Facede of galleria Borghese in Rome
Art and culture

Galleria Borghese through the eyes of its director

October 21, 2022

Galleria Borghese’s marble halls and mosaics provide a fitting backdrop for Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s enchanting collection of fine art. The art gallery’s director, Francesca Cappelletti, tells us more.
painting by caravaggio of an old san gerlamo at his desk writing
Image © Mauro Coen/Galleria Borghese

Caravaggio collection

Home to the largest public collection of works by Baroque artist Caravaggio, Galleria Borghese displays treasures such as Roman sculptures, Italian Renaissance paintings and masterpieces from the 15th to 19th centuries. At the time, Cardinal Scipione Borghese was prepared to use illegal means to secure artworks he prized most highly, but it’s thanks to the “incredible taste of this family of collectors” that we have Galleria Borghese, says Francesca. Founded in 1613, the gallery is at the heart of one of Rome’s largest parks – Villa Borghese Gardens.

Piazzale Scipione Borghese 5, 00197 Rome

Exceptional masterpieces

If asked to choose a favourite of Galleria Borghese’s Caravaggio paintings, Francesca points to the serpent slaying ‘Madonna and Child with St Anne’, yet it’s the rooms housing Bernini’s sculptures, where Baroque statues are surrounded by antiques, which are the most breathtaking for her. Everywhere you turn, “you’re confronted by compelling views and the beauty of the past”, Francesca says. Turning to Bernini’s marble statue of ‘Apollo and Daphne’, she’s reminded of “the connection between man, nature and poetry.” It is, undeniably, Galleria Borghese’s greatest sculpture.

Marble Sileno statue inside Galleria Borghese
Image © Galleria Borghese
Detail of Paolina Borghese statue by Canova
Image © Galleria Borghese

A classical gallery for modern times

“Keeping Galleria Borghese current is a focus for me,” says Francesca, fearless in the face of new challenges for the centuries-old gallery. New ways of reaching visitors online flourished during lockdown and continue in the aftermath. Engaging videos and more than 150,000 followers on Instagram show her strong digital programme is appealing to younger audiences. In 2021, the gallery even attracted the US First Lady, Jill Biden, on a surprise visit to see classical artworks with modern pieces by British artist Damien Hirst.

What’s next for the gallery?

Exciting projects in the pipeline range from temporary exhibitions to the publication of a complete catalogue of works for scholars. “Our next exhibition will be Painting on Stone in Rome in the 17th century,” Francesca reveals, in which we delve into the relationship between the natural material and artists’ skills. Looking ahead, a music and a contemporary art programme will be woven into the gallery. Future plans also include activities for varied audiences, from young art fans to scholars: “I have the wonderful task of making these artworks known around the world,” Francesca enthuses.

Exhibition October 25, 2022 – January 29, 2023

Francesca Cappelletti standing next to statue of Il Ratto di Proserpina
Image © Galleria Borghese
detail of Turtles fountain in Rome

Recommendations for Rome

“One of the first palaces I studied was Palazzo Mattei,” says Francesca, sharing her love of the city. “I love to take a stroll by the Turtle Fountain in Piazza Mattei nearby.” Caravaggio himself would have passed the fantastical fountain daily, admiring its dolphins overseen by a figure thought to be the sea god Poseidon. The great Baroque artist lived in the palace while working for his patron Ciriaco Mattei. Another must-see for Francesca is Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi, home to three works by Caravaggio.

Palazzo Mattei, Via Michelangelo Caetani 32, 00186 Rome
Contarelli Chapel, Piazza di S Luigi de’ Francesi, 00186 Rome

During your time with us, you may also wish to explore Rome’s private art collections and the city’s latest exhibitions.

Header image courtesy of Luciano Romano/Galleria Borghese

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