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La Galleria Borghese was an opulent 17thCentury suburban home of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V.  It was also home to his amazing personal art collection.  In 1808, Prince Camillo Borghese was forced to sell the Roman sculpture and antiquities collection to his brother in law Napoleon, for below what it was worth. 340 or so pieces, including the Borghese Gladiator from Ephesus are now in the Borghese collection at the Musée du Louvre.  The Borghese estate in Roma was sold to the Italian government in 1902 and turned into a museum and urban park.

Even though I go to Roma every year, I had yet to visit la Galleria Borghese. It requires booking tickets in advance, which is something I really do not like doing.  Prebooking interferes with my spontaneity!  I tried to book online 2 and 3 years ago when I had a longer time in Roma, but kept getting forwarded to secondary resell sites charging double the price, which really annoyed me.  This year, I decided to try booking a few days before my departure for Roma.

The Galleria is not that easily accessible. It is at the far end of Villa Borghese, a large (200 acre) urban green space. Buses #92, 217, 360 and 919 from Stazione Termini stop at the Galleria. The other most direct route is to take the Metro A line (red) to Flaminio, just outside of Piazza del Popolo. Enter Villa Borghese by the unmistakeable big gates and walk about ½ hour to Galleria Borghese.  Keep right until the bike rentals then left.  It is an uphill walk.  An alternative ….to avoid being late and losing the reservation, is to take the Metro to Flaminio and then take bus #61, 160, 490, 491, or 495 to the Galleria, or even a taxi if you are running late.  It will not cost much, then walk back to Piazzale Flaminio, as it is downhill or take a bus down.  Do not follow the ‘Villa Borghese’ signs at the Spagna Metro station.  These lead to a long underground walk, and then up an escalator to a random forested area in Villa Borghese-the park, nowhere near the museum!

Piazza del Popolo

Tickets must to be reserved. The price of admission is €13 plus €2 for the reservation fee, and if booking online, another €2 for the online booking site-Ticket One.  If using the RomaPass for admission, a reservation is still required. Domenica al Museo, the first Sunday of every month, admission is free, but a reservation is required and the €2 fee.  This is the website for Galleria Borghese.  Reservations can be made by emailing info@tosc.it or calling 39 06 32810 (dial 011 before this number if calling from North America).  I booked online, but had to register for an account with Ticket One, and enter my codice fiscale, which most visitors will not have. Ticket One charges an extra €2 booking fee, so my total cost was €17. I think booking by email is easier! Tours can also be booked with the reservation, but I prefer to wander on my own.  There are also independent tour groups that you can book, which include admission.

Bookings are Tuesday to Sunday for 2 hours, from 9-11am, 11-1pm, 3-5pm and 5-7pm.  The ticket office is in the lower floor-the central lower door in my photo- and you need to arrive 30 minutes before the reservation time or risk losing the spot.  This is not a convenient location to just show up and see if there are any last minute cancellations.  Security is strict and all bags, backpacks, helmets and selfie sticks must be checked before entering.  This includes purses.  Cameras are ok, and photos are allowed.  To rent the 90 minute audioguide (€5), make sure to pay before checking bags or carry pocket cash.

There are 360 reservations per 2 hour time slot. To spread everyone out over the 22 rooms, half of the ticketholders are directed to the Pinacoteca (picture gallery) upstairs and half to the main floor sculpture gallery.  It does not feel too crowded unless you happen to be in a room with more than one tour group.  I was worried about being rushed with a 2 hour limit, but I found it was enough time to see all of the works  It is not enough time to sit and sketch though. Do not forget to look up and admire the ornate painted ceilings and tromp l’oeil painting in every room. 

Cardinal Borghese considered himself an amateur architect and had an eye for art.  He was an early patron of Bernini and collected Caravaggio works.  He also had a knack for unscrupulously swooping in and getting a bargain.  For example, he acquired the Madonna dei Palafrenieri from Caravaggio in 1606 for a pittance when the patrons, the Papal grooms, immediately rejected it.

Madonna dei Palafrenieri. Photo Wikimedia

The painting is also known as Madonna and Child with Serpent or Madonna and Child with St Anne. Why did the Palafrenieri reject this incredible painting?  They did not like that their patron, St Anne, appeared as a passive old woman, nor did they like the Madonna’s ample cleavage, or the fact that Jesus was a naked older boy. There are 5 Caravaggio paintings in Galleria Borghese, all in one room! Some of you may know that I am a huge Caravaggio fan!

Gianlorenzo Bernini is also well represented in the Galleria Borghese with 4 early sculptures.  His Baroque masterpiece David capture the intense moment just before hurling the stone from his slingshot, while his body is twisting and he has a look of fierce determination on his face. 

Bernini’s realism is incredible, he has the ability to turn marble into flesh, as with Hades grip on Proserpina/Persephone’s back and thigh.

Bernini’s sculptures are so lifelike, he is known for attention to detail, such as sculpting the inside of his figures mouths and their tongues! This is really apparent on the figure of Daphne in the sculpture Apollo & Daphne seen below.  I love the way he portrays her fingers growing leaves and branches, roots growing from her toes, and her hair becoming leaves as she turns into a laurel tree.  Stay tuned for a post about this work.

There are countless other fabulous pieces in the Borghese collection, such as Paolina Bonaparte as Venus by Antonio Canova.  The upper floor has paintings by Raphael, Titian, Rubens and Antonello da Messina, to name just a few. I left the Galleria Borghese in a Caravaggio/Bernini art coma!  What did I do before going to have a rest?  Well, I stopped in at Santa Maria del Popolo after my walk down from Villa Borghese to see the 2 Caravaggio paintings there! Then I walked to Piazza Navona to meet a friend. We went to Sant’Agostino to see the Madonna dei Pellegrini then stopped to have a caffè freddo and had an hour long discussion about Caravaggio!  By that time, I was really in a stupor-a happy one, and I did go and have a much needed rest!

Have you been to the Galleria Borghese? What did you think?  Let me know in the comments.  Ciao, Cristina