Borghese Gallery History: Becoming of the Public Art Gem!

Art lovers exploring Rome should take advantage of the grand 17th-century collection of Borghese Gallery, standing in the structure of the Villa Borghese Pinciana.

Cardinal Scipione’s collection of art pieces crafted by Raphael, Caravaggio, Bernini, Titian, and other famous masters is on display at the gallery. 

Visitors planning to explore the art-filled hallways of the gallery must know all about the powerful family that made this art display possible to visit today.

In this article, we’ll discover the detailed timeline of the Borghese Gallery’s history and help you learn more about the construction and building of its art collection! 

Galleria Borghese History Timeline

1600s: The Italian noble and Papal family of the Borghese moved to Rome. 

1605: Camillo Borghese was elected as Pope, and his name was changed to Pope Paul V. Scipione Borghese, his nephew, was responsible for heading the government of the Vatican. Because of this, he gathered a lot of wealth. 

1613: Cardinal Scipione Borghese commissioned the gallery to house his Renaissance, Baroque, and Roman art collections. 

1775: Prince Marcantonio IV changed the formal design of the Borghese Gardens to an English landscape design. 

1808: The two sculptures of Borghese Gladiator and Borghese Hermaphroditus were sold by Prine Camillo Borghese to the Emperor. These are now on display in the Louvre Museum. 

1902: The Italian Government purchased the Villa, making it a public art display today. 

How did Borghese Gallery get its name?

The Gallery got its name from Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who commissioned it.

Most of the art collection in the gallery was from his personal collection, which he began building in the Renaissance period. 

The Renaissance period saw an increase in the value of art, which led Cardinal Scipione to become a passionate collector. 

He commissioned the best Renaissance artists from Italy to paint and sculpt the masterpieces that you can see in the Gallery today.

Historians believe he went to great lengths, including stealing, to gather his artwork! 

The Reign of the Borghese Family

The Borghese Family is an Italian noble family having close connections with the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church. 

They became popular in the 13th century, and the head of the family, Marcantonio, moved to Rome in the 16th century.

On moving, his Son Camillo became the Pope of Rome and was named Pope Paul V. 

As soon as his son became Pope, the Borghese family’s wealth and name became extremely popular in Rome.

Pope Paul V appointed his nephew, Scipione Borghese, as a Cardinal.

They gathered so much wealth because of their high positions, and Cardinal Scipione used most of the papal money he collected for his private art collection.

Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s Art Collection 

The story of the Borghese Gallery history begins in the 17th-century under Cardinal Scipione Borghese!

The Cardinal, along with the Pope, took over the financial and political affairs of the Vatican City. 

The Roman people believed that all the artwork was paid for by money from the Church’s finances.

This money created one of the biggest art collections in Rome. 

He gathered famous artists from all over the world to work on pieces for his gallery.

At present, all the work you see in the gallery is from the Cardinal’s private art collection. 

The Commissions for the Gallery

Cardinal Scipione’s favorite artist at the time was Bernini, but he also wanted to commission Raphael, Caravaggio, and other famous artists. 

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s work became extremely famous after working on Borghese’s art collection between 1618 and 1623.

Most of Bernini’s famous work, including the sculptures of David and Apollo and Daphne sculpture, is on display in the Galleria Borghese.

He also crafted two marble bust sculptures of Cardinal Scipione for the gallery!

Caravaggio’s paintings were a major part of Scipione’s painting collection for the gallery.

Scipione took the paintings of Sick Bacchus and Boy with a Basket of Fruit from painter Cavalier d’Arpino in 1607.

He later added more paintings of David with the Head of Goliath and St. John the Baptist to his collection after Caravaggio died in 1610. 

Some other pieces he purchased for the gallery are:

  • Last Judgment by Fra Angelico
  • Sacred and Profane Love by Titian
  • Diana by Domenichino
  • The Manhattan Marble by Michelangelo

Borghese Gallery Construction 

The Cardinal hired architect Flamino Ponzio to construct the gallery of his dreams to house his massive art collection.

Because he was obsessed with art, most of the family’s wealth was given away to construct this structure.

The Borghese Gallery resembled a beautiful suburban holiday villa-style house.

It has lush gardens on all sides, which is now known as the Villa Borghese. 

