Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Day 49: How to Visit the Galleria Borghese

It is my opinion that we as a society use the terms "awe-inspiring" and "breathtaking" far too often, diluting their meaning--until we have a moment that truly DOES strike us dumb with amazement, effectively resetting our perceptions in a way that can leave us slack-jawed and silent.

Thus was my experience at the Galleria Borghese today, after weeks of waiting for this moment. I was primarily so excited for this because my favourite artist of all time is sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini and the Galleria Borghese houses some of his most amazing pieces. You might recall my tear-stained moment in front of my favourite piece of architecture on the planet, The Fountains of the Four Rivers, in Piazza Navona a few weeks ago. I couldn't wait to see some of his smaller scale works, though the Galleria houses many more incredible artists as well.

So, here's what you need to know to have a successful and fulfilling visit to the Galleria Borghese!

  • Tickets MUST be reserved online in advance here, as the museum only admits a maximum of 250 people in two-hour slots to better allow patrons to view and enjoy the artwork without overcrowding. Because this is revered as one of the best museums in all of Italy if not the world, it's very popular and bookings sell out days in advance regularly. Book ahead as soon as you can! Tickets run about 11 Euro for full price, less if you're an EU citizen or meet other qualifications.
  • As I mentioned you only get two hours to view the museum, so do arrive about 15 minutes before your appointed time to make sure you can pick up your tickets at the Box Office and enter right on schedule. They WILL shoo you out very efficiently and very effectively about 5-10 minutes before the official "end" of your admission, so it's imperative to be on time.
  • You will be required to check all umbrellas, handbags, backpacks, and luggage regardless of size--so don't bring anything terribly valuable. It's free. They do NOT check coats or jackets, so if you bring those be prepared to carry them around. Interestingly, the brochure says that camera and camcorders have to be checked as well, but all of us on my visit were taking pictures very openly and no one stopped us.
  • Dress up! I always like to dress up nicely when I visit museums, out of respect to the beautiful art I'm seeing--often housed in incredible buildings. It's not a requirement, of course, but certainly helps to set the tone for the treasures you're about to view. It's easy to feel shabby in jeans and sneakers next to the magnificence of gilt and marble.
  • GET THE AUDIO GUIDE! It's only 5 Euros and is easily the best 5 Euros I've ever spent. The audio tour lasts 90 minutes (out of your allocated 120 minutes) so it takes up the majority, but offers tons of interesting information on each room and the notable pieces within. However, the audio guide is hand held and must be held up to your ear--very annoying when you need two hands for photography or holding on to youngsters. Bring your own headphones so you can plug in to the jack and loop the audio guide around your neck with the provided lanyard to have both hands free.
  • Move at a steady pace throughout the rooms. The audio guide is fantastically designed to keep you on track to stay within the 2 hour time limit, though it's tempting to dawdle in some of the rooms since the guide hits on only the main pieces and there's so much left to see and explore. Personally I know I'm going to need a second visit (without the audio guide, this time) to go back and see the smaller, but no less captivating, items I missed this time around. Fortunately there are laminated placards (in multiple languages) in most rooms that explain the smaller pieces not covered by the audio guide.
  • There's a fully stocked cafe on the lower level adjacent to the ticket office and coat check if you need to fuel up before or after your visit.
I think that's it in terms of the how-to's! Personally, this is the most amazing and *truly* breathtaking museum I've ever been to in my life, and I've been incredibly fortunate to see some of the most well-known in the world (the Met, the Louvre, MOMA, everything in Washington DC, etc.). If you only have a few days to spend in Rome and are trying to decide on what to see, this should absolutely be at the top of your list. The magnificence, combined with the fact that you're only given two hours, makes this an easy choice for everyone, even those with only a passing interest in art. 

Note: I have to preface all of the following photos by saying that I don't think there's any camera in the world that can truly capture the breathtaking beauty of seeing these pieces in person, as they were intended. I also committed to using only iPhone (5S) photography on this trip.

The Galleria Borghese is located within the Borghese Gardens, which is accessible by a few metro stops and is right next to Piazza del Popolo. Personally I just walk there from my university (about a 45 minute jaunt). I love the Borghese Gardens for many unrelated reasons, not least of which because it's a very romantic place to spend an afternoon--the entire (huge) park is shaped like a heart, for Pete's sake!

This is the fresco ceiling of the very first room you enter, wherein I promptly (very nearly) burst into tears at the detail and the magnificence. To say I was overwhelmed is a dramatic understatement. From the tiny piece I futilely tried to capture with my iPhone, you can see Jupiter (the Roman god-king, the Greek version of which is Zeus) on a cloud, radiating light, welcoming Romulus [ascending on the cloud to the bottom left] to the after life. I could have spent an entire hour on my back gazing up and taking in every minute detail!

My homeboy the god Bacchus (of wine and celebration) in the main entrance room, with the dragon of the Borghese Family above him.

Canova's "Pauline Bonaparte", depicted holding the golden apple that was the subject of "The Judgement of Paris", a scene which is conveniently also painted on the ceiling. This is the first room you walk into after that amazing first reception room, and this sculpture is no less incredible. Observe the creases in the fabric of her couch cushion, of the plumpness of her toes and feet and curve of her back--and remember, this is all made OUT OF STONE!

In the next room you are treated to the first of several Bernini masterpieces, his "David". Here the biblical figure of David is portrayed in the midst of his fight against the giant Goliath, about to fling the stone that would be his making. One of the things I love about Bernini is his ability to capture movement in stone, and this particular figure is so fluid you almost flinch in fear that David might whip around and let loose with that stone at any moment.

Bernini's "David" from the front. Observe the front leg tensed and braced as a foothold, and he biting his lip with furrowed brow in concentration. Don't even TRY and tell me you're not impressed by that.

Shortly after "David" you'll see another Bernini masterpiece: "Apollo and Daphne". Here is yet another example of Bernini's genius in capturing movement, fluidity, and texture. Everything from Apollo's garment fluttering out behind him to the texture of the laurel leaves that sprout from Daphne's fingertips at the moment of her metamorphosis is absolutely jaw-dropping.

"Apollo and Daphne" from behind, which is in fact the original view that viewers were treated to upon entering the room, such that they wouldn't understand the true craftsmanship of the piece until they circled around to the sides and front, to be fully grounded in amazement at the unfolding.

Another of Gian Lorenzo Bernini's famous works, "Pluto and Proserphina" here in the Emperor's Room, depicting The Rape of Persephone.

Though this is not my all-time favourite of Bernini's works, this particular image of Pluto's hand gripping the thigh of Persephone has been one of my more treasured and revisited images of art for years. I never stop marvelling at Bernini's ability to make the indentations of his fingers into her flesh so vivid and real.

It isn't only sculpture on display, of course. After hiking up a very long spiraling staircase you'll get to the second floor, the painting gallery, that houses several Caravaggios and other well known paintings. This one in particular caught my eye (the artist name slips my mind, regrettably) because it is in fact NOT a painting--instead it is a mosaic, made up of perhaps thousands of tiny miniscule tiles. Amazing!

Close up on the tiles--how's that for attention to detail!

Ah, okay--a shameless selfie in the back gardens of the actual Villa Borghese (the Galleria is inside) after my visit.

If you have any questions in preparation of your visit or on the museum itself, feel free to leave them in the comments. Ciao, bellos!

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely beautiful. I am hoping to see their beauty in person one day. I do believe Bacchus and I would have got along amazingly! lol