The Museo e Galleria Borghese

It is possible that this part of the programme will take place later this afternoon. We have to buy the tickets in advance and will be assigned a time slot by the museum Borghese. We can already see the Villa Borghese (here the back garden) when we are walking through the park.

picture: Brule Laker

Villa Borghese
Villa Borghese rome

photo: kamilica

Today, it is a museum with a world famous collection of paintings and statues.

Villa Borghese
Aerial front        Aerial back

We will focus on the statues of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, but of course also at some of the paintings. The Borghese family not only had considerable wealth, but also very good taste. If you want to look at the Bernini statues or the paintings by, among others, Caravaggio (six works including a self-portrait), Titian, (three works), Raphael, Veronese and Rubens on the internet, Artcyclopedia is a good website to visit (just fill in the artist’s name). What is really interesting about this villa, nowadays the Museo e Galleria Borghese, is that we can beautifully see Bernini’s lightning-quick development as a sculptor. Gian Lorenzo was born in Naples in 1598; his father Pietro was a sculptor who originally came from Florence. Pietro and his family moved to Rome in 1605, where he received various commissions, including from Pope Paul V for reliefs in the chapel by the same name and the Baptistery (relief of the Assumption of Mary) in the Santa Maria Maggiore (not far from our hotel). As an eight-year-old boy Gian Lorenzo was already capable of wresting a head from the marble with his chisels that bore a good likeness. Filippo Baldinucci, Gian Lorenzo’s biographer relates how Pope Paul V saw a marble portrait sculpture for a tomb in the Santa Prassede, and upon learning that it was carved by the 10-year-old Bernini called him to him and:

jokingly asked Bernini if he could make a pen drawing of a head. Giovanni [Gian Lorenzo] Bernini asked His Holiness which head he should draw, to which the pope replied that he should draw the head of St Paul. In half an hour Bernini had completed the drawing in bold outlines, much to the satisfaction of the pope.

Filippo Baldinucci, ‘The life of Cavaliere Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini’, 1682. Quoted and translated from Holt, ‘A Documentary History of Art’, Princeton, volume II page 108.

Gianlorenzo Bernini ‘Amalthea and the Infant Jupiter’
The infant Jupiter is drinking milk     Milking the goat
Gianlorenzo Bernini Amalthea and the Infant Jupiter Galleria Borghese

This museum is home to a sculpture called ‘The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun’, that Bernini probably carved when he was twelve years old. For a long time, this sculpture was thought to be an authentic classical work. Not very surprising, considering that Gian Lorenzo often visited the Vatican at a very young age. For about three years, he made extensive study of its famous classical statues such as the Laocoön, the Belvedere Apollo and Torso, but of course also studied and drew the frescos by Raphael and Michelangelo. Bernini said that he learned from Michelangelo how to properly depict the muscles of the human body in all possible positions. Not surprising considering that Michelangelo had dissected a large number of corpses as a 17-year-old. In programme 3, we will take a closer look at the three sculptures that the young Bernini thoroughly studied in the Vatican.

The ground floor houses a sculpture from 1619 that was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese and carved by Gian Lorenzo. It was his first major commission. The sculpture depicts Aeneas carrying his father Anchises and also includes his son Ascanius who carries the oil lamp.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini ‘Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius’ 1619
Big size   Backside     Location in the museum
Gian Lorenzo Bernini Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius 1619

The sculpture was initially placed under a painting which has the fall of Troy as its subject: Aeneas has fled to Italy with his father and his son after the fall of Troy. Pietro and Gian Lorenzo clearly had studied Giambologna’s famous sculpture The Rape of the Sabine Women that was carved 40 years earlier. The composition was also based on Raphael’s fresco ‘The Fire in the Borgo’ that we will see at the Vatican later.

The ground floor houses three famous sculptures that Gian Lorenzo Bernini carved at the behest of Scipione Borghese. The first two statues are based on the mythological stories by Ovid: Pluto abducting Proserpine (1621- 1622) and Apollo and Daphne (1623-1624). Bernini started working on his third statue, the David, even before he had completed Apollo and Daphne. Bernini didn’t complete his Apollo and Daphne until after his David was finished in 1624. Cardinal Scipione had donated his Apollo and Daphne, which had been sitting unfinished in Bernini’s workshop for a year, to his cousin Pope Paul V (Camillo Borghese). The cardinal probably wanted to curry favour with his cousin and had by then already seen the David. Bernini’s biographer Baldinucci claims the sculptor carved the David in eight months; it was immediately recognised as a masterpiece.

