Borghese Gallery Sculptures 

By Aniket

The Borghese family, prominent in Renaissance and Baroque Rome, amassed a notable collection of ancient Roman marble sculptures.

They are often referred to as the Borghese statues. 

Housed primarily within the Galleria Borghese, a classical mansion located in the Villa Borghese Gardens, these sculptures represent some of the finest examples of classical artistry and craftsmanship. 

Furthermore, the Galleria Borghese showcases an extensive collection of sculptures, including numerous masterpieces by the esteemed Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

1. Apollo and Daphne 

Apollo and Daphne
Image: Wikipedia.org

Bernini created the sculpture of Apollo and Daphne between 1622 and 1625.

It is a famous piece illustrating the moment Daphne transforms into a laurel tree to escape Apollo. 

The story of the sculpture is based on a dramatic scene of “Metamorphoses” where the deity Apollo chases the nymph Daphne.

It is known for its emotional intensity, intricate details, and sense of movement.

In the sculpture, you can see Apollo’s extended hand almost touching Daphne’s thin fingers as she transforms into tree branches.

The sculpture captures their forms in mid-motion with incredible detail, showing Daphne’s terrified smile and extended arms, revealing her strong desire to escape the lustful deity.

Bernini’s skill is evident in the lifelike portrayal of the characters and the natural elements, such as Daphne’s hair transforming into leaves and her skin becoming bark. 

The realism in his sculptures is visible in the marble textures, like Daphne’s hair turning into leaves and her skin into tree bark. 

Apollo and Daphne is not just a masterpiece of art; it also explores deep themes like love, desire, and transformation. 

This ability of Bernini to express complex emotions and stories via his marble sculptures is what makes his work stand out.

Today, the sculpture of Apollo and Daphne remains celebrated for its artistic and narrative depth. 

It’s displayed at the Galleria Borghese in Rome, inviting viewers into a mythic realm where divine and mortal worlds intersect.

2. The Rape of Proserpina

Rape of Proserpina
Image: Wikipedia.org

The Rape of Proserpina is another marble sculpture crafted by Bernini between 1621 and 1622.

In Greek mythology, Persephone or Proserpina was the daughter of the god of the sky and thunder, Jupiter and Ceres, goddess of agriculture (the deities Demeter and Zeus in Greek mythology) and was queen of the Underworld.

Proserpina caught the attention of her father’s brother, the ruler of the dead, who desired Pluto. 

One day, when the young Proserpina was picking flowers, Pluto, the god of the Underworld, kidnapped her in his chariot drawn by four black horses and carried her to the Underworld.

Demeter begged Zeus to release her daughter, to which Pluto agreed.

He told Persephone she could go as long as she didn’t consume food there. 

But when she thought no one was looking, Persephone entered the garden with six pomegranate seeds. 

She was thus forced to spend six months of the year with Hades while she could return to Earth for the other six months to meet her mother. 

The myth holds that the months she remains in the Underworld leave the Earth cold, dark, and wintry, but spring and summer accompany her when she returns.

The sculpture shows the moment Pluto, god of the Underworld, kidnaps her, showcasing Bernini’s exceptional skill in depicting fine details like Proserpina’s slipping clothes and the realistic texture of their flesh, demonstrating her struggle to escape.

Pluto is shown as powerful and determined, grabbing Proserpina with strong arms as she tries desperately to escape, her body twisted in fear and desperation.

The sculpture captures the scene’s physical struggle and emotional intensity. 

Proserpina’s outstretched arms and facial expression convey her fear and desperation. 

At the same time, the detailed textures of their bodies, like the muscles and veins, demonstrate Bernini’s mastery of portraying human forms and emotions.

Bernini’s technique lets you feel the drama from every angle, adding a dynamic quality to the sculpture that makes it seem alive. 

This masterpiece showcases Bernini’s skill and creativity and explores deep themes of desire, power, and the complexity of human emotions.

