History of Museum

The history of the Borghese Gallery begins in 1660 with Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V, who was very famous for having commissioned great public works, such as the many fountains which still embellish Rome, and for this reason he was called “Pontefice Massimo” by his contemporaries. Only two months after the election of Pope Paul V, Scipione was appointed cardinal, even though he was only 27. He was put in charge of the Vatican collection of artHe used his power to create an extraordinary private collection, which is currently housed in this gallery.Thanks to his infallible instinct and artistic taste, he was able to create a splendid collection of ancient and modern masterpieces, as if he wished to promote a new Renaissance.Heacquired works of art even through unscrupulous means, as in the case of the 107 paintings confiscated from the painter Giuseppe Cesari, known as Cavalier d’Arpino, as well as Raphael’s painting known as “La deposizione di Cristo”, ” The Deposition”, which was stolen for him from a church in Perugia.The building of this large and magnificent villa was expressly commissioned by Scipione in order to be the home of his incredible collection.In order to achieve his aim, Scipione had several hectares of lands purchased in the surrounding area, known as Pariolo.The villa was designed by the architects Flaminio Ponzio and Giovanni Vasanzio and was not only intended to house works of art, but also as a place for culture, nature and art, in its expressions such as architecture, painting and sculpture.The villa was inspired by the XVIth c. imitation of ancient Roman villas, with their forecourts, 5-arcade porticos and finely decorated terraces.

However, today it is not as rich as it was in the past, when it was literally covered by sculptures, even on its exterior.The villa, a work of art in itself, is arranged on two floors, each of which houses several works: the ground floor was reserved for sculptures and some paintings, while the majority of paintings was housed on the first floor.

A large garden surrounded the villa, containing rare exotic plants, two aviaries with peacocks, ostriches and doves and it was enriched by the lions’ cage. Actually it was a real zoo!

The lower floors housed the so called “conserve della neve”, which was a system of refrigeration used during the summer to keep drinks cool.

The project was completed in 1620.

Originally the access to the portico was possible by a double staircase, which imitated the one Michelangelo designed for the Senatorio Palace on the Capitol Hill.

In the late XVIII century the staircase was rebuilt as it was originally, according to the testimonies passed on in the secret Vatican archives.

In the XVIII Marcantonio Borghese opened the park to the Roman people, for six days, but he reserved the seventh day for riding horseback with his guests.Another Marcantonio from the Borghese family, due to heavy debts accrued, decided to sell the villa in 1902.He ignored the offer of the family Rothschild, who was willing to pay for just Titian’s “Amor sacro e amor profano”,  “Sacred and Profane Love” one of the symbols of the villa, the same amount Marcantonio asked for the entire estate (about 4 million lira of that period).Marcantonio refused the offer and decided to sell the whole property to the Italian State for only 3.600.000 lira in 1901, including 557 paintings and 314 sculptures.

The most important masterpieces are the following.

Bernini’s sculptures:

  • The Rape of Persephone
  • Apollo and Daphne
  • The David
  • Enea and Ancheses

 Caravaggio’s Paintings:

  • The Madonna and St. Anne
  • David with the Head of Goliath
  • Young Sick Bacchus
  • Boy with a Basket of Fruit

Canova

  • Paolina Bonaparte

Raphael

  • The Deposition

Titian

  • Sacred and Profane Love

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