The Artists of the Borghese Gallery
During the Renaissance, art was considered a cultural currency that went beyond its monetary value. Paintings and sculptures were used to express the desires, tastes and whims, and often power, of the elite. The cultural history of the best works of art was a testament to those who had control over them. Scipione Borghese was one of the most dedicated and ruthless art collectors in the Renaissance. Borghese would often commission work himself but he also used bribery, theft and kidnapping to obtain new masterpieces.
The Borghese gallery is named after Scipione Borghese, who was a ruthless artist. All of this would not have been possible without the artists. We’re going to correct the record and show you some of the artists who made the Borghese gallery one the most inspiring places in Rome.
You can experience its magnificence yourself. To see one of the most extraordinary collections of Renaissance art in Rome, take a guided tour through the Borghese gallery
Caravaggio is a well-known Renaissance painter, known for his distinctive use of light and portraits. Caravaggio, a rockstar of his time, was involved in many scandals and duels that earned him a bad reputation. Although 21 paintings are not yet definitively attributed as belonging to Caravaggio, his name is synonymous with the Italian Renaissance and he is still regarded as a herald from the Baroque era.
David and the Head of Goliath by Caravaggio
Caravaggio moved to Rome at the age of 21. His reputation for being a talented painter was quickly matched by his reputation for being a troublemaker. Caravaggio was unable to avoid a fight and his greatest hits include throwing an artichoke plate in the face of a waiter. His personal life was not the only thing that was controversial. Caravaggio was severely disciplined for using the corpses of dead prostitutes as a model for one his paintings, which ironically is called Death of the Virgin. Caravaggio was saved by the influence and power of his wealthy patrons. This silenced many of his accusers. He went too far and killed a well-known Roman pimp over a tennis match. He was forced to flee Rome to avoid execution and sought a papal pardon. He fled from one city to the next until he died in 1610.
The Borghese Gallery currently displays two of his most iconic (and groundbreaking) works: Sick Bacchus, and David with Head of Goliath. Sick Bacchus is thought to be a self portrait of the artist. It was notable for its realistic depiction of Bacchus the mythical god, often in full health and vitality. Mancini claims that Caravaggio was injured by a horse, and that he spent time in hospital before completing the self-portrait. Scholars speculate that David with the Head Of Goliath was painted to show his apologies for his murder conviction after his exile from Rome.
Raphael, along with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, was the most prominent painter of High Renaissance classicism. Raphael, a young man from Urbino was educated in painting and sculpture by his father. However, his father passed away so he had to assume the role of his son. His reputation as an accomplished painter earned him the admiration of Perugino who invited Raphael into his studio to be his apprentice.
The Deposition by Raphael
Raphael was heavily influenced by Leonardo and Michelangelo’s predecessors. He soon surpassed his master and established his reputation as an artist through a series narrative paintings. He eventually moved to Rome, where Pope Leo X made him the commissioner of antiquities and trusted him with a variety of important commissions for Vatican.
Raphael was just 37 years old when he died. Giorgio Vasari (his contemporary biographer) claims that Raphael had been intoxicated by love and succumbed to a fever after a night of it. He apparently failed to disclose the reason for his illness to his doctor, and was prescribed the wrong treatment, which led to his death.
Portrait of a Young Lady with a Unicorn by Raphael
Many of Raphael’s paintings are housed in the Vatican because of their prominent status with the pope. However, there are a few notable pieces that have found their way into Borghese Gallery. The Deposition, which depicts Jesus’ body being carried from the cross up to the grave, is the most notable. It is noted for its vivid colours and was ordered by a mother to commemorate her son’s death due to gang violence. The Borghese Gallery currently has two other notable Raphael works: Portrait of a Man, and Portrait of a Young Lady With a Unicorn.
Despite Correggio being praised during the Renaissance, interest in his work rekindled only during the 18th Century. It is possible that this is why little information is available about Correggio’s childhood. The first 20 years of his life were spent in Parma, his hometown. It is believed that Antonio Allegri da Correggio learned how to paint from his uncle Lorenzo Allegri. Correggio was able to outgrow his teacher and became an apprentice to Francesco Bianchi, Modena’s painter.