The sculpture Pluto abducting Proserpine had great impact because Bernini achieved an effect that was considered impossible. Proserpine’s tears and Pluto’s hand that dents the skin of the upper leg of his ‘beloved catch’ were technical feats that were unheard of at the time.

Fortunately, this museum still allows visitors to come close to this statue so you can take a close look at its refined details. This is no longer the case with Michelangelo’s Pietá at St Peter’s, where this statue is protected by a thick glass plate. Gian Lorenzo chose the most exciting moment of the story. Pluto has just grabbed hold of her, and she is struggling to get out of his grasp. If you compare the facial expressions of the two figures, you will see an enormous contrast. Her face is contorted in fear, while his expression is triumphant. The three-headed hellhound Cerberus marks the exact spot where the god of the underworld will take her. This does not just fit in nicely with the story, but is also essential to this sculpture, but more about this when we are there.

Bernini ‘Pluto abducting Proserpine’ big size
Bernini Pluto abducting Proserpine Museum Borghesepictures: Steven Zucker

Bernini Pluto abducting Proserpine

1. Youtube lecture  Alexander Smarius (Dutch spoken starts at  Giambologna)
2. Youtube Khan Academy: Bernini Pluto and Proserpine (2.48 minutes)
3. Youtube Micah Christensen Pluto Proserpine (starts at 32.30 minutes)

Bernini ‘Pluto abducting Proserpine’ Rear and side
Bernini Pluto abducting Proserpine Villa Borghese

The contradiction so clearly seen in Pluto abducting Proserpine and its technical tours de force are surpassed in Gian Lorenzo’s next sculpture for the cardinal: Apollo and Daphne.

 Bernini ‘Apollo and Daphne’ big size   Side    Two sides
Bernini Apollo and Daphne room Museum Borghese

pictures: Steven Zucker

Youtube  Apollo and Daphne  Khan Academy  (3.03 minutes)

Bernini ‘Apollo and Daphne’ 1623-1624 marble life-size
Gian Lorenzo Bernini Apollo and Daphne 1623-1624 marble life-size

picture: Jenthefun1

This sculpture was also based on Ovid. Cupid, the cute little angel with his arrows, takes revenge on Apollo and hits him with his golden arrow, causing the god to fall in love with Daphne. At the same time, another of Cupid’s arrows strikes Daphne, extinguishing her love. When Apollo sees the object of his great love, he immediately follows her and …

thus god and maiden; he is swift with hope, she [is swift] with fear.
Yet helped by the wings of Love, he who pursues
is the swifter and denies her respite and overhangs the back
of the fleeing one and blows on her hair spread on her neck(s).
With her strengths spent she paled and having been conquered
by the effort of swift flight, watching the waves of Peneus,
she said, “Father bring help! O Rivers, if you have divinity,
destroy my shape by which I’ve pleased too much, by changing [it]!”
Having barely finished the prayer, a heavy numbness seizes her limbs,
her soft breasts are girded by thin bark,
her hair grows into foliage, her arms into branches,
her foot, just now so swift, clings by sluggish roots,
her face has the top of a tree: a single splendour remains in her.
Apollo loves this one too and with a right hand placed on the
trunk feels that her heart still trembles under the new bark,
and having embraced the branches as limbs with his own arms
he gives the wood kisses, and the wood shrinks from the kisses.

From: Ovid ‘Daphne and Apollo, translated by Wikisource

If you look closely at the statue, you will see that Bernini stuck to Ovid’s text as much he could. He depicted the exact moment at which Daphne’s supplication to the river god is being answered. If you look at Apollo’s face, you can see that he is not yet aware that his beloved is changing into a tree, what is more, he still looks like he’s holding happiness in his hands.

Daphne and Apollo large size

Standing before the statue, you can see how masterfully Gian Lorenzo gave shape to this contradiction; the hands, the defensive gestures, Daphne’s opened lips that appear to cry out without producing a sound, or the expression of utter bliss on Apollo’s face, who still believes he has just found utter happiness. He has not yet caught on to the fact that both of them have fallen victim to Cupid’s sweet revenge.

