The heart-formed Villa Borghese Gardens is residence to one of the most classical art collections in Italy, the Galleria Borghese and it is faultless for a post-lunch walk among the vibrant green spaces.
The main entrances are in the heart of the city, at the top of Via Veneto, near the Spanish Steps and above Piazza del Popolo, although there are other entrances to enter through attractions themselves.
This is not a place to miss, other than during the night. During the day, it is undoubtedly a refuge for tranquillity, sport and culture.
I urge you to visit the Laghetto, the garden lake where you can rent a rowing boat at a small cost for a romantic row near the Temple Asclepius. Piazza di Siena, surrounded by tall trees and ideal for picnics has been the host of equestrian eventing since 1922, and each May the international horse competition takes place. The water clock at Pincio is a particular and unexpected sight, placed in a small artificial lake surrounded by exotic trees. The observation deck at the Pincio is one of Rome’s most romantic terraces overlooking Piazza del Popolo and for a way to move through this large park at ease, there is a little train available from the main avenues of the park.
Built-in 1580, the Borghese family moved in and started a vineyard, in the time over a century Scipione Borghese transpired the use of the villa into a series of extravagant gardens to house his art collections. In the 19th century, the formerly private Villa Borghese Gardens were bought by the city of Rome which made the gardens the public park it is today.
Scipione Borghese was an Italian Cardinal and a patron of the painter Caravaggio and the artist Bernini, although he was the most amoral art collector the world has ever seen. Scipione had his men literally rip off works from inside a church, sent an artist off to jail in lack of his cooperation in selling him his art as it was due to another. Scipione even allegedly blackmailed Caravaggio and could have played a part in his death before snapping up pieces of work to complete his collection. These pieces are not in the gallery today, Napoleon Bonaparte strong-armed Prince Camillo Borghese in selling him 695 pieces, they were sent to France’s Louvre. Tragedy grew as antiquarians were not present during the removal of works, and sculptures broke into pieces, the sale price agreed upon dropped and less than half of market value was ever paid.
Today the gallery consists of twenty frescoed rooms, where you will find treasures and collections of sculptures, paintings and ornately decorated rooms by Caravaggio, Canova, Bernini and more.
Who are these men?
Caravaggio is famous for his gruesome and violent paintings which influenced Baroque painting, in which artists choose the most dramatic point, the moment when the action was occurring as opposed to Renaissance art which usually showed the moment before an event took place. Yet, it wasn’t only his paintings that were violent, Caravaggio was given the death sentence for murder in Rome and fled to Malta, and Sicily before arriving in Naples where he was involved in a violet accident which left him disfigured and shortly after, he died with speculations of being killed. Caravaggio along with Leonardo da Vinci developed the use of strong contrast between light and dark to achieve a sense of volume called ‘chiaroscuro’ which today is similar to the effects in photography and cinema. His life story like many others is filled with emotion and wonder as transpired in their art.
Antonio Canova was and is beloved by many, known as the supreme minister of beauty, regarded as the most talented of the Neoclassical artists, significantly famous for his marble sculptures of delicate nudes. His importance and impact are barely comprehensible. In the Galleria Borghese you may admire his work with the semi-nude life-size Italian noblewoman Paolina Bonarte posing on a marble mattress, ‘Venus Vitrix’. Antonio Canova secured his preeminent reputation from early on, throughout his life, he even managed to return to Rome with some of the art Napoleon looted.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini was one of Italy’s many brilliant artists, not only was he one of the architects who constructed the Saint Peter’s Basilica and its marvelous square, the presidential palace ‘Quirinale’ and many more, he was the leading sculptor of his time. Bernini was employed by the succession of six popes, a role previously held by Michelangelo, regarded as significant as the creative continuity of a single artist over such a long period of time remains unique. Gian Lorenzo Bernini created the masterpieces, The Rape of Proserpine, Apollo and Daphne, which are in display at the Galleria Borghese. With a fierce personal history, Bernini had a major impact on Rome and is part of the succession of great Italian sculptors such as Donatello, Michelangelo, and Canova.