Danaë by Correggio
Correggio’s work represents the transition between high Italian Renaissance and subsequent Mannerist style. You can find his pieces in many museums, including the National Gallery of London and the Louvre. The Borghese gallery holds his most well-known work, the Danae. The painting is full of symbolism due to its subject matter, which is based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses story. It depicts Zeus’ union with Danae, Acrisius’ daughter, in the form a golden shower, after her father had taken her away.
Peter Paul Rubens, a Flemish painter, was born in 1577 in Siegen. When he was only 10, Rubens moved to Antwerp to receive artistic training. He then completed an apprenticeship. In 1600, he went to Italy to study the works of Renaissance masters Raphaelando and Michelangelo.
Rubens, a true Renaissance man, was a multitasker who often took on multiple projects simultaneously. His artistic output was legendary as a result.
It is said that Otto Sperling, the Danish doctor, visited him in his studio in 1621. He found Rubens supervising his assistants, dictating letters, Tacitus reading aloud, and also completing his paintings simultaneously. Sperling said later that “when we kept quiet so as to not disturb him with our talks, Rubens began to talk to us while still working, to listen and to dictate his letters, answering our questions, and thus showing his amazing powers.” [from Peter Paul Rubens Oil Paintings and Oil Sketches, David Freedberg].
The Borghese gallery holds The Deposition, one of his earlier works. The variety of interpretations of Christ’s journey to his tomb made them a popular topic in Renaissance art. Rubens’ interpretation of Christ’s sacrifice for mankind focuses on the wounds on Christ’s naked flesh. The human expressions are the main focus, while the light shining down gives life and hope to the scene.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, one of the most admired sculptors of his time, is represented at the Borghese gallery in Rome. The sixth of 13 children, Bernini was the youngest and started sculpting at age six. He was seven years old when he moved to Rome. His talent was evident and he is believed to have made his first sculpture at the tender age 10
Apollo and Daphne by Bernini
Pope Francis expressed his hope that Bernini would become the “Michelangelo” of his century. He was right in his estimates. Bernini made a name for his self through commissions and busts. He went on to be one of the most sought-after sculptors of his time.
The Borghese Gallery currently has two of his most famous pieces: The Rape of Proserpina (completed when he was only 23), and Apollo and Daphne (1625) on a commission by Cardinal Scipione Borghese. This tells the classic story of Apollo and Daphne, the sun god. The Rape of Proserpina is a continuation of the same theme. It focuses on the abduction of Persephone, a Greek goddess, to the Underworld by Hades.
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The Rape of Proserpina by Bernini
Titian or Tiziano Vecelli is perhaps most well-known for his unique use of colour in his art. Titian sought out the most rare shades of pigments and would then make them saturated. His work was unique in that it had a distinct flavour that no other artists could match. His biographers claimed that he lived to the age of 104. Current scholars disagree with this assertion. They believe that he was probably in his 90s when the plague struck Venice in 1576.
The Borghese Gallery’s most popular exhibit is Titian’s masterpiece Sacred and Profane Love. It is believed that the painting was originally commissioned by Niccolo Aurelio in celebration of his marriage with Laura Bagarotto. Although the identities of the main characters are still unknown, art historians have offered many theories about their identities. One of the most popular theories is that the painting depicts a wedding attended to by Venus, the goddess of love.
Artists are often not appreciated in their own time. Antonio Canova was a different story. Canova was a well-known sculptor in Europe by 1800. This prestige comes with many prestigious commissions, and the Bonaparte family was the most prominent. They requested several likenesses from Canova.
Venus Victrix by Canova
Pauline Bonaparte was Napoleon’s sister and modelled one of them. Canova initially intended to portray a beautiful depiction of Diana the Roman goddess Diana as a noblewoman, but he quickly received different orders.
Pauline Bonaparte was a lover of scandals and she wanted it to be immortalized in a modest, chaste portrayal. Pauline convinced Canova not to portray her as Venus.
This would have been a major issue for the nobility, so they agreed to make the statue inaccessible to the public. The statue has stood the test of its time, but the clause that came with it has not. Today, Venus Victrix (Venus Victorious), is one of the most beloved statues in Borghese Gallery.
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