Galleria Borghese Rome: 10 masterpieces that you absolutely must see

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Are you planning to visit Galleria Borghese in Rome and discover its beautiful masterpieces? Would you like to know if it is really worthwhile to enter this museum of the Italian capital and get a preview of the most beautiful artworks?

You are in the right place … but let’s go with the order.

If you are just looking for information to buy Galleria Borghese tickets and you want to know the museum’s timetable, then you can go directly to this section. Otherwise, I advise you to read the whole post because you will discover some curiosities that not everyone knows.

Do you know, for example, to whom did Bernini expire for the famous expression of his David?

You will discover this and many other curiosities of Galleria Borghese right below!

The Borghese Museum is not only one of the most beautiful museums in Rome but it is also one of the most interesting and prestigious in the world. The artworks of Galleria Borghese are among the most beautiful in Italian Baroque: inside the museum, you will find some of Bernini’s most beautiful masterpieces, but also paintings by Raphael and numerous works by Caravaggio.

Unfortunately, it will not be easy to visit the museum!

If you want to book Galleria Borghese you need to know that you will have to buy the tickets in advance and that you will have only two hours available. The entrances to the collection are in fact contingent but don’t worry, time is more than enough to discover all its treasures. I advise you to book online because taking the ticket directly into the gallery is almost impossible.

Would you like to know more?

In this post, you will discover everything you should know about Galleria Borghese in Rome and the 10 artworks that you just can’t miss, how to reach Galleria Borghese and how to organize yourself to visit this beautiful Roman museum!

Are you ready?

Let’s go!

Here you can see and buy tours for Galleria Borghese

Galleria Borghese Masterpieces

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Galleria Borghese in Rome not only keeps an art collection of extraordinary beauty, but the building itself is a real attraction for all art lovers. When you will enter inside, I assure you that you will remain upturned to admire the ceilings, the decoration of the walls, the doors and the marble of the floors.

But what is kept inside?

Among the things to see in the Galleria Borghese, you will discover unique and extremely precious five and seventeenth-century masterpieces.

In the Gallery are preserved 4 sculptures made by Bernini (the most famous among others), 6 paintings by Caravaggio, 2 paintings by Raphael and 2 by Titian, as well as many other works that are no less valuable.

Domenichino, Dosso Dossi, Veronese, Correggio, Algardi … are just some of the artists you’ll find in the halls of Galleria Borghese in Rome!

But that’s enough with the preambles and let’s see together the 10 artworks of Galleria Borghese that you absolutely can’t miss starting with the magnificent salon.

ratto di proserpina galleria borghese

1 – The salon of Mariano Rossi

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As soon as you enter in Galleria Borghese, you will notice the immense beauty of this museum and the refinement of the decorations.

The decoration of the great entrance hall of Galleria Borghese is the most impressive. On the ceiling is represented the “Glory of Rome” by the painter Mariano Rossi. He is not very well known today, but in the past, he was quite famous and requested. This work was commissioned in 1774 by Marcantonio IV Borghese and is truly impressive.

What is it represented?

At the center of the vault, you will recognize Romulus, founder of Rome, who is taken to heaven by Jupiter, king of the gods.

On the one hand, you will see Furio Camillo defeating the Gauls in battle, on the other the Rome allegory with Romulus and Remus children and the She-wolf, finally the Capitol geese. There is also a representation of the Tiber in the form of deities with a long oar and various other personifications of city virtues such as prosperity, abundance and so on.

The naked figure to the left of the entrance of Galleria Borghese will leave you some perplexity.

It is a woman who holds the sun in her hand. She is the representation of the Truth that is revealed by Time and defeats slander and envy. Once, in this room of the Galleria Borghese, there was also the homonymous statue by Bernini to act as a pendant.

What else to say… this ceiling is magnificent and will keep you not a little with upturned eyes!

One last curiosity about the Salone Mariano Rossi at the Galleria Borghese!

The hall was renovated several times over the centuries.

In the 18th century, for example, the busts of the “Twelve Cesars” by Giovan Battista della Porta were added to the niches at the top of the walls. In the 800s instead, two other sculptures were brought here: a Bacchus of the II century and the colossal Satiro that inspired Bernini for his David.

What about the floor?

If you can look away from the beautiful ceiling, you will see that even the floor is wonderful. It is, in fact, a Mosaic found in an ancient Roman villa of the fourth century and moved to Galleria Borghese in the nineteenth century. It represents the gladiatorial games and the names of the brave fighters are also remembered.

