Galleria Borghese ★★

Rome's Borghese Gallery is packed with amazing works by Bernini, Caravaggio, and Raphael, and ranks as one of my top three small museums in the world

Rape of Porsepina by Ginalorenzo Bernini in the Borghese Gallery, Rome
Rape of Persephone by Gianlorenzo Bernini in the Borghese Gallery, Rome
Fully reopened in the late 1990s after a 14-year restoration, the Galleria Borghese is my favorite small museum in the world (well, it's a close tie between this, the Rodin Museum in Paris, and the Frick in New York).

I suppose you could spend just 45 to 90 minutes walking around this frescoed 1613 villa admiring classical statues and mosaics, Renaissance paintings, and some of the finest marble sculptures of the baroque era. I'd bring a sketchbook and spend half the day.

Most of the collection was once a private one, acquired by the villa's original owner, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, whose taste in art ranks up there with the early Medici (he was patron to a young Bernini, and bought Caravaggio’s works when no one else wanted them).

Book ahead!
The Galleria Borghese's new ticket reservation policy is annoying, but in summer the museum can be sold out for days, so try to book at least a day beforehand (earlier if possible) to ensure you get the entry time you want: tel. +39-06-32-810, www.ticketeria.it

Neoclassical master Canova's sculpted portrait of Napoleon's sister Pauline Bonaparte as Venus (1805) reclining on a couch was quite the scandal in its time. When asked whether she wasn't uncomfortable posing half-naked like that, Pauline reportedly responded, "Oh, no—the studio was quite warm."

The Berninis

Four rooms are each devoted to an early masterpiece by the baroque's greatest genius, Gianlorenzo Bernini. On the ground floor are his Aeneas and Anchises (1613), chipped out at the age of 15 with the help of his pop Pietro, and the Rape of Persephone (1621; pictured above), in which Hades throws back his head in laughter as his strong hand presses into the fleshy thigh of the young goddess struggling to break free.

Apollo and Daphne by Gianlorenzo Bernini (1624) in the Borghese Galleries of Rome
Apollo and Daphne by Bernini.
Also here is Bernini's Apollo and Daphne (1624), in which the 26-year-old sculptor captures the moment the nymph's toes take root and her fingers and hair sprout leaves as her river god father sympathetically transforms her into a laurel tree to help her escape from a Cupid-struck Apollo hot on her heels.

The lovelorn Apollo thereupon decreed that the laurel would become the tree closest to his heart, and thus were victors at games and at war ever after crowned with a wreath of its leaves.

Bernini's vibrant David (1623–24) is a resounding baroque answer to Michelangelo's Renaissance take on the same subject in Florence. The Renaissance David was pensive, all about proportion and philosophy.

This baroque David is a man of action, twisting his body as he is about to let fly the stone from his sling. Bernini modeled the furrowed brow and bitten lip of David's face on his own mug.

The Caravaggios

Young Bacchus, Ill (1653) by Caravaggio in the Galleria Borghese of Rome
Young Bacchus, Ill by a young Caravaggio.
Also on the ground floor is a room with (count 'em) five Caravaggio paintings, including the powerful Madonna of the Serpent, a.k.a. Madonna dei Palafrenieri (1605).

The Young Bacchus, Ill (1653; pictured to the left) is the earliest surviving Caravaggio, said to be a self-portrait from when the painter had malaria.

The creepy David with the Head of Goliath (1610), in which Goliath's disembodied head may hold another self-portrait of the artist.

The second floor (more paintings)

The second floor contains the rest of the painting collection, starring good works by Andrea del Sarto, Titian, Dürer, Rubens, Antonella da Messina, Pinturicchio, and Correggio. The keynote work up here is a large, masterful 1507 Deposition by the young Raphael.

Tips & links

Details
ADDRESS

Piazzale del Museo Borghese 5 (in the northeast corner of Villa Borghese park, off Via Pinciana)
For general info: tel. +39-06-841-6542
www.galleriaborghese.it
Open Tues-Sun 8:30am–7:30pm (last entry: 5pm)

OPEN

Tues-Sun 8:30am–7:30pm (last entry: 5pm)
Two-hour visits, by appointment only

ADMISSION

From €13 (free first Sun of month)
For REQUIRED ticket reservations:
tel
. +39-06-32-810, www.ticketeria.it
Viator.com or Select Italy
Roma Pass: Yes (free, or save 32%)

TRANSPORT

Bus: 5, 19, 52, 53, 63, 86, 88, 92, 95, 116, 204, 217, 231, 360, 490, 491, 495, 630, 910, 926
Metro: Spagna (A)
Hop-on/hop-off: Piazza di Spagna

TOURS
How long does Galleria Borghese take?

Planning your day: I suppose you could spend just 45 to 90 minutes walking around. I'd bring a sketchbook and try to spend half the day—although, technically, with the timed entry system (see below) you're supposed to be out in two hours. Did I mention I detest the new timed entry system?

There are a maximum 360 visitors allowing in at a time, and there are only five time slots for entry throughout the day, at 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm, and 5pm.

» Rome itineraries

Book ahead! Book ahead!

Definitely reserve tickets in advance for the Galleria Borghese, since entries are timed and tickets are extremely limited.

In summer, they can sell out days—sometimes weeks—in advance. I am not kidding.

To book Borghese Gallery tickets, you can call tel. +39-06-32-810, go to www.ticketeria.it, or use the booking service of our partners at Viator.com or Select Italy.

Get there early

You must purchase (or retrieve) your reserved tickets at least 30 minutes before entering.

Yes, even if you reserve ahead (see above) you must still show up half an hour early to get the tickets.

Then you just sit around the gravely yard in front of the museum, wasting time.

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Galleria Borghese
★★
ADDRESS

Piazzale del Museo Borghese 5 (in the northeast corner of Villa Borghese park, off Via Pinciana)
For general info: tel. +39-06-841-6542
www.galleriaborghese.it
Open Tues-Sun 8:30am–7:30pm (last entry: 5pm)

OPEN

Tues-Sun 8:30am–7:30pm (last entry: 5pm)
Two-hour visits, by appointment only

ADMISSION

From €13 (free first Sun of month)
For REQUIRED ticket reservations:
tel
. +39-06-32-810, www.ticketeria.it
Viator.com or Select Italy
Roma Pass: Yes (free, or save 32%)

TRANSPORT

Bus: 5, 19, 52, 53, 63, 86, 88, 92, 95, 116, 204, 217, 231, 360, 490, 491, 495, 630, 910, 926
Metro: Spagna (A)
Hop-on/hop-off: Piazza di Spagna

TOURS


 
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