The Borghese Gallery houses one of Rome’s greatest art collections – it boasts paintings and sculptures by major Italian artists, such as Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, Bernini and Canova, among others.
How to buy Borghese Gallery tickets
Reservations are required in order to visit this outstanding museum, which is in itself a noteworthy example of a beautifully decorated and frescoed suburban villa. Borghese Gallery tickets can easily be bought in advance on the Select Italy website, and it is a good idea to do so, as entry is allowed at two-hour intervals: with your reserved entry time, you can avoid wasting precious time in line at the museum.
As the collection is vast, another great option is for you to get the Borghese Gallery tickets that include a guided tour of the museum, highlighting the collection’s masterpieces, as well as a guided stroll through the Borghese Park, which surrounds the villa, all the way to the Pincio Terrace for a splendid panoramic view of Rome. This three-hour tour ends in Piazza del Popolo, whose centerpiece is a tall and ancient Egyptian obelisk.
Before you embark on your tour, be it alone or with a guide, read on to find out why the Borghese Gallery has come to be known as the ‘queen of all private art collections’ – and why, therefore, you should get your hands on those Borghese Gallery tickets sooner rather than later!
The Borghese Gallery collection
The museum’s collection was begun by Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1579–1633), a member of the powerful Borghese family and the nephew of Pope Paul V. At first, it was housed in the cardinal’s residence near St. Peter’s, but, in the 1620s, it was transferred to Scipione’s new villa, which was to be used as a villa suburbana, a party villa just outside Porta Pinciana.
The collection is housed in the villa’s central building, the Casino Borghese. It is spread over 20 rooms on two floors: the ground-floor gallery, which features sculptures, Roman floor mosaics and frescoes, and the upstairs picture gallery.
As you step inside the museum, you are immediately thrown into the splendor of the art: the entrance hall is decorated with 4th-century floor mosaics of fighting gladiators and a 2nd-century Fighting Satyr (Satiro Combattente), while on the wall is a Roman-era bas-relief of a horse, to which Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s father, Pietro, added a rider falling into the void to create the sculpture of Marco Curzio a Cavallo.
Sala I, known as Sala della Paolina, houses one of the most famous sculptures of the Borghese collection: the neo-classical life-size portrait of Paolina Borghese Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister, reclining topless as Venus Victrix (1805-1808), a masterpiece by Antonio Canova.
Cardinal Scipione was an early patron of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and perhaps the show-stealers on this floor are precisely the sculptor’s works, and in particular Rape of Proserpine (1621–22, Sala IV), Apollo and Daphne (1622–25, Sala III) and David (1623), considered seminal works of Baroque sculpture. One can’t but marvel at the realistic effects the artist was able to achieve by carving hard marble: the prime example is Pluto’s hand pressing into the seemingly soft flesh of Persephone’s thigh in the Ratto di Proserpina.
The last room on the ground floor, Sala VIII, is popular for the number of paintings by another artistic genius: Caravaggio (Scipione was an avid collector of his works). Famous paintings here include Young Sick Bacchus (1592–95), an early self-portrait Caravaggio used to show his ability to paint genres such as still-life and portraits, as well as the classical figures of antiquity – a smart way to market himself during his first years in Rome; the exquisitely realistic Boy with a Basket of Fruit (1593–95); David with the Head of Goliath (1609–10), where Goliath’s severed head is said to be a self-portrait; Madonna with Serpent (1605–06), where Mary teaches young Jesus how to crush the serpent, symbol of sin and heresy; and St. John the Baptist (1609–10), probably Caravaggio’s last work.
Lovers of Renaissance art will find much to their delight upstairs, as the Pinacoteca features some amazing Renaissance-era paintings (another passion of Scipione Borghese). Highlights here include Raphael‘s early works The Deposition (1507, Sala IX) and Lady with a Unicorn (1506). Also in Sala IX, known as Sala di Didone, are Fra Bartolomeo’s Adoration of the Christ Child (1495) and Perugino’s Madonna and Child (first quarter of the 16th century).
In addition, you should not miss Titian’s early masterpiece, Sacred and Profane Love, painted in 1514 (fun fact: in 1899, the Rothschilds’ offer to buy the work from the gallery for 4 million lira – more than the value of the whole Galleria Borghese building and collections, then valued at 3.6 million lira – was refused).
Finally, if you wish to see how the genius Bernini looked like, head to Sala XIV to admire his self-portraits.