Note that in Bernini’s time, the word “rape” meant “kidnapping”; therefore, the sculpture represents the kidnapping of Persephone.

3. David

David
Image: Wikipedia.org

David is the only sculpture with a Biblical subject completed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Scipione Borghese. 

It depicts David in the instant before he throws the rock, striking the giant Goliath, whom the Philistines called upon to fight the Israelite army of King Saul. 

The cuirass lent to him by Saul lies on the ground with a cithara, the hero’s traditional attribute.

Here, the instrument terminates in an eagle’s head, indicating the intention to honor the house of the Borghese.

Bernini predicted that David would be placed against a wall of the Seneca Room, today’s Room One. 

This spot allows you to see how the action unfolds, from the body’s twist and the arms gripping the sling tightly to the face focused on the moment’s effort.

The sculpture’s initial placement on a short base also made you feel more part of the dramatic scene.

In the late 18th century, the sculpture was moved to Room 2: the David shows unfinished areas on the back, given that the artist believed they would not be visible. 

This detail is a sign of the extraordinary self-confidence with which the sculptor already approached his works in the early stages of his career.

4. Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius

Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius
Image: Wikipedia.org

The mythical hero Aeneas is shown in this masterwork, leading his son Ascanius and carrying his ailing father Anchises as they escape the burning city of Troy.

You can see Ascanius holding his father’s hand and Anchises resting on Aeneas’s shoulder. 

The sculpture perfectly conveys the moment’s intense emotional content captured in the stones.

It exemplifies Bernini’s mastery of narrative storytelling and sculptural realism, thanks to its dynamic composition and lifelike expression. 

Aeneas, portrayed as having heroic stature and an unbreakable will, stands in the composition’s center.

He leads his family to safety with a muscular physique and assured tone, conveying his position as a committed leader and guardian. 

The elderly and fragile Anchises are depicted as relying heavily on Aeneas for support.

The youngest, Ascanius, clutching his father’s leg with a confused and fearful expression, add depth to the narrative.

Bernini’s skillful use of sculpture gives the characters incredible realism and emotional depth.

He accurately depicts their morphology, from the creases on Anchises’ forehead to the tangled curls in Ascanius’ hair. 

The texture of their clothing and the folds of their drapery suggest rapid movement, enhancing the sense of their desperate attempt to escape death. 

The sculpture captures the complex feelings and connections between the characters: 

Anchises’ sensitivity, Aeneas’ determination, and Ascanius’ youth highlight the common themes of sacrifice, family, and duty.

Bernini’s “Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius” provides:

  • A powerful reflection on the human condition.
  • Analyzing themes of bravery and resilience.
  • The enduring bond between generations.

It brings the victories and tragedies of the ancient world to life in stone, allowing viewers at the Galleria Borghese in Rome to transport themselves to the center of Virgil’s epic tale.

5. The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun

Goat Amalthea
Image: Wikipedia.org

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s ‘The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun’ crafted in 1615 captures a mythological scene from Roman mythology.

It depicts the young god Jupiter being tenderly nursed by the goat Amalthea under the watchful eye of a jovial faun. 

This sculpture vividly portrays a tender moment, with baby Jupiter reaching for Amalthea’s horn, symbolizing nourishment and protection, while the faun adds a playful touch to the scene. 

Positioned at the heart of the composition, the cherubic figure of Jupiter is nestled beside the reclining Amalthea, whose gaze towards the observer and outstretched teat convey a sense of care and sustenance. 

The presence of the lighthearted faun, characterized by his goat-like features, injects humor into the narrative.

Bernini’s meticulous attention to detail brings the scene to life with remarkable precision, capturing the innocence of Jupiter and the texture of Amalthea’s fur with astonishing realism.

This piece evokes a sense of intimacy and affection, highlighting the joy of youth and the protective bonds of familial love. 

It blends classical mythology seamlessly with human emotion, suggesting harmony between gods and mortals.

Through this sculpture Bernini offers a deep exploration of Roman mythology, celebrating enduring themes of love, nurture, and the wondrous power of creation. 