I think it amazing.

Salone mariano rossi

2 – The statue of Paolina Borghese by Canova

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Visiting the Borghese Museum without knowing one of its protagonists would be a real shame, isn’t it ?!

In the room number 1 is, in fact, the symbol of Galleria Borghese. It is nothing less than Paolina Borghese, sister of Napoleon Bonaparte and wife of Camillo Borghese.

Because she is so important?

Paolina Borghese was a key figure in the history of the Museum and its collection. In fact, Napoleon forced his brother-in-law to sell to France 344 of the most important works of the family’s archaeological collection. Even today in the Louvre there are indeed many Roman statues that originally belonged to the Borghese family, such as the Borghese hermaphrodite or the Borghese Satyr!

The statue of Paolina Borghese is a work by Canova, and it was commissioned precisely to “integrate”  the collection after the massive dispossession.

But this statue of Galleria Borghese is also very important for another reason!

Paolina caused a scandal at the time because she was represented half-naked, in the guise of the winning goddess Venus. In her hand, in fact, she holds the golden apple that Paride had assigned to the most beautiful goddess, the goddess of love.

The work perfectly embodies Canova’s neoclassical ideal of harmony and composure: the mattress looks real, the woman’s skin seems alive for how white and smooth it is!

You almost would like to touch the mattress to see if it is really made of marble.

3 – David by Bernini at the Galleria Borghese

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The David of Galleria Borghese is an early artwork by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, executed it in 1623, at the age of only about 25 years old. It is the only statue with a biblical subject purchased by Cardinal Scipione, who immediately discovered the talent of the young sculptor.

The David that defeats the giant Goliath had already been portrayed by Donatello and Michelangelo, the two greatest sculptors of the Renaissance. It is no coincidence that Bernini chose this theme to demonstrate his ability, confronting himself with the two great men of the past.

What’s special about this sculpture?

Bernini’s David at the Galleria Borghese is profoundly different from the previous artworks: David is in fact portrayed in full action and not as an action completed as in the others. In fact, David has usually depicted already a winner, with Goliath’s head in his hands.

Here, instead, the torsion of the body, the tense muscles, the concentrated face, transmit all the tension of the enterprise that is about to take place. It is said that Bernini was inspired by his expression while sculpting, looking at himself in a mirror.

Here are some interesting facts!

It is interesting to note that the back of Bernini’s David in Galleria Borghese has not been refined. The statue had to be placed against a wall and not looked at all round.

If you notice, you will see that the heel of the David is in plaster and not in marble! Perhaps Bernini, being still very young, had made a mistake in taking measurements.

We will probably never know, but this small mistake by Bernini makes this artwork by Galleria Borghese even more interesting.

What do you think about it?

particolare david di bernini a galleria borghese

4 – Enea, Anchise end Ascanio

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This is the first statue that Bernini made for the cardinal when he was about twenty years old.

Among the groups present in the Borghese Museum it is the least famous because it is static and generally devoid of pathos compared to the other masterpieces. However this sculptural group is certainly no less important than the others, now I’ll explain why.

Do you remember the story of Enea?

This statue represents the moment when the hero flees from Troy, while the city is conquered by the Greeks thanks to the horse trick. The subjects represented are therefore Aeneas who carries his father Anchises on his shoulders and the little son Ascanio who follows them.

This work is interesting for two reasons.

The first is that it was a tribute to the Borghese family, who pretended to descend from Enea himself. The second is that it not only represents the scene of the flight from Troy but also hides some deeper symbolism.

In fact, in this work of the Galleria Borghese you can see different meanings including the three ages of man.

The child is obviously Ascanius, who holds in his hands the flame symbol of vitality and light of the future. Aeneas is the adult, who holds on his shoulders the weight of family and responsibility and possesses the physical and moral strength to guide future generations. The elder is rightly represented by Anchises, historical memory of the family that holds in its hands the statues of the ancestors.

The nice thing about Galleria Borghese is that you will be able to observe Bernini’s artworks at 360 degrees and, in this case, the power of the three figures is particularly evident when viewed from behind.

The backs of the three characters, the way in which the wrinkled skin of the old man is sculpted, the smooth skin of the hero and the plump skin of the child perfectly render the idea of the difference between the three.

Personally, it is one of the most exciting statues of this gallery.

galleria borghese Enea, Ascanio e Anchise

5 – Apollo and Dafne by Bernini

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I advise you to visit Galleria Borghese even just to look at this masterpiece.