Gianlorenzo Bernini 'Apollo Daphne'

Not only does Gian Lorenzo surpass himself in the psychological representation of the states of mind of the gods, but also reaches new heights from a technical point of view. Let’s not forget that Bernini was working in marble, a rather fragile material, and if you look at how Daphne throws her hair into the air in a wild move, it would seem like an impossible task for any sculptor. When carving this sort of fine and thin details with a chisel there’s an enormous risk that these fragile details will break off, even if the last details were created through scraping, sanding and polishing after the chiselling was done. What Bernini did here was something that, from a technical point of view, was reserved to artists creating statues in bronze. And they often had problems achieving these type of effects in clay, which is much easier to work with than marble, if something goes wrong, you simply stick on some more clay. This is impossible with marble. If you add on a new piece, it will always remain visible due to the nature of the material. In bronze, the fine details are always added later. And yet, it was this level of perfection that some contemporaries criticised Gian Lorenzo for.

Daphne’s  hand
Gianlorenzo Bernini 'Apollo Daphne'

Bernini’s assistant, Giuliano Finelli from Carrara, made the bay leaves and the bark, but was never given credit for them. On the contrary, it was Bernini who took all the credit. Angrily, Giuliano Finelli left Bernini’s gallery. In the biographies about Bernini as written by Filippo Baldinucci and Domenico Bernini, not a single sentence is devoted to this incident.

When the sculpture group of Apollo and Daphne is completed in 1625, it is the biggest sensation in Rome.  The entire city convenes to witness this amazing spectacle. From this moment, Bernini receives many an admiring glance of passers-by when he walks through Rome. But still, there was something wrong with Daphne. Cardinal Maffeo Barberini put it as follows: “While very realistic and true to life, it would be far less offensive to watch for the modest spectator were the sculpture to have a moral warning.” The cardinal made up a two-line verse, the noble fruit of his erudite mind, as can be read in the biographies of Bernini: the one of Filippo Baldinucci and Domenico Bernini. Cardinal Scipione had these verses applied to the pedestal as a riposte to criticism about its nudity, with the following moral warning:

Pedestal big format
The lover who will fleeting beauty follow
Plucks bitter berries; leaves fill his hand’s hollow
pedestal Apollo and Daphne Bernini


Bernini ‘David’ large
Bernini 'David' in the Villa Borghese Rome

Photo’s: Steven Zucker

The next statue that Bernini carved while his Apollo and Daphne was sitting unfinished in his workshop, was the David. Friend and foe alike agreed that this statue really was a masterpiece. Floor plan of the room in the Villa Borghese where Apollo and Daphne (and their current location in the museum) were located originally.

David Youtube Khan Academy  (3.55 minutes)    Bozzetto
Rear      Side    Front     Hand and sling     Left foot     Right foot
Bernini 'David'

Even though this statue was also brilliantly carved, it did not include any of the technical feats that we saw earlier. The way Bernini represented David is completely new in the long tradition of sculpture. Even though the effect, as viewer to be eye to eye with the David, is unfortunately partly negated by the way the museum has chosen to put the statue on display. In the 17th century, the statue was standing on the floor, without the present high plinth. As a result, the viewer was eye-to-eye with the life-sized marble sculpture. What is immediately notable today, is the statue’s squint-eyed gaze that is not aimed at the viewer, but at an unseen figure in this room: Goliath. As you can see, David is about to sling a stone at Goliath. Standing in front of the statue, you can beautifully see how tense and utterly concentrated David is for the decisive fight to the death.

All of his muscles are taut in preparation for the explosion of power that will hurl the stone that must hit its mark if David is to survive. His whole posture, the position of his legs and the rotation of his upper body show that David is mustering all his power. Gian Lorenzo gave David his own face. Filippo Baldinucci describes how Cardinal Maffeo Barberini when he visited Gian Lorenzo in his workshop put a mirror in his hand so the sculptor could study his own face. Bernini’s choice of moment from the Biblical story of David and Goliath was completely new. I will try to explain the difference between Michelangelo’s David, which was carved nearly 100 years before, and this statue by Bernini by means of an A3-sized drawing.

The three statues that Bernini carved for Scipione between 1621 and 1623 Scipione are of course three-dimensional. And yet, the sculptor never intended people to walk around his sculptures. Quite the opposite; the sculptures were placed against a wall as you can see in the floor plan above. Baroque sculpture is often labelled as a style that was intended to be seen from all sides. In Gian Lorenzo’s case this is clearly not true. Bernini made a conscious decision regarding the spot from which the viewer was to look at his ‘children’. The sculpture of Pluto abducting Proserpine was positioned in such a way that you could only look at it from the front, quite different from its current position, while Apollo and Daphne could only be looked at from the side. You would look the David right in the eye, so also from the front. Their current positions allow the viewer to look at the sculptures from all sides.

