Borghese Gallery in Rome.

Borghese Gallery in Rome.
12 June 2016 0 Comment

The Borghese Gallery, together with its magnificent collection of paintings and sculptures needs no introduction here and from time to time the Gallery puts on “special exhibitions” which are well worth seeing when you are next in Rome. And behind everything of historical importance in Rome you usually have the fingerprint of the Church and intrigue and the Borghese Gallery is no exception.  Scallywags and villains abound in the Borghese family history as we unravel the “who is the real cultural villain” behind the works on display?

Napoleon entered the annuals of the Borghese family at a defining moment in the ebb and flow of that family’s fortunes.  Napoleon had made an art form of theft, pilfering cartloads of antiquities and great works of art from various cities in Italy and sending them on to Paris. Such art collecting accounts for the many important pieces in the many fine museums in France, including the world renowned Louvre, once called the Musee Napoleon no less! When Napoleon ‘acquired’ some 695 ancient statues from the Borghese family collection in 1807, outraged contemporaries called the ‘acquiring’ “an indelible shame!” It was, but Napoleons sticky fingers had raped Venice mercilessly earlier, making the Rome acquirements almost modest by comparison! His rape of Venice included appropriating 20,000 works of art all shipped off to France and such vast amounts of Venetian gold and silver that it took his troops some fifteen days to plunder it all.

Camillo Borghese was a descendant of the impeccable scoundrel Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who built the collection in the first place and the magnificent building to house them in (and who was very conveniently the nephew of Pope Paul V!), who was sadly married to a rather domineering, more than capable woman, Paulina. Her true love, I suspect and the man she was totally dedicated to, was her brother Napoleon! To convince Camillo to let go of a few pieces of the Borghese collection (only numbering 695!) to his powerful brother-in-law would have been a walk in the park for Paulina and the rest they say is history.

For the first time in time in nearly two hundred years, sixty five art works will return to the Borghese Gallery in Rome, making up the center pieces of “The Borghese Family in Antiquity” exhibition. Using 18th and 19th century drawings and texts as references the curators will display the statues in their original locations within the Borghese Gallery, before their removal to Paris. On display is the magnificent ‘Centaur Ridden by Love’ (as seen in the photograph here), a white marble Roman copy of the famous black Furietti Centaurs on show in the Capital Hill Museums. The white Centaur found its way into the Borghese collection in the 17th century and this is the first time in 200 years it has left the Louvre!

History is filled with men whose abuse of their powerful positions was often the basis of some great collection or another, a castle or great estate. In the case of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, getting his grubby and rather chubby hands on one of Raphael’s most famous paintings to add to his impressive collection became an obsession. The painting that you see in the Borghese Gallery today, titled ‘The Deposition’ by Raphael was an altarpiece commissioned by Atalanta Baglioni of Perugia in honor of her of fallen son, Grifonetto Baglioni. That’s him in the red tunic in the foreground, struggling with the weight of the dead Christ. This beautiful painting was created and hung in the Baglioni family chapel in San Francesco al Prato in Perugia. Raphael took the commission very seriously, over the course of two years working on and developing his design through two phases and numerous preparatory drawings. The resulting altarpiece bewitched Scipione Borghese upon seeing if for the first time and shortly after he hatched a plan for its removal from the church, using several bully boys and the protection of his uncle the Pope!

One power struck person steals, with the assistance of an uncle whilst another power struck person appropriates, with the influence of his equally powerful sister. The ebb and flow of artistic treasures across the centuries pursued and collected by the rich and powerful has given birth too many important museum collections. The Borghese Collection is the most famous and most infamous in Rome.

OPENING HOURS – Last entrance at 5.00 PM – visiting periods are every two hours for a maximum 360 visitors.

Gallery visiting times are: 09.00-11.00 / 11.00-1.00 pm /1.00 pm-3.00 pm / 3.00 pm-5.00 pm / 5.00 pm-7.00 pm

The Borghese Museum is closed on Monday.

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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