borghese gallery highlights

Borghese Gallery Highlights

Visiting the Borghese Gallery 

The eternal city of Rome is renowned worldwide for its deep roots in art and culture. One of the defining characteristics of the city’s historic art scene is the Borghese Gallery. One of the most-visited sites in Rome, the Borghese Museum is home to masterpieces by some of the finest artists to have ever walked the planet, like Bernini, Caravaggio, Raphael, and Titian among others. While the Borghese Gallery hosts spectacular art exhibits at all times, there are certain pieces that are unlike any other and should not be missed during a visit.

The Borghese Gallery

borghese gallery

Before you rush in to admire all the artwork, step back and take a moment to examine the stunning architecture and design of the Borghese Museum. 

Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the man solely responsible for building the museum’s art collection, thought to build a home fit to host the iconic art. Within the heart of the Villa Borghese Gardens, the Borghese Museum was built. The Baroque and Renaissance influence is clear, as one can see with the royal exteriors and interiors. The elaborate marble flooring and wall panels perfectly complement the intricate frescoes with gold detailing that adorn the ceilings. The artwork is spread across two floors, both accessible by the public.  

What to See at the Borghese Gallery

While there are too many unique paintings and sculptures at the Borghese Gallery to mention, here are a few pieces that are worth additional attention.

sleeping hermaphrodite bernini - what to see at borghese gallery
Sleeping Hermaphrodite, Bernini

While more than 20 versions of the Sleeping Hermaphrodite exist today, the one at the Borghese Gallery is considered to be the finest. The actual date of when this sculpture was created remains unknown. This androgynous sleeping figure of Hermaphrodite on a mattress is meant to represent the child of Hermes and Aphrodite. The legend goes that his body was merged with that of Salmacis, to represent a hermaphrodite. Note its defined, feminine curves and the realistic representation of a slept-on mattress. The sculpture is quite intriguing and one might find it difficult to look away without getting a deep understanding of its form.

apollo and daphne bernini - what to see at borghese gallery
Apollo and Daphne, Bernini

Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne is arguably one of the most beautiful sculptures at the Borghese Gallery. It depicts the tragic tale of the God of Archery, Apollo, and the Nymph, Daphne. Hit but cupid’s arrow, Apollo falls in love and chases after Daphne, only to have her transform into a tree just before he catches her. Despite its stationary form, the sculpture marvelously captures movement and fluidity; once can notice Daphne’s gradual transformation from human to tree, where Bernini has left some parts of her as a woman, while others that seem to show the bark of a tree gradually wrapping itself around her.

melissa dosso dossi - what to see at borghese gallery
Melissa, Dosso Dossi

The first thing one notices about Melissa is the vivid, imaginative brushstrokes of oil on canvas. Dosso Dossi, also known as Giovanni de Lutero, is said to have studied Raphael’s artwork; his influence is visible in the elaborate details of the painting. An interesting observation one could make about this piece is the background landscape is just as prominent and fine as the key subject, Melissa. It depicts the good sorceress Melissa who freed a group of knights who had been transformed into trees, animals and stones by the evil fairy Alcina. Holding a torch and tablet in either hand, Melissa looks royal and imposing.

raphael lady and the unicorn - what to see at borghese gallery
Dama Con Liocorna, Raphael

The first thing one notices about Raphael’s Young Woman with a Unicorn painting is the subject’s eyes: a piercing blue with a stoic expression. Art history experts have debated the young woman’s true identity over the centuries, with several theories propping up, but no clear answer. They have also drawn comparisons between this painting and Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa -- the former was painted just a short while after the Mona Lisa. Raphael’s work, drawing inspiration from Da Vinci, portrays the subject in a similar pose, with folded hands, a slight angle and a vivid background. Observe the unicorn, which was considered to be a symbol of women’s purity.

rape of proserpina bernini - what to see at borghese gallery
Ratto Di Proserpina, Bernini

It’s ironic that one of Bernini’s most celebrated works of art, depicts tragedy. At the age of 23, through dramatic fashion and marble, he portrayed the tragic abduction of Proserpina at the hands of the god, Pluto. This sculpture is about 7.5 feet in height and is made from a unique Carerra marble that seems to imbibe the appearance of softness. Influenced by classic Baroque style, Bernini’s sculpture depicts life-like motion of flesh. This can be clearly seen in the delicate details; whether it’s Pluto’s hands sinking into Proserpina’s soft flesh, the anguish on her face, or his tense muscles as he attempts to overpower her.

david with the head of goliath caravaggio - what to see at borghese gallery
David Con La Testa Di Golia, Caravaggio

While the Borghese Gallery is home to a myriad of Caravaggio’s artwork, perhaps his most personal masterpiece deserves maximum attention. While on the run after being charged with murder, Caravaggio painted what experts have dubbed as a self-portrait. Goliath’s severed head is understood to be his own, with David being the executioner. This painting shows the maturity of Raphael as an artist; observe the dark, earthy background, as a bright contrast to the luminous figure of a youthful and determined David. The older, weaker Goliath portrays despair, with the marks of blood and lifeless eyes, seemingly conveying a damned Caravaggio.

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