Located on Pincio Hill, the Borghese Gallery or Galleria Borghese is one of the top museums in Rome. Housed in the beautifully frescoed, 17th-century Villa Borghese estate, the gallery’s 20 rooms exhibit priceless marble sculptures and an impressive collection of artwork by some of the most influential painters of the 16th century and on. A point of clarification: Villa Borghese is the name of the vast public park in which various Borghese palaces sit. The actual Villa Borghese palace is now known as the Galleria Borghese or Borghese Gallery.
Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Pope Paul V, commissioned the construction of the Villa Borghese and its gardens in 1613. He used the mansion for entertaining as well as a place to showcase his growing art and antiquities collection. Important acquisitions include those by Baroque sculptor Bernini and painters Caravaggio, Raphael, and Titan.
In 1808, the Cardinal’s heir Camillo Borghese (married to Paolina Bonaparte) was forced to give the bulk of the classical sculptures to his brother-in-law, Napoleon. These can now be found in the antiquities wing of the Louvre.
Bernini Masterworks in the Collection
Galleria Borghese’s impressive sculpture collection is located on the ground floor and includes what are considered some of Bernini’s finest works. The first three works listed below were completed when Bernini was still in his early 20s.
Apollo and Daphne (1624). This stunning depiction of the nymph Daphne metamorphosing into a laurel tree in order to escape abduction by Apollo demonstrates incredible movement in marble.
The Rape of Proserpina (1621). Equally magnificent, the Rape of Proserpina is an excellent example of Bernini’s genius at making marble appear as supple as skin. In this piece, we see Hades’ fingers pressed into Proserpina’s flesh as she struggles to break free of his grip.
David (1624). Bernini’s interpretation of the biblical character David poses the young hero in his wind-up, about to fling his powerful slingshot at Goliath. It is widely believed that the face of the David is a self-portrait of the sculptor.
Bust of Scipione Borghese (1632). Scipione Borghese was among Bernini’s first patrons. After sculpting the bust of the Cardinal, however, Bernini discovered a defect in the marble. He executed a second, identical bust, which he completed in fifteen days. Both are on display at the museum.
Other Highlights at Galleria Borghese
Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix (1805-1808). This celebrated sculpture by Antonio Canova presents a reclining, semi-nude Paolina Bonaparte gazing unabashedly at the viewer. It was commissioned by her husband, Camillo Borghese, as part of a revival of the Roman tradition of portraying mortals as mythical gods.
Greatness in Oil. The first floor of the gallery is dedicated to paintings. Visitors can view masterpieces by Raphael (Deposition and Lady with a Unicorn), Titian (The Scourging of Christ, and Sacred and Profane Love) and the great Caravaggio (The Boy with a Basket of Fruit, Young Sick Bacchus, and Saint Jerome Writing).
Art lovers should consider booking a private, limited-space visit to the Deposito, or Storage Room, where more than 250 additional paintings are kept.
Ancient Treasures. The main floor holds an impressive collection of antiquities from the 1st through 3rd centuries AD, as well as displays such treasures as a Roman bronze from 150 BC and ancient mosaics from the 4th century.
How to Visit Galleria Borghese
Access to the museum is limited to 360 visitors at any one time, with visits limited to two hours. You must reserve in advance on the Galleria Borghese website. If you plan to visit Rome during a busy season and you want to see the collection, reserve well in advance of your trip to make sure you don’t miss out. For a more immersive experience, consider booking a private guided tour from The Roman Guy, Context Travel or Select Italy.
Roma Pass holders can access the museum at a free or discounted rate, but they still need to reserve an entry time by phoning +39 06 32810.
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 9 AM until 7 PM (last entry 5 PM). Closed Mondays, December 25, and January 1.
Admission: Adults: €15; EU citizens under 18: €8.50. Disabled visitors only pay the €2 booking charge; Children 5 and under are free. (Prices are as of 2018 and include the mandatory €2 reservation fee.) Rates may increase during special exhibitions.
Location: Gallery Borghese, Piazzale Scipione Borghese 5, in the Villa Borghese Gardens.
How to Get There: By Bus: 5, 19, 52, 63, 86, 88, 92, 95, 116, 204, 217, 231, 360,490, 491, 495, 630, 910, 926; By Metro: Line A (red) to Spagna stop.
Villa Borghese Gardens is the city’s nearly 200-acre park dotted with lakes, meadows, villas, temples, as well as a children’s playground, a zoo, an amphitheater, a cinema, and horse riding stables.
The Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna located on the Villa Borghese grounds has a collection of 19th- and 20th-century paintings emphasizing Italian artists.
Muse Nazionale di Villa Giulia, set in another palatial Borghese villa, has Italy’s largest collection of Etruscan antiquities and sheds brilliant light on this mysterious pre-Roman civilization.
Piazza del Popolo, situated below the Pincio Hill, is one of the largest and most important urban squares in Rome.