Galleria Borghese ★★

The Imperial Room, with Bernini's Rape of Persephone, Galleria Borghese, Rome, Italy (Photo by Damian Entwistle)
The Imperial Room, with Bernini's Rape of Persephone

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

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). 

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.

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

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.

 
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Photo gallery
  • The Imperial Room, with Bernini
  • Facade of the museum, Galleria Borghese, Italy (Photo by Alessio Damato)
  • The gorgeous ceilings, Galleria Borghese, Italy (Photo by Antoine Taveneaux)
  • Sarcophagus with Heracles
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Free or reduced admission with a sightseeing card

Get into Galleria Borghese for free (and skip the line at the ticket booth) with:

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How long does Galleria Borghese take?

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 (plus 7pm on Thursday).

Book ahead! Book ahead!

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

Even in spring they can sell out days—sometimes weeks—in advance. Seriously, I am not kidding. While checking prices for our information up date in April, tickets were sold out until late May.

To book Borghese Gallery tickets, you can call tel. 06-32-810, go to www.tosc.it/tickets.htm, or use the booking service of our partners at Viator.com.

Get there early

If you do not reserve tickets in advance, you must arrive at least 30 minutes before a timed entry (9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm, 5pm—plus on Thurs at 7pm) to see if any last-minute slots are avaiable. (Farily rare.)

Even with timed entry tickets reserved in advance, pick them up at least 15 minutes early. 

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

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).