipione became influential in the Vatican and amassed considerable wealth.

1613: Cardinal Scipione Borghese commissions the Borghese Gallery to house his extensive Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque art collection.

1775: Prince Marcantonio IV Borghese transforms the park’s formal garden design into an English landscape garden.

1808: To the emperor, Prince Camillo Borghese, who is Napoleon’s brother-in-law, is forced to sell two masterpieces from the gallery—the Borghese Gladiator and the Borghese Hermaphroditus.  

These artworks are now displayed in the Louvre.

1902: A significant moment occurred when the Italian government purchased the Borghese Villa, establishing it as the Borghese Gallery open to the public.

Borghese Family: Rise to Power

Borghese Family's Ascension to Power

The story of the Borghese and their artistic legacy begins in the bustling streets of 16th-century Rome. 

The Borghese family, with a strong connection to the Catholic Church, became wealthy and influential quickly after moving to Rome. 

1605, their influence peaked when Camillo Borghese ascended the papal throne and became Pope Paul V.

This newfound power allowed him to elevate his nephew, Scipione Borghese, to the prestigious position of Cardinal through favoritism.

With his high post in the Vatican government, Scipione had plenty of money to spend on art. 

He started collecting artwork from all over, using his impeccable taste to select unique and outstanding pieces. 

He commissioned several iconic sculptures from Bernini, including Apollo and Daphne and The Rape of Proserpina, which got Bernini grand fame. 

Scipione also collected paintings by Titian, Caravaggio, and Raphael, among others.

A Cardinal’s Vision: The Seeds of a Gallery 

Collection of Scipione Borghese's Art

The Borghese Gallery was originally the Villa Borghese Pinciana, built between 1609 and 1613 for Cardinal Scipione Borghese. 

The story of the Gallery begins in the early 17th century with Cardinal Scipione Borghese, a nephew of Pope Paul V. 

Known for his refined taste and passion for art, Cardinal Borghese dreamed of housing his burgeoning collection of paintings, sculptures, and antiquities in a grand setting.

This dream manifested as the Villa Borghese Pinciana, a sprawling estate on the outskirts of Rome.

Designed by architects Flaminio Ponzio and later Giovanni Vasanzio, the villa wasn’t just a residence but an extension of the Cardinal’s artistic passion.

Set on the outskirts of Rome at the time, the villa featured landscaped gardens dotted with fountains, an aviary, and statues alongside the elegant two-story mansion. 

For nearly three centuries, Villa Borghese Pinciana remained a private residence for Borghese heirs before being sold and converted into the public Borghese Gallery museum.

Financial Struggles and Shifting Ownership 

By the 19th century, the Borghese family faced financial difficulties, and Prince Camillo Borghese was forced to make difficult decisions. 

He had to sell many artworks from the gallery, including masterpieces by Raphael, Titian, and Caravaggio, to the French state. 

This was a significant loss for the Borghese collection, and some of the most admired sculptures, like the Borghese Gladiator and the Borghese Hermaphroditus, were moved to the Louvre.

Transition to a Museum 

After Scipione Borghese died in 1633, the villa remained with the family for centuries. 

Ownership of Villa Borghese Pinciana and its vast art treasures were passed down through subsequent generations of the Borghese family. 

Scipione’s nephew, Cardinal Marcantonio Borghese, inherited the estate next and commissioned more buildings and landscaping for the villa grounds. 

Later, heirs continued living in the estate over the next two centuries, adding their embellishments while preserving the core villa and the cardinal’s beloved collection. 

Despite gradually opening the villa doors to public visitors in the 1800s, the Borghese family maintained sole proprietorship until they could no longer shoulder the rising maintenance costs.

After three centuries as a private estate of the noble Borghese family, the Villa Borghese Pinciana and its illustrious contents were sold to the Italian government in 1902. 

This move opened the doors of the Borghese Gallery to the public, transforming it into one of Rome’s most beloved attractions. 

While the museum retained the look and spirit of the original 17th-century villa, accommodations were made to enhance the visitor’s experience.

These facilities include expanded galleries, improved lighting, and accessibility improvements.

Now known as the Borghese Gallery, this public gallery balances preserving Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s legacy.

It represents both an extraordinary private collection and an elegantly converted historic villa now held in the public trust.

A Legacy Lives On

Today, the Borghese Gallery is a cherished part of Rome’s culture. 

