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10 Best Sculptures at Villa Borghese

This oasis of tranquility, in the heart of Rome, is home to some of the best statues of all time. Here is a list of the most spectacular ones.

Nuria Rozas

Nuria Rozas

9 min read

10 Best Sculptures at Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese | ©Kostandin Minga

In the Villa Borghese Gardens in Rome, you can take a boat ride on the lake; admire the masterpieces of Caravaggio, Raphael and Rubens, among others, and contemplate splendid sculptures that will leave you in awe, including the Venus Victrix dedicated to Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon's sister.

Throughout the length and breadth of the art gallery and these English-style gardens, which exude romanticism on all four sides, you will find majestic sculptures presiding over each of its corners. I leave you a list of the 10 best statues so you don't miss any of them. Let's get down to business!

1. Bernini's Apollo and Daphne, the artist beloved by the Popes

Apollo and Daphne by Bernini| ©Ángela Varela Neila
Apollo and Daphne by Bernini| ©Ángela Varela Neila

Can you imagine the rocks coming to life? If you do not believe in miracles, contemplate in the Borghese Gallery the work of Apollo and Daphne, carved by the Neapolitan sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the favorite artist of the Popes in Italy and, according to experts, the last great creative genius of Rome.

How long did it take Bernini to finish the work?

To achieve this result, he spent...threeyears molding it with his own hands! He finished it in 1625 with great care. In the sculpture of Apollo and Daphne, Bernini turned the poetics of the myth 'The Metamorphosis of Ovid' into a single marble image.

The presence of this baroque master in the fountains of Rome, in the churches of Rome and in its museums is one of the distinctive symbols of the Eternal City.

What is the significance of this sculpture?

The work depicts a young Apollo, mad with passionate love, chasing the nymph Daphne who flees in anguish, who begins to transform into a beautiful laurel tree before the astonished gaze of her stalker. I suggest that when observing the sculpture, you take a walk around it because the perspective changes a lot depending on the place, Daphne's hands transformed into laurel branches will leave you open-mouthed!

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2. The Rape of Proserpina, his most dramatic work

Sculpture The Rape of Proserpina| ©Ana Rey
Sculpture The Rape of Proserpina| ©Ana Rey

If we continue with our sculptural route through Bernini's works, we will come across 'The Rape of Proserpina', an artistic ensemble that represents the tragic abduction of Pluto, god of the underworld, to Proserpina, daughter of Jupiter and Ceres. What impressed me the most? In the sculpture that gives a sense of drama, the characters look like flesh and blood.

Although Bernini was very young, he was only 23 years old when he molded it, it has become one of his most famous pieces and an icon of art. It is part of the
within the Baroque movement, which is characterized by an overloaded and exaggerated, almost theatrical aesthetic.

How big is the sculpture?

With a height similar to that of a basketball player**(2.25 meters**), the piece is carved in Carrara marble, considered the most prestigious marble in the world for its whiteness and fine floury appearance, ideal for simulating skin. This material comes from Tuscany and was historically used by ancient Roman builders and, more recently, by Renaissance artists.

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3. Bernini's most human 'David

Bernini's David| ©Andy Montgomery
Bernini's David| ©Andy Montgomery

Another of Bernini's wonders that you can contemplate in the Borghese Gallery is the sculpture of the last representation of David, a figure that had been approached in the previous two centuries by the greats of art such as Donatello and Michelangelo.

Specifically, the piece depicts the future King David, one of the characters of the Old Testament, who is able to defeat the giant Goliath by throwing a stone and with great effort. For the first time, it presents him as a man, with his virtues and flaws, rather than as a victorious hero.

Bernini, ahead of his time

Bernini, besides being a child prodigy capable of creating large-scale sculptures from a very young age, was a pioneer in his time and introduced with this sculpture the theme of sport and young Greek athletes. And a very clear message: with sacrifice and struggle you can achieve anything you set your mind to.

Did you know that...?

The sculpture of David is unfinished on the back. It is not that Bernini was lazy and left it half finished, but it was intended to be hung on a wall and to be seen only from the front.

4. The splendid Venus Victrix

Venus Victrix| ©pom-angers
Venus Victrix| ©pom-angers

We know all too well the exploits of Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the most important figures in the history of Europe, but who was his sister Pauline? If you want to put a face to her, follow your tour of the Borghese Gallery, which exhibits the young Pauline Bonaparte transformed into a radiant goddess Venus through a mythologized portrait, and that to me reminds me of the painting of 'The Naked Maja' by Goya, but in sculpture version.

What is so special about this work? The surprising thing about this piece is that to get it, Paulina Bonaparte posed as God brought her into the world for the masterpiece of the Italian neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova.

The sculpture arrived in the garden in 1838 and, according to legend, raised such a stir that there were lines at night to see the statue of the naked girl, one of the most beautiful and modern women of her time.

Nuria's Traveller Tip

A tip: when you visit the sculpture, don't get too close, as you may cause a mishap. Last year, a tourist broke her toes - poor Paulina! If she would raise her head...

5. The sleeping hermaphrodite of the 2nd century

Sleeping hermaphrodite| ©Rodney
Sleeping hermaphrodite| ©Rodney

If you thought that after the beautiful Venus inspired by Bonaparte's sister, you had seen it all, you are very wrong. In the Borghese Gallery we will contemplate another spectacular goddess, who is lying completely naked and has a surprise... She has a penis! Just as you read it.