Do you remember the myth of Apollo and Daphne?

This group represents the moment when the god Apollo reaches the nymph Daphne who, not returning his love, prays to be transformed into a tree rather than satisfying the desires of God.

Bernini’s expressive power in this work is unparalleled.

As in the David the hero is depicted in the act of accomplishing his task, even here the young Apollo is photographed at the exact moment when he reaches his beloved Daphne who is turning into a laurel. Everything happens before the astonished eyes of the God: the feet become roots, the hands become leaves, the hair branches, and the body a rough trunk.

The way Bernini represents the action is incredible. When you visit Galleria Borghese, pay attention to the details, to the fineness of the leaves, the raised foot of Apollo and his sandal, the half-open mouth of the nymph that seems to be screaming.

Daphne’s transformation is made perfectly by Bernini. The nymph seems to become a laurel right before our eyes and it is precisely the laurel that the god will forever gird his head in memory of his beloved.

apollo e dafne bernini

6 – Rape of Proserpina at the Borghese Gallery

Created between 1621 and 1622 (at 23/24 years) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, this artwork of Galleria Borghese is at the center of the emperor’s salon.

The protagonist, in this case, is Pluto, god of the underworld, while he kidnaps Proserpina. The young woman struggles in the arms of God and cries helplessly while the other grins happily at her prey.

The tragedy of the scene is emphasized by the monstrous dog Cerberus barking and growling with his three heads, to whoever approaches to take the girl from her master. The whole scene is rendered in a perfect way, every detail is carved with extreme care and skill.

Here are some things to note!

When you look at this beautiful artwork by Galleria Borghese, notice the details. On Proserpina’s cheek, you will see a tear running down her face while on the back of the god Pluto there is a mole.

But the most impressive thing about this sculpture is Pluto’s hands sinking into the thighs of Proserpina. His grip is so realistic that marble seems to be made of real meat.

ratto di proserpina bernini

7 – The artworks of Caravaggio at the Galleria Borghese

If I have bored you with all these artworks by Bernini, you should know that the largest collection of Caravaggio’s canvases in the world is also kept at the Galleria Borghese.

In the room 8, in fact, there are six paintings by Caravaggio: the “Madonna dei Palafrenieri”, “Davide with the head of Goliath”, “Young with a fruit basket”, the so-called “Bacchino malato”, “San Gerolamo and San Giovannino”.

What is the most beautiful?

Choosing just one is not easy at all, but what perhaps struck me most was the beautiful “Madonna dei Palafrenieri”.

Why is it special?

As always with the Caravaggio2s artworks, this painting too has aroused sharp criticism. It was removed from its original location, inside the church of Sant’Anna dei Palafrenieri, to be finally bought by the Cardinal Borghese.

What’s so “inconvenient”?

Nowadays we might not even think about it anymore, but for the time you should admit that the neckline of the Virgin should not be an element to be highlighted. As well as the nudity of a divine child.

The theme represents the Virgin crushing the serpent of sin, helped by the foot of the Son, erasing original sin. The third figure is instead Sant’Anna, which represents Grace.

As always the light and dark of Caravaggio’s canvas are surprising, I am sure this masterpiece will leave you speechless.

galleria borghese madonna dei palafrenieri

8 – Raphael’s masterpieces

The Borghese collection was the one that had more Raphael than the Medici family, in an age when owning a Raphael canvas was a sign of great wealth and distinction. Only two paintings have survived sales and robberies: the transport of the dead Christ and the “Lady with unicorn”.

Do you want to know their story?

The first artwork has an interesting story. Cardinal Scipione was so in love with this masterpiece that, failing to buy it, he decided directly to steal it from the Perugian monastery in which it was kept.

Being the Pope’s nephew, Scipione committed various nefarious actions to appropriate masterpieces and enrich his personal collection, sure to always remain unpunished.

The “Lady with unicorn” of Galleria Borghese, on the other hand, had a different story as her true identity was for centuries counterfeited under the guise of Saint Catherine. In fact, a cloak and a wheel, the symbol of the saint’s martyrdom, had been added to the painting.

Only the restoration at the beginning of the century revealed the primitive form of the canvas revealing the original subject.

Did you ever think that art history could be so compelling?

dipinti di Raffaello galleria borghese

9 – Correggio’s Danae at the Galleria Borghese

This artwork by Correggio is particularly important because it represents a theme that had not yet been addressed in the history of art.

Do you remember the story of Danae?

I’ll tell you briefly!

