Art, scandal, and nepotism — Galleria Borghese in Rome has all that and more. You may know that this 17th-century villa holds one of the best collections of art in Europe. But did you know that some of the art was seized by a pope and donated to one of the wealthiest cardinals in the history of Italy?
One of the most compelling reasons to visit Galleria Borghese is this — you must have a reservation or book a small-group tour to enter. Once you're in, you only have a two-hour window to explore the museum's greatest treasures, then it's time to leave. Since time is of the essence, we prefer a small-group or private tour, where you are shown some of the the world's most exclusive art while learning the story behind the masterpieces.
Galleria Borghese is one of the loveliest villas in Rome and its superb collection of sculptures and paintings by Bernini, Canova, Caravaggio, and Titian is pretty incredible.
Since we're not the only ones who think that, there's always demand to get into the gallery. That's why we like this tour, it avoids the lines and hassles.
Your guide leads you directly to the masterpieces and reveals the stories behind the works of art. Then take a relaxing stroll though the gardens to enjoy the tranquility of that magical setting — gardens, fountains, monuments, and a hilltop vista.
We loved this tour and our guide was brilliant. Less crowded than Paris museums, you will see Baroque art and Bernini sculptures that are amazing. The small group is much preferred and well worth the cost."
– 5-Star Review
What's better than a small group tour? A private tour, that's what!
Explore Baroque Rome with an expert who specializes in art history. You explore the stunning works of art at Galleria Borghese, the palace where Cardinal Borghese collected his fabulous art collection.
Then stroll through the gardens to the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo to see Caravaggio's most famous works. You're able to indicated your special interests in art, architecture, history, and culture to help your prepare for your visit.
This was one of the highlights of our trip. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and also friendly and entertaining. The gallery has extraordinary art and his explanations helped us appreciate the art all the more. He made the most of our time. It was a pleasure spending time with him and the art. We would happily do it again."
– 5-Star Review
Here's a collection of easy (and fun!) ways to visit Galleria Borghese and its gardens. We'e already told you about our favorites (above), but perhaps you'll find something else in the collection.
The story starts with Borghese, a cardinal formerly known as Scipione Caffarelli. Scipione had one lucky break in life.
His uncle, Camillo Borghese, had a soft spot for him. After all, the kid had grown up in financial straits due to his father's mismanagement of family funds. It was Uncle Camillo who had paid for his education and, when Unc was anointed as Pope Paul V, in 1605 he shared his good fortune with his nephew.
For starters, Scipione was allowed to use the powerful Borghese family name and the coat of arms. He was then appointed Cardinal Nephew. That's right, it was an actual title in those days (but, thankfully, it has since been retired).
Anyway, Uncle Pope also bestowed upon him a dozen or so important titles — Superintendent General of the Papal States, Legate in Avignon, Archpriest of the Lateran and Vatican Basilicas, Archbishop of Bologna, Protector of Germany and the Habsburg Netherlands. With each one of those titles came a hefty salary. And it's not like the jobs were very onerous.
With a secure income, Scipione, now titled Cardinal Borghese, turned his eye to real estate. He bought entire towns and vast stretches of land south of Rome. Relying on his title of Cardinal Nephew, he would make the owners "an offer they couldn't refuse", often selling to him at a deep discount. With his expanding empire, Cardinal Borghese ensured that his family fortunes would not be dependent on ecclesiastical office.
Through taxes, stipends and real estate ventures he became fabulously wealthy and dedicated his attention to the finer things in life, including collecting fabulous works of art.
In 1607, painter Cavaliere d'Arpino (the teacher of Caravaggio) was unable to pay his taxes. Too bad, so sad, Pope Paul V confiscated his huge collection of paintings and delivered them to his nephew. Among the seized paintings were early works by Caravaggio including the famous A Boy with a Basket of Fruit, which still hangs at Galleria Borghese to this day.
Cardinal Borghese continued to use his immense wealth to amass one of the most impressive art collections in Europe with paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian and Bernini. He died at the age of 56 in 1633,but it wasn't until 1902 that the villa and the art collection were turned over to the state, making it accessible to a welcoming public.
The ground floor is a veritable garden of classic sculpture where you can see Canova's statue Paolina Borghese as Venus Victorious (Paolina was a sister of Napoleon and a gold-digger who married Prince Camilo Borghese), as well as Bernini's sculpture of David.
Other main floor must-sees are Bernini's self portrait, Apollo and Daphne, The Rape of Persephone. Then there are Caravaggio's Madonna of the Grooms, St Jerome, and David Holding up the Head of Goliath.
You don't want to miss the vast collection of paintings on the upper floor. Works like Raphael's Deposition, Lady with a Unicorn (where you can note the Mona Lisa influence). Save the best for last, Titian's Sacred and Profane Love is found in the final room.