This is the Sleeping Hermaphrodite, a sculpture dating back to the second century and found in Rome in 1609. In 1620, the flamboyant artist Bernini transformed the original marble support into a mattress on which the figure rests placidly. It is so real that it makes you want to lie on it!

However, I have to give you a little bad news: the sculpture that is in the Borghese Gallery is the copy of the one I have explained to you. It is a work also made in the second century and restored by Andrea Bergondi in the thirteenth century, who imitated Bernini's model creating also a mattress. There are almost 20 versions of this masterpiece all over the world!

Contemplate the spectacular ceilings of the hall

After admiring the sculpture, look up (like the song) and contemplate the marvelous paintings on the ceiling, which depict the myth of Hermaphrodite, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite. According to Ovid's poetic account in his 'Metamorphoses', the young man's dual sex (male and female) was determined by his forced union with the nymph Salmacis.

6. Bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese

Bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese| ©Sailko
Bust of Cardinal Scipione Borghese| ©Sailko

In Villa Borghese, which, by the way, is shaped like a heart, you will find magnificent fountains, ponds and bridges. But who is the creator of this marvel? Cardinal Scipione Borghese, a nephew and secretary of Pope Paul V, who became an artistic patron thanks to his enormous fortune.

In addition to being the founder of these beautiful gardens, he was the discoverer of Bernini, whom he commissioned the sculptures I have mentioned. Among them, a very special one: his own bust. It is very particular because, unlike other pieces, this sculpture seems to be talking. Pay attention to his mouth!

Perfectionist to the core

When he was 56 years old, Cardinal Scipione Borghese commissioned his bust from the young Bernini, whom he considered a new Michelangelo. Filippo Baldinucci (1682) recounts that, once the work was finished, the sculptor noticed that a flaw in the granite block had caused a crack that is still visible on the cardinal's head. To fix it, the artist made a copy of the bust in fifteen nights. An anecdote that illustrates Bernini's virtuosity and great gifts.

7. The statue of Goethe, the German Shakespeare

Goethe Statue| ©Frank P
Goethe Statue| ©Frank P

If you are an inveterate lover of the most romantic Rome, I suggest you carefully explore the gardens of Villa Borghese because it is dotted with some of the hidden treasures you can find in Rome. Among them, the monument (in Carrara marble) dedicated to the novelist, playwright and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, one of the most important figures of modern literature.

The first writer of the Gardens

This sculpture is very symbolic because it was the first to be installed in the park to honor a writer who, in this case, had a great bond with the city. The poet fell in love with the Eternal City, to which he dedicated some beautiful words: "comparing my state of mind when I was in Rome, I have never been happier since". Do you feel identified?

Goethe's monument, which measures no less than 8 meters, was a gift to Italy from Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany. Specifically, it was cast in Berlin in the studio of Valentino Casali and was installed in the gardens in 1904, in the presence of King Vittorio Emanuele III.

8. The statue of the adventurer and eccentric Lord Byron

Statue of Lord| ©Sonse
Statue of Lord| ©Sonse

If 24 hours were enough for Audrey Hepburn to fall in love with the Eternal City and, of course, with its handmade ice creams, it took the English poet Lord Byron a few more, 22 days, which is what he lived in the Spanish Steps in Rome. Enough for him to be enraptured.

The statue of Lord Byron in Villa Borghese was erected in 1959. It is a copy of the sculpture made in Rome, which was commissioned by the writer himself in 1831 to Bertel Thorwaldsen, and now rests in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, UK.

A sculpture on request and too cheerful

It was Lord Byron himself who, during his stay in the Italian capital, went to the workshop of the sculptor Thorvaldsen, sheathed in a cape, to have a bust made to measure.

To do so, the writer took the pose of the heroic characters in his novels, to which the artist replied: "Wouldn't you prefer to sit more comfortably? It is not necessary for you to adopt that expression. -It is mine- replied the poet." Finally, on finishing the torso, the litterateur was disappointed, "It doesn't look like me. I have the most unhappy air."

9. La Verità, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

La Verità Statue| ©Ana Rey
La Verità Statue| ©Ana Rey

Bernini is the great sculptor of the Borghese Gallery and, in addition to the four masterpieces mentioned above, you should stop before others such as La Verità or the bust of Pope Paul V. Why is the La Verità piece so important?

Because it was created in a very difficult period of his career, which ended with the demolition of one of the bell towers he designed for St. Peter's Basilica. The sculpture of La Verità is depicted as a smiling, naked girl, sitting on a rock, holding the sun in her right hand and resting her left leg on the globe.

The work is part of a sculptural group that would represent the allegory of truth revealed by time.
of the truth revealed by time, which was never finished. Upon the artist's death
artist's death, his heirs sold the large marble sculpture.

10. Fountain of the Seahorses

Fountain of the seahorses at Villa Borghese| ©Cidadania en Italia
Fountain of the seahorses at Villa Borghese| ©Cidadania en Italia

Some of the most splendid sculptures of Villa Borghese are installed in the fountains scattered throughout the gardens. In particular, in the center of a small square where four tree-lined avenues intersect is the Fountain of the Sea Horses, one of my favorites for its beauty.
One of my favorites for its elegance and originality, I recommend you look for it!

The fountain was built between 1790 and 1791 to replace the previous fountain, the Fontana del Mascherone, destroyed during the transformation of the park. Inside the fountain, you can admire a sculpture composed of four seahorses holding the fountain with their heads and whose bodies are shaped like fish. Impressive!

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