The Villa has a Baroque style, with dramatic lighting and grand palace-like ornate additions. 

The main hallways of the Villa have beautiful frescos, and its floors are covered with beautiful marble tiles!

Giovanni Vasanzio, a Dutch architect and garden designer, completed the work Ponzio left behind after he died in 1613. 

He used Carlo Maderno’s help to complete the marvelous villa! 

The Villa Borghese Gardens 

The area that is now the Villa Borghese Garden was a vineyard, which was transformed into a Garden under the command of Cardinal Scipione.

Domenico Savino da Montepulciano planned the stunning garden layout, and G di Gincome and P. Massoni worked on the attractive balustrade railings in 1618.

This fence is not in the garden anymore, as William Waldorf Astor purchased it in 1896 for his own house.

The gardens are decorated with a flowing fountain with shell-shaped basins at the center.

Two stone statues were added to the top of the fountain in 1715 by Claude Augustin Cayot. 

Marcantiano Borghese began rearranging the layout of the Gallery in 1775 with guidance from architect Antonio Aspruci. 

Antonio and his son worked on this project from 1782 for twenty years!

They added the unique Temple of Asclepius at the lake’s center, constructed between 1785 and 1792.

Maracntiano also commissioned an architect, Vincenzo Pacetti, in 1791 to add a Sea Horse Fountain to the garden. 

The Borghese Family’s Financial Problems 

In the 19th century, the Borghese family was stuck in a deep financial crisis, forcing Prince Camillo Borghese to sell most of the Gallery’s art. 

He sold Raphael, Titian, and Caravaggio masterpieces to the French Government.

This left many rooms of the Borghese Gallery empty, and they had to be rearranged to spread out all remaining artworks.

The Gallery’s most renowned artworks, the Borghese Gladiator and Borghese Hermaphrodite were also given away during this period.

You can now see these two masterpieces displayed at the Louvre in Paris! 

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Borghese Gallery Becomes a Public Art Display

The Borghese family could no longer hold the gallery as they could not afford the expenses.

The Roman Government overtook the gallery in 1902, which opened to the public as an attraction in the same year!

Since its opening, the Gallery has been attracting around 400,000 visitors every year and is one of the must-see spots in Rome with its famous artwork. 

The Gallery Today 

At present, the Borghese Gallery is one of the most popular attractions in Rome, and the Villa Borghese Gardens and the Biparco di Roma Animal Center join it.

It houses twenty rooms covering two floors and has over 80 paintings and 100 sculptures with other ancient artifacts. 

The Pauline Room, with the beautiful marble figure of Pauline Borghese, is one of the most famous rooms in the museum. 

You can visit anytime from 9 am to 7 pm, only if you book your slot in advance!

Check out our Borghese Gallery tickets article to know more. 

FAQs on Borghese Gallery History 

How old is the Borghese Gallery? 

The Borghese Gallery is 122 years old. 

Who owns Borghese Gallery?

The Italian Government has owned the Borghese Gallery since 1902. The Borghese Family previously owned it. 

Who painted the ceilings in Villa Borghese?

Domenico Corvi painted the Room of Aurora Room fresco in 1782. Mariano Rossi painted the Apotheosis of Romulus fresco in 1775 in the villa’s entrance hall. 

Who constructed the Borghese Gallery?

The architect Flamino Ponzio constructed the Borghese Gallery as Cardinal Scipione Borghese commissioned him in the 1600s. 

Do I need a ticket to explore Villa Borghese?

You can explore the Villa Borghese Gardens for free without a ticket. You need a time-slot ticket to explore the Borghese Gallery. 

Why was the Gallery constructed? 

The gallery was constructed to display Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s personal art collection. It is now a public art gallery where people can explore Rome. 

What is the history of the Borghese Gallery?

Cardinal Scipione Borghese commissioned the Gallery in the 1600s to display his private collection. He also commissioned Bernini between 1618 and 1623 to commission various sculptures for the gallery. Sciipione commissioned Raphael, Caravaggio, and Titian as well! The Gallery remained with the family until the 19th century when Prince Carmilla sold artwork for money. The Gallery is now in the hands of the Italian Government since 1902.

Featured Image: News.artnet.com

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