The Cardinal’s Collection Still Stuns

Once upon a time there was a noble Italian family to whom we owe one of the most exquisite art galleries in Rome, Galleria Borghese. It is situated in the heart of the Caput Mundi, within the Villa Borghese gardens and gathers the most spectacular collection of European Renaissance art.

The Borghese family, originally from Siena, moved to Rome during the 16th century and quickly became one of the most prominent dynasty thanks, to its ties with the Roman Catholic Church. They had a Pope in their family (Camillo Borghese who became Pope Paul V in 1605) and a Cardinal, Scipione Borghese. The latter was a fond art collector, who assembled most of the masterpieces that can be seen at the Galleria today.

The Galleria structure was commissioned to showcase the Cardinal’s collection, but besides acquiring art, Scipione Borghese was a patron to many artists, such as the young sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini, whom he helped rise to fame. In fact, viewers will be able to admire Bernini’s famous pieces such as Apollo and Daphne and The Rape of Proserpina.

The Galleria is also notorious for its significant collection of Caravaggio paintings, including Boy with a Basket of Fruit, a portrait of the artist himself as Bacchus, St. John the Baptist and David with the Head of Goliath.

However, the most cherished and famous piece at Galleria Borghese, is Antonio Canova’s neoclassical statue of Venus Victrix: commissioned by Prince Camillo Borghese, depicting his wife Paolina Borghese (Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister) as the mythical Venus reclining on a couch.

Princess Borghese is portrayed in a neo-Classical semi-nude pose, holding an apple in her hand, evoking Aphrodite’s victory in the Judgement of Paris. The wooden base once contained a mechanism to rotate the sculpture, so that viewers could observe it from all angles without having to move. Canova’s Victorious Venus, placed in the Room of Paolina, is linked to the paintings on the ceiling dedicated to the Stories of Venus and Aeneas, executed in 1779  by Domenico de Angelis.

Still today, Galleria Borghese and its magnificent art collection convey a mystical allure of timeless hedonism and beatitude.