Bernini: Villa Borghese I

Path in the Villa Borghese

Path in the Villa Borghese
photo: Evelin Hill

It is possible that this part of the programme will take place later this afternoon. We have to buy the tickets in advance and will be assigned a time slot by the museum Borghese. We can already see the Villa Borghese (here the back garden) when we are walking through the park (map).

Villa Borghese and Galleria Borghese
Simon Felice ‘View of the Villa Borghese’ 23 x 41.5 cm after 1677    THE MET

Villa Borghese and Galleria Borghese facade
photo: Alessio Damato

Caravaggio ‘Bacchus’ self-portrait

We will focus on the statues of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, but of course also at some of the paintings. The Borghese family not only had considerable wealth, but also very good taste. If you want to look at the Bernini statues or the paintings by, among others, Caravaggio (six works including a Self-portrait as Bacchus)Titian (Wikipedia), (three works), Raphael (Wikipedia), Veronese and Rubens on the internet, Artcyclopedia is a good website to visit (just fill in the artist’s name).

What is really interesting about this villa, nowadays the Museo e Galleria Borghese, is that we can beautifully see Bernini’s lightning-quick development as a sculptor. Gian Lorenzo was born in Naples in 1598; his father Pietro was a sculptor who originally came from Florence.
Pietro and his family moved to Rome in 1605, where he received various commissions, including from Pope Paul V for reliefs in the Cappella Paolina and the Baptistery (relief of the Assumption of Mary) in the Santa Maria Maggiore (not far from our hotel). As an eight-year-old boy Gian Lorenzo was already capable of wresting a head from the marble with his chisels that bore a good likeness. Filippo Baldinucci, Gian Lorenzo’s biographer relates how Pope Paul V saw a marble portrait sculpture for a tomb in the Santa Prassede, and upon learning that it was carved by the 10-year-old Bernini called him to him and:

The first work that came from his chisel [Gianlorenzo Bernini] in Rome was a marble head, now located in the church of S. Pudenziana. He was just ten years old at that time. For this reason, the Pope, Paul V, filled with admiration at the outcry that greeted such ability, desired to see the youth. He had him brought before him and then asked Bernini in jest if he knew how to make a pen sketch of a head. Giovanni Lorenzo asked what head His Holiness wished. The Pope said that if this is so he can draw any head and ordered him to draw a head of St. Paul. In half an hour, Bernini had finished it with boldly drawn outlines, to the great delight of the Pope.” Filippo Baldinucci, ‘The life of Bernini’, The Pennsylvania State University Press p. 2 excepts pdf

Bernini ‘Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun’
photo: Daderot

Bernini ‘Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun’
Drinking    Milking

This museum is home to a sculpture called ‘The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun’, that Bernini probably carved when he was twelve years old. For a long time, this sculpture was thought to be an authentic classical work. Not very surprising, considering that Gian Lorenzo often visited the Vatican at a very young age.

The Laocoön

For about three years, he made extensive study of its famous classical statues such as the Laocoön, the Belvedere Apollo and Torso, but of course also studied and drew the frescos by Raphael and Michelangelo. Bernini said that he learned from Michelangelo how to properly depict the muscles of the human body in all possible positions. Not surprising considering that Michelangelo had dissected a large number of corpses as a 17-year-old. In programme 3, we will take a closer look at the three sculptures that the young Bernini thoroughly studied in the Vatican.

The Laocoön
photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’ Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius 1618-1619 h. 220cm    Aeneas
The back of Anchises    Statues of Di Penates

Gian Lorenzo Bernini' Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius  in situ
photos: Burckhard Mücke; Slices of Light and Sailko

The ground floor houses a sculpture from 1619 that was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese and carved by Gian Lorenzo. It was his first major commission. The sculpture depicts Aeneas carrying his father Anchises and also includes his son Ascanius who carries the oil lamp. Read more? see Wikipedia.

The sculpture was initially placed under a painting which has the fall of Troy as its subject: Aeneas has fled to Italy with his father and his son after the fall of Troy. Pietro and Gian Lorenzo clearly had studied Giambologna’s famous sculpture The Rape of the Sabine Women that was carved 40 years earlier. The composition was also based on Raphael’s fresco ‘The Fire in the Borgo’ that we will see at the Vatican later.

Bernini ‘Pluto abducting Proserpine’ (1621- 1622)

Bernini 'Pluto abducting Proserpine'

The ground floor houses three famous sculptures that Gian Lorenzo Bernini carved at the behest of Scipione Borghese. The first two statues are based on the mythological stories by Ovid: Pluto abducting Proserpine (1621- 1622) and Apollo and Daphne (1623-1624). Bernini started working on his third statue, the David, even before he had completed Apollo and Daphne. Bernini didn’t complete his Apollo and Daphne until after his David was finished in 1624. Cardinal Scipione had donated his Apollo and Daphne, which had been sitting unfinished in Bernini’s workshop for a year, to his cousin Pope Paul V (Camillo Borghese). The cardinal probably wanted to curry favour with his cousin and had by then already seen the David. Bernini’s biographer Baldinucci (Wikipedia) claims the sculptor carved the David in eight months; it was immediately recognised as a masterpiece.

Continuation Rome day 4: Bernini Villa Borghese II