What the David’s original arrangement (against the wall) hid from sight is that too much marble went lost during the sculpting. This is hardly noticeable in the current arrangement. While Bernini and his assistant Giulano Finelli made no mistakes when sculpting Apollo and Daphne, the David was not so error-free. The David’s heel tells the story. The colour reveals that a different piece of marble was attached later on.

After his three main sculptures we will look at, and compare two of Gian Lorenzo’s portrait sculptures, the first of these is a portrait of Paul V dating from 1618.

It’s a fairly traditional portrait that he carved as a 20-year-old. Much more interesting is the bust that he carved of his client, the man who lived in this museum, Scipione Borghese. This marble portrait sculpture was carved by ‘our sculptor’ 14 years after the bust of Paul V, but what a difference! Cardinal Scipione moves his head and speaks to someone. Here, just like with the David, the work suggests a second person in the room. When Bernini had finished the bust, he was shocked to discover a crack in the marble running exactly along the forehead. According to his biographer, Gian Lorenzo carved a new bust in just 15 nights. Bernini first showed Scipione the bust with the crack. The cardinal attempted to hide his disappointment, but at that moment Gian Lorenzo showed him the new bust and the cardinal began to smile.

Two portrait  busts of Scipione Borghese large size
Villa Borghese museum Two portrait  busts of Scipione Borghese Bernini

picture: Enric Martinez i Vallmitjana

Bernini ‘Paul V’  Galleria Borghese
Bernini buste Paul V Galleria Borghese


Bernini ‘Paul V’ and a detail
J. Paul Getty Museum Los Angeles
Bernini Paul V J. Paul Getty Museum Los Angeles


Bernini initial portrait of Scipione Galleria Borghese
Crack in the marble      Large size
Bernini Scipione Borghese Bernini initial portrait Galleria Borghese


Bernini second portrait large size Galleria Borghese   Face
Bernini second portrait Scipione Borghese Galleria Borghese


Bernini ‘Scipione Borghese’
Bernini Scipione initila portrait crack in the marble Borghese Galleria Borghese

Before Bernini carved a marble bust, he usually made several drawings of his model. He used an unusual technique to make these drawings:

When working with models, Bernini preferred they moved about. He made the subject of his portrait walk around the room and talk, because he believed that a moving person revealed more of their true nature, which is wat a portraitist needed. However, the model had to sit still for a detailed study of individual parts.

Baldinucci. Quoted from: Antoon Erftemeijer, Rembrandt’s Monkey, Artists’ anecdotes from classical antiquity to the present day. Becht, Haarlem 2000 page 183.

Bernini preliminary study and bust from the side
Scipione Borghese Bernini preliminary study

After making a fairly large number of drawings, Bernini always made a small model [bozzetto] out of clay or wax. Only then did he start work on the block of marble. He did the carving free-hand, in this regard, the bozzetto was no more or no less than a source of inspiration.

By the way, Bernini’s assistant, Giuliano Finelli, also made a portrait bust of Scipione Borghese.

Giuliano Finelli    ‘Scipione Borghese’

This museum also has bozzettos by Bernini on display. The Vatican Museum has a few large bozzettos of the angels on the bridge leading to the Vatican on display near the Pinacoteca. What is interesting about these bozzettos, is that you can see exactly how these models were made. In this case out of gypsum, steel wire, rags and paper.

We will look at several other statues, including a work by the famous Italian sculptor Antonio Canova. This sculptor immortalized Napoleon’s sister Paoline Borghese in marble.

Lorenzo Valles ‘Paulina Borghese in Antonio Canova’s studio’
Antonio Canova ‘Paolina Borghese’ in the  sala Paolina Borghese large size         Back           Side
Antonio Canova Paolina Borghese Palazzo Borghese

She lies almost completely naked on a sofa (rear). When asked if she wasn’t embarrassed posing for the sculptor like that, she reportedly replied that this was most definitely not the case, after all, the workshop was well-heated. If you look closely at this sculpture you can see that it was not just Bernini who was capable of great technical feats in marble.

If we have any time left, we will take a look at a number of paintings, particularly by Caravaggio, the painter who I will discuss extensively in programme 3. Caravaggio had a profound influence on Bernini, particularly on the way he portrayed frightened, talking or laughing figures, often with sparkling eyes.

Caravaggio ‘Boy bitten by a lizard’     Bernini ‘Damned Soul’
Caravaggio Boy bitten by a lizard     Bernini Damned Soul

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