The 19 acres of landscaped gardens of the Villa Borghese seem to call out on a hot summer day in Rome. Like a cooling pleasure garden, it beckons to travelers just as it did when it was first created for Cardinal Scopione Borghese in the 17th century. Along with its fountains, formally landscaped gardens, and lake, the Villa Borghese Park is also home to three important museums, the Museo e Galleria Borghese (once the villa of the Cardinal and also known as the “Casino Borghese”), the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (containing “modern” art from the 19th and 20th centuries), and the Museo Etrusco, which contains the largest collection of Etruscan art and artifacts.
Villa Borghese Park
The second largest park in Rome, many compare the gardens of Villa Borghese to New York’s Central Park. Located in the center of Rome, close to many of the city’s main tourist attractions, the park offers a welcome respite during hot summer days. Its leaf-covered pathways encourage walking and biking. Strolling along the Viale dell’Uccelliera will lead to the Borghese “biopark” while turning south on Viale del Pupazzi leads to Marini’s sea horse fountain. One of the nicest parts of the park is the Giardino del Lago, which leads to a faux-Grecian temple astride the park’s lake.
In total, there are nearly 20 acres of formal gardens and landscaped parkland, dotted with umbrella pines. There is an exuberance of public sculpture within the park, most notably the nose-less busts of famous Italians, which line the park’s pathways in the south. Much more of the art, however, lies in the museum palaces that dot the Villa Borghese park’s landscape.
Museo e Galleria Borghese
The Casino Borghese, while famed for its art collection, is perhaps equally famous for the palace itself. A reflection of the ideal in 17th century interior design, the palace is an over-the-top confection of opulent adornment, with striking architectural details like frescoed ceilings. The Museo e Galleria Borghese contains one of the world’s finest collections of Baroque statues, the most famous of which is “Venus Victrix” a semi-nude portrait of Principessa Pauline Borghese, Napoleon’s sister by the artist Canova. Other famous statues include Bernini’s “David” and “Apollo and Daphne.”
There are also important paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael, and Botticelli in the museum. The most famous work is no doubt, Titian’s “Sacred and Profane Love.” Despite the rich art treasures to be seen, however, much of the original art collection of the Borghese family was traded off by Camillo Borghese for an estate in Piedmont, Italy. Wily Napoleon took the collection in trade for the estate, and today the bulk of the Borghese art collection can be found instead at the Louvre in Paris as a result.
Other Museums in Borghese Park
Two other palaces located within the grounds of the Borghese Gardens have been given over to museums as well. The Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna focuses on “modern” art, which here is considered to be anything post-Renaissance. Popular Impressionists and Post-Impressionists can be seen in this museum, such as works by Cezanne, Courbet, Degas, Monet, and Van Gogh. The museum also has an outstanding collection of Italian modernists and an important Dada-ist collection. The Museo Etrusco, located in the Villa Giulia, contains Italy’s best collection of Etruscan art and artifacts.
The Villa Borghese, built in 1615 for the Cardinal Borghese, and its accompanying “pleasure garden” were, from the time of creation, a source of joy, relaxation, and entertainment. They remain so to this day, with the notable addition of being a public treasure, and no longer the domain of one single family.
Borghese website, http://www.galleriaborghese.it/borghese/en/evilla.htm