It holds many vital artworks from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, which offer a glimpse into the artistic passion of the Borghese family. 

You will see unique pieces by famous artists like Titian, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Bernini. 

The Villa Borghese, with its beautiful gardens and art collection, shows how the Borghese family became powerful, loved art, and shared their collection with everyone.

Who was Cardinal Borghese?

The Cardinal Commissioned Iconic Sculptures

Scipione Borghese was an influential cardinal and nephew of Pope Paul V and was a prominent figure in early 17th-century Rome. 

His dedication to the arts and literature earned him a reputation as an extravagant patron.

The Borghese Gallery owes its renowned art collection to Cardinal Scipione Borghese, an eminent clergyman and patron of the arts in early 17th-century Rome.

It is renowned for its exceptional art collection and owes much of its existence to Cardinal Scipione Borghese. 

With his familial ties to the papacy, Scipione amassed wealth and power within the Church, allowing him to become a prominent supporter of emerging artists such as Caravaggio and Bernini.

Scipione’s passion for art extended beyond contemporary works; he avidly collected pieces by renowned Renaissance artists like Raphael and sought ancient Roman antiquities. 

To house his extensive collection, Scipione commissioned architect Giovanni Vasanzio to design the Villa Borghese Pinciana, a grand estate intended to showcase his treasures.

The Villa Borghese Pinciana was a testament to Scipione’s elite status and refined taste until his passing in 1633.

Through his crafty patronage, political cunning, and ambition, Cardinal Borghese gave the world one of Rome’s most spectacular art collections, which later opened to the public as the Borghese Gallery.

Who was the Borghese Family, and what is their History?

Financial Difficulties of the Borghese Family

Originally hailing from Siena, the Borghese family rose to prominence in the 13th century through various public roles, such as magistrates and ambassadors. 

The family was Initially known as the Borghese or Borghesi in Siena. 

Eventually, they relocated to Rome during the 16th century, marking the family’s rise in wealth and fame. 

Their ascent to wealth and renown reached new heights when Camillo Borghese ascended to the papacy as Pope Paul V in 1604. 

Other notable figures in the early Borghese lineage included Galgano, who served as the papal ambassador to Naples; Pietro, nominated as a senator; and Giambattista, renowned as an apologist for Clement VII. 

Despite their early achievements, often overshadowed by later accomplishments, their legacy culminated in establishing the Borghese Gallery.

How the Borghese Family Got Their Titles?

Borghese Gallery Construction
Image: DanFLCreativo

In the 16th century, the Pope was like a mighty king. He could give notable titles to people and control large areas of land. 

While as Pope, Camillo made his favorite nephew, Scipione, a Prince in Spain. Scipione spent most of his life improving the family’s homes and gardens. 

As a cardinal, he was influential in church matters and helping the family make money. 

Later, Scipione used his time and money to collect art and support a young artist named Bernini, who became famous for his sculptures and buildings. 

Camillo also gave notable titles to other family members, like the Duke and Prince.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does the Borghese family still exist?

The Borghese family, originating in Siena and rising in Rome in the 16th century, persists today with ownership of parts of their estate for over four centuries. 

As a princely family of Italian noble and papal background, they hold close ties to the Vatican and are prominent in various fields including architecture, art, culture, and beauty. 

Legal disputes over the Borghese name for marketing underscore the complexities surrounding their legacy.

Where did the Borghese come from?

The Borghese family originated in Siena, Italy, before rising to prominence in Rome in the 16th century. 

They became known for their influence in various fields and close ties to the Vatican.

What is the history of the Borghese Gallery?

Cardinal Scipione Borghese commissioned the Borghese Gallery in the early 17th century. 

The Cardinal envisioned a grand gallery to display his extensive art collection. For this, he commissioned architect Flaminio Ponzio to make it a reality.

How did the Borghese family make their money?

In 1605, Camillo Borghese became Pope Paul V. Shortly afterward, he appointed his nephew Scipione Borghese as a Cardinal, showcasing nepotism. 

Scipione, known for his passion for art, allocated a significant portion of the wealth amassed from papal fees and taxes to enrich the family’s art collection.

What is the Galleria Borghese?

The Borghese Gallery showcases art and sculpture within the former summer residence of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. 

It exhibits masterpieces by renowned artists such as Canova, Bernini, and Caravaggio.

Featured Image: