Scipione Borghese was an early patron of Bernini and an avid collector of works by Caravaggio, who is well represented in the collection by his Boy with a Basket of Fruit, St. Jerome, Sick Bacchus and others. Other paintings of note include Titian's Sacred and Profane Love, Raphael's depiction of the Entombment of Christ and works by Peter Paul Rubens and Federico Barocci.
The Casina Borghese lies on the outskirts of seventeenth-century Rome. By 1644, John Evelyn described it as "an Elysium of delight" with "Fountains of sundry inventions, Groves and small Rivulets of Water." Evelyn also described the Vivarium; that housed ostriches, peacocks, swans and cranes "and divers strange Beasts". Prince Marcantonio IV Borghese (1730-1800), who began the recasting of the park's formal garden architecture into an English landscape garden, also set out about 1775, under the guidance of the architect Antonio Asprucci, to replace the now-outdated tapestry and leather hangings and renovate the Casina, restaging the Borghese sculptures and antiquities in a thematic new ordering that celebrated the Borghese position in Rome. The rehabilitation of the much-visited villa as a genuinely public museum in the late eighteenth century was the subject of an exhibition at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, in 2000, spurred by the Getty's acquisition of fifty-four drawings related to the project.
In 1808 Prince Camillo Borghese, Napoleon's brother-in-law was forced to sell the Borghese Roman sculptures and antiquities to the Emperor. The result is that the Borghese Gladiator, renowned since the 1620s as the most admired single sculpture in Villa Borghese, must now be appreciated in the Musée du Louvre.
One joy of the Galleria Borghese is that it is compact: housed in twenty rooms across two floors, its visit could take as little as two hours.
The main floor is mostly devoted to classical antiquities of the 1st–3rd centuries AD (including a famous 320-30 AD mosaic of gladiators found on the Borghese estate at Torrenova, on the Via Casilina outside Rome, in 1834), and classical and neo-classical sculpture such as the Venus Victrix (above). Its decorative scheme includes a trompe l'oeil ceiling fresco in the first room, or Salone, by the Sicilian artist Mariano Rossi makes such good use of foreshortening that it appears almost three-dimensional.
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