Occupying the former Villa Borghese Pinciana, the Galleria Borghese was built between 1609 and 1613 for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who was an early patron of Bernini and an astute collector of work by Caravaggio. Today the gallery is one of Rome’s great art treasures. It’s also one of Rome’s most pleasant sights to tour, thanks to the curators’ mandate that only a limited number of people be allowed in at any one time.
The ground floor is a sculpture gallery par excellence, housing Canova’s famously risqué statue of Paolina Borghese, sister of Napoleon and married to the reigning Prince Camillo Borghese (when asked if she was uncomfortable posing nude, she reportedly replied “No, the studio was heated.”). The genius of Bernini permeates the rooms, with his “David” (the face of which is thought to be a self-portrait), and his “Apollo and Daphne” ★★, seminal works of baroque sculpture. Next to this room, look out also for Bernini’s Mannerist sculpture, “The Rape of Persephone.” Caravaggio is represented by the “Madonna of the Grooms,” his shadowy “St. Jerome,” and his frightening “David Holding the Head of Goliath” ★★.
Upstairs lies a rich collection of paintings, including Raphael’s ultra-graceful “Deposition” and his sinuous “Lady with a Unicorn.” There’s also a series of self-portraits by Bernini, and his lifelike busts of Cardinal Scipione and Pope Paul V. One of Titian’s best, “Sacred and Profane Love” ★, lies in the final rooms. Guided tours of the galleries in English (5€) run 9:10am to 11:10am, but failing that opt for the audioguides, as English labeling in the museum is minimal. No photographs are allowed inside the museum.
Important information: No more than 360 visitors at a time are allowed on the ground floor, and no more than 90 are allowed on the upper floor, during set, 2-hour windows. Reservations are essential, so call [tel] 06-32810 (Mon–Fri 9am–6pm; Sat 9am–1pm). You can also make reservations by visiting www.tosc.it, or by stopping by on your first day in Rome to reserve tickets for a later date. If you are having problems making a reservation in advance, ask your hotel to help out.