A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to go to Rome with my parents for my 18th birthday. I look back on the trip so fondly. The city is remarkable: a true Jackson Pollock of history and culture. I love that you can be on a busy street in the city centre, like any historic capital, and yet, if you turn down a narrow snicket, you can be transported to a small Italian village, at peace with its quiet next to the grand affairs occurring minutes away.
And there were grand affairs dotted throughout the city; relics of civilisations in their prime. Galleria Borghese is one of those relics. The 17th -century Roman villa, nestled amongst finely curated gardens, is home to an extraordinary Renaissance-Baroque art collection. The house itself is a work of art; its rooms covered in detailed frescos where masterpiece upon masterpiece is hung. The Galleria is wise to let only a certain number of people in the galleries at one time. Standing alone in a grand hall, I had only serene silence for company. With the eyes of every painted god, king, and pope on me, it was an overwhelming and humbling experience. I could appreciate the Renaissance man’s belief in making beauty for God; that place felt truly other-worldly.
The gallery holds many recognisable pieces of art – works by Raphael, Titian and Rubens – but its collection of Caravaggio and Bernini’s sculptures left the biggest impression on me. The depth and richness of Caravaggio means his work remains distinct from the frequently bright palettes of others. I loved the ultra-ripe fruit in Boy with a Basket of Fruit, which echoes the villa it is housed in; a place preserved in its florescence.
However, with Bernini’s statues standing proud in the centre of most rooms, it was difficult to imagine that every inch of colour was not there to simply offset the pearly white stone of his sculptures. There’s a debate in the Art World about photographing artwork. Can we work off photographs, or do we fundamentally miss the work’s essence? I would argue that photographs cannot do justice to sculpture, never mind Bernini’s. Because there isn’t a true front to his works: they are a 360-degree experience. Bernini worked like Medusa, taking a snapshot of life and turning it to stone. It seemed that if I reached out my hand, the flesh on both the Rape of Proserpina and Apollo and Daphne would be soft to the touch. No photograph can capture that.
I’d like to return to Rome, when coronavirus is an awful memory rather than a painful present. And I will definitely go back to the Galleria Borghese. After our time slot ended, my parents and I strolled around the extensive grounds and gardens, talking about what we had seen and how we all wanted to go in again.
In all their visits to Rome, this was my parents’ first trip to the Galleria. I don’t think it’s Rome’s hidden attraction by any means; the Galleria Borghese is still a major destination. However, between the Colosseum or the Vatican, brilliant and beautiful places can easily be pushed aside. The Galleria should not be pushed about by anything. Of all the museums and galleries I have visited, this one has made the biggest impression, and coaxed me into loving Bernini and Caravaggio’s work. It is not simply the art, but the experience as well.
Cover image from Wikimedia Commons