This sculpture not only showcases Bernini’s extraordinary skill but also serves as a tribute to the timeless values that resonate through mythology.

6. Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix

Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix
Image: Wikipedia.org

Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix” is a stunning sculpture by Antonio Canova, who achieved a lifelike creation in marble. 

It depicts Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister, as the goddess Venus, embodying the Neoclassical style’s exquisite beauty and sensual elegance in the sculptural form.

In the sculpture, Pauline is reclining gracefully on a couch, her body enveloped in flowing robes that gently fall around her. 

She radiates classic beauty and sensuality with a serene expression and a slight smile. 

Holding an apple in her hand as a symbol of love and desire, she appears lost in thought or meditation, gazing at the sky.

Canova’s meticulous attention to detail is evident in every aspect of the sculpture, from Pauline’s beautiful facial features to the complex folds of her drapery. 

The marble comes to life under Canova’s skillful hands as Pauline’s delicate body curves, and the subtle interplay of light and shadow creates a realistic presence.

The sculpture is celebrated for its idealized portrayal of feminine grace and beauty, positioning Pauline as the classical elegance and sophistication model. 

It captured timeless ideals of beauty, desire, and love that have fascinated artists and poets throughout history.

While celebrating Pauline’s physical beauty, Canova acknowledges her as a strength, power, and femininity symbol. 

This magnificent work, housed in the Galleria Borghese in Rome, invites viewers into a mythical world where Pauline Bonaparte, the goddess Venus, seems to come alive, serving as a timeless tribute to the enduring allure of beauty and desire.

7. The Sleeping Hermaphrodite of the 2nd Century

leeping Hermaphrodite of the 2nd Century
Image: Borghese.gallery

One of the most well-known historic marble sculptures, Sleeping Hermaphrodite, dates to the second century AD. 

It displays a sleeping youngster in a reclined position feminine characteristics. 

Its unique combination of male and female features highlights the mythological figure’s dual nature. 

The sculpture depicts the moment when Hermaphroditus, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite in Greek mythology, fuses with the nymph Salmacis to form their merged forms.

The Sleeping Hermaphroditus, an ancient marble sculpture, is located in The Louvre in Paris

The original Sleeping Hermaphroditus was discovered in the early 17th century at Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.

It was found near the Baths of Diocletian and within the bounds of the ancient Gardens of Sallust. 

Cardinal Scipione Borghese immediately claimed it, and it became part of the Borghese Collection. 

Later, it was sold to the occupying French and found its way to The Louvre, where it is now on display.

Additionally, a second-century copy of the Sleeping Hermaphroditus, found in 1781, has taken the original’s place at the Galleria Borghese in Rome

8. Bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese

Bust of Cardinal Scipione
Image: Wikipedia.org

Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini crafted an incredible marble sculpture called the Bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese early in the 17th century.

It portrays the assertive cardinal in a regal and dignified way, reflecting his position as one of the most influential people in Rome. 

Every element beautifully represents Scipione’s flowing robes, and the minute detailing of his facial features demonstrates Bernini’s mastery of sculpture. 

The cardinal’s expression captures the core of his intimidating personality: strength, intelligence, and resolve.

This work of art, kept in Rome’s Galleria Borghese, is a permanent memorial to the cardinal’s legacy and the artist who captured it in stone.

9. The Statue of the Adventurer and Eccentric Lord Byron

Statue of the Adventurer and Eccentric Lord Byron
Image: Wikipedia.org

The statue of the poet Lord Byron is a replica of the original work by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844). 

This statue is a replica of the original work by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844). 

The original stands in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Celebrating the adventurous and eccentric Lord Byron, the statue captures his mysterious charm and distinguished presence. 

It illustrates the spirit of resistance, passion, and adventure that marked Byron’s life and works. 

He portrays him as a romantic hero, often depicted in a noble pose with a contemplative expression and windswept hair.