The legend told that Danae was locked up in a tower by his father’s, the king, because a prophecy revealed that he probably could die cause of his nephew.

Unfortunately for him, Jupiter, in love with the young woman, made her pregnant in the form of golden rain.

The child born from this union is the famous Perseus, the hero who defeated Medusa thanks to the reflection of his shield and who will save Andromeda. Finally, he will also make the prophecy, killing his grandfather by mistake.

How did this artwork come to Galleria Borghese?

The canvas was purchased by Camillo, husband of Pauline Bonaparte. It dates back to 1532 and it was part, together with three other paintings, of a series of “Amori di Giove”, paintings for the Duke of Mantua Federico II Gonzaga.

The theme had never been represented and Correggio’s interpretation is therefore very innovative.

As you can see, the scene is particularly intimate and enhanced by the presence of the two cupids that are testing the purity of gold.

visitare galleria borghese

10 – The two paintings by Titian at the Galleria Borghese

There are two artworks by Titian preserved in the Galleria Borghese.

The most famous is certainly “The sacred love and profane love” dating back to around 1515. Here are represented two women sitting on a fountain, a naked and a dressed, representing respectively the sacred love (naked because pure and without stain) and profane love (dressed in a wedding dress).

The meaning of this artwork can only be understood when it is contextualized: it was a wedding gift that accompanied many other gifts.

The other painting, from around 1565, represents “Venus bandaging Cupid” and in this CAnva you can appreciate all the art of mature Titian.

Very interesting to see the evolution of the great master between a youthful work and an older one.

tiziano: amor sacro e amor profano

Visit the Borghese Gallery and the Bernini exhibition

From 1 November 2017 to 4 February 2018 Galleria Borghese hosted a beautiful exhibition on Bernini.

The exhibition included around 60 works from other museums and collections from around the world, retracing the artist’s education and the various phases of his career.

If you have not had the opportunity to visit this exhibition it is really a great pity. If you love Bernini it was the perfect opportunity to find his most beautiful artworks in one place.

I hope it will be organized again in the future.

galleria borghese david di bernini

Borghese Gallery tickets and timetables

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First of all, to visit the Galleria Borghese, remember that reservations are mandatory. In fact, the museum is not freely accessible as the Vatican Museums or the Capitoline Museums, because the spaces are very narrow and entry is allowed only to a small number of people every day.

There are 5 rounds of two hours every day except Mondays. The opening hours of Galleria Borghese are from 9 to 11, from 11 to 13, from 13 to 15, from 15 to 17 and from 17 to 19.

Only on Thursdays, the museum is open until 9.00 pm

How to book the Borghese gallery?

My advice is to buy the ticket at least a week in advance and arrive half an hour before the start of the tour, or you risk not being able to enter.

The ticket can be purchased directly here, where you will find different options depending on whether you prefer: a guided tour or just the entrance to the gallery.

The only way to visit Galleria Borghese without a reservation ticket is the last minute tickets, available half an hour after the start of each shift. I do not recommend them for two reasons: you will only have an hour and a half to visit the gallery and it is not said that they are available because the number changes from time to time.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that bags, handbags, umbrellas, and backpacks must be left at the wardrobe because the spaces are very small and you risk damaging the works. But don’t worry because the Galleria Borghese wardrobe is free, guarded and very secure.

Is it possible to take photos at the Borghese Gallery?

The answer is “yes” but without the flash.

If you want to eat at the Galleria Borghese, the café is on the lower ground floor or you can have a picnic in the garden of Villa Borghese. In summer it’s really beautiful!

The gallery has three floors: the -1 floor where the ticket office, cafeteria, wardrobe, and bathrooms are located. Floor 0 with sculptures and Caravaggio’s canvas and floor 1 with the art gallery. There are stairs to move from one floor to another.

visitare galleria borghese

Need help?

Are you planning to visit the Galleria Borghese in Rome and do you need any other advice?

If you have any questions about visiting the Borghese gallery, don’t hesitate to contact me, I worked in this museum for a year so I know how it works!

If instead you have already visited the gallery, let me know which is the work that you liked the most here in the comments.

Elisa

Elisa

Ciao, io sono Elisa! Sono una storica dell’arte e travel blogger. Ho uno spirito nomade e adoro viaggiare per scoprire posti nuovi, scrivere e vivere nuove esperienze! Dal 2012 ho creato arttrip.it per condividere le mie esperienze di viaggio con tutti voi. Foto scattate con Panasonic GH5

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