The statue visually marks Byron’s continuing legacy, sometimes ornamented with motifs from his famous poems or symbols of his literary achievements.

10. La Verita, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

La Verita, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Image: Wikipedia.org

This stunning marble sculpture, “La Verità,” or “The Truth,” was created in the seventeenth century. 

The sculpture represents the idea of truth as a force that transcends the limitations of this world by being depicted by the figure emerging from a block of stone.

Bernini’s exceptional skill in sculptural technique is evident in the lifelike features and dynamic flow of the figure’s robes.

It captures a sense of vitality and strength. “La Verità” portrays the moment of revelation, symbolizing truth emerging into the light of wisdom and enlightenment, dispelling ignorance and dishonesty.

As a powerful symbol of the pursuit of truth and the triumph of knowledge over ignorance, “La Verità” invites you to contemplate the timeless significance of truthfulness, morality, and precision in individual and communal settings.

“La Verità” is a perpetual reminder of truth’s enduring capacity to inspire, uplift, and transform, captivating audiences with its beauty, intricacy, and enduring relevance.

Where can I find  Bernini sculptures in Rome?

You will find Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculptures in various locations throughout Rome.

It reflects his significant contribution to the city’s artistic heritage. 

Some of the key places where you can admire Bernini’s work include:

  1. Galleria Borghese: This gallery houses a substantial collection of Bernini sculptures, including masterpieces such as “Apollo and Daphne,” “David,” and “The Rape of Proserpina.”
  1. St. Peter’s Basilica: Bernini’s influence is seen all over St. Peter’s Basilica, from the majestic “Baldacchino” over the altar to the “Chair of Saint Peter” in the apse and the tomb of Pope Urban VIII.
  1. Piazza Navona: This iconic Roman square features Bernini’s “Fountain of the Four Rivers” (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi), a baroque masterpiece that symbolizes the Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Rio de la Plata rivers.
  1. Santa Maria della Vittoria: The Cornaro Chapel inside this church is home to Bernini’s “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa,” a vivid portrayal of Saint Teresa of Avila’s spiritual vision.
  1. Ponte Sant’Angelo: Bernini and his students designed the angel statues that line the bridge leading to Castel Sant’Angelo, each carrying instruments of Christ’s passion.
  1. Santa Maria del Popolo: The Chigi Chapel in this church contains sculptures designed by Bernini, including statues of Daniel and the Lion, and Habakkuk and the Angel.

These locations are among the most prominent places to see Bernini’s work in Rome, but his influence extends to various other churches, palaces, and public spaces throughout the city.

Frequently Asked Questions

What statues are in the Borghese Gallery?

Some of the well-known sculptures at Borghese Gallery are Ascanius, La Verita, Aeneas, Anchises, Ratto di Proserpina, and David by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Pauline Bonaparte by Antonio Canova, and Marcus Curtius Throwing Himself into the Chasm by Pietro Bernini.

Who is the sculpture woman turning into a tree?

Bernini’s skills are stunning; as you walk around the sculpture, Daphne’s metamorphosis into a tree unfolds; from one side, you’ll see a beautiful young woman being chased by her relentless adolescent pursuer.

How can I visit the Galleria Borghese to see the Bernini sculptures?

Book your Borghese Gallery tickets online in advance as the museum follows strict visitor limits to protect the artwork.

The museum allows entry to a set number of visitors in 2-hour time slots, after which visitors are required to leave to make room for the next group. 

Is photography allowed of the Bernini sculptures in the Galleria Borghese?

Photography without flash is generally allowed inside the Galleria Borghese for personal use, but restrictions may apply to specific artworks or temporary exhibits. 

Always check the museum’s photography policy during your visit.

Are there guided tours available to learn more about the Borghese Gallery and Bernini sculptures?

The Galleria Borghese offers guided tours that provide in-depth insights into its collection, including the works of Bernini. 

These tours are available in multiple languages and can be booked through the gallery’s website.

Featured Image : Stock photos by Vecteezy