Thursday: Borghese Gallery and picnic on the Spanish Steps

Jose had one more art experience in mind for us today, so he arrived at our apartment at 8:15 and we all caught a cab to the Borghese Gallery. Reservations are required, and Jose had taken care of all of those details for us. The reservation system assures that the gallery does not become overcrowded, and the crowds are shooed out after 2 1/2 hours to let the next group in. I really like that system, as it keeps the throng manageable. There were absolutely no photographs allowed, and in fact, they do not even allow women to carry purses into the gallery. There is a coat check at which everything must be dropped. I read about that requirement and thus left the camera at home and tucked everything I needed into my cargo pant pockets. I was traveling light, and it felt good.

The gallery (palace) was designed by the art-loving Borghese family, and all of the works of art were commissioned for the space. The villa sits in the Borghese Gardens, Rome's answer to Central Park. In 1605, two months after becoming Pope, Paul V appointed his nephew Scipione as cardinal and gave him the area outside Porta Pianciana. Scipione hired all the best artists of the time to produce this showcase. He obviously wanted to be on the tour of homes.

Jose knows exactly what he wants us to see, and we follow him obediently. I know I am beginning to sound like a running advertisement for Jose, but I really enjoy what he brings to the experience. While all the other folks in the gallery clutch those handheld guides with their canned presentations and march from room to room in order, standing in front of statute no. 3 in room 1 and pressing the button, we go against the grain and head into one of the rooms all by ourselves to see the art.

As I said, photography was not permitted, so I am using some postcards just for illustration. Disclaimer: the gallery contains paintings, sculptures, mosaics, vases, urns, ceiling frescoes, etc. I am only hitting the barest highlights and those things that linger in my memory.

Jose led us straight to Bernini's “Apollo e Dafne” and told the story to Genene. According to Jose's version, Apollo thought Dafne was beautiful and simply had to have her. She was not interested, having sworn off men. He grabs hold of her anyway, and she calls out to her father, Peneus, for help. He turns her into a tree so that Apollo cannot have her. A postcard cannot do this justice. The work must be viewed in three dimensions with a 360 degree spin around to fully appreciate it. You can see the leaves beginning to sprout on her hands. Her toes are growing roots. Bark grows on her back. It is magnificent.


Next we saw Canova's “Paolina Borghese as Venus.” Paolina was Napoleon Bonaparte's sister, and she married into the Borghese family in a power play. She posed fully nude for Canova, scandalizing Europe. When asked how she could do such a thing, she said, “The room was not cold.” I like her style. She was the only family member to visit Napoleon after his exile in Elba, and apparently had lots and lots of lovers along the way. She sounds like an interesting “lady.”

We saw Bernini's “Rape of Proserpine,” although that is not exactly what Jose called it when talking to Genene. He explained the gist of the story as Pluto kidnapping Proserpine and taking her with him to the underworld. I love this statue. The three-headed Cerberus hangs out at their feet. She cries out. His hands dig into her flesh. Jose explained that this myth is connected to the changing of the seasons. Proserpine's mother was Ceres, who was the goddess of wheat (agriculture). Mom was so distraught that she mourned and mourned, and things died (winter). The gods got worried and made Pluto return her from the underworld for part of the year. When she is with her mother, things bloom and thrive. When she has to go back to her “husband,” winter returns.
Look at the hands digging into the flesh. Stunning.

Next we saw Bernini's “David.” This is not the idealized David of Michelangelo. This David brings the Bible story to life. His too-big armor is set at his feet, along with his harp. His slingshot is readied. His face has the intense expression of concentration, the kind of face an athlete makes before attempting that great shot.

The face of concentration.

We went upstairs to view the paintings. My favorite was Caravaggio's “David with the head of Goliath.” Jose told us that the face of Goliath in the painting is actually that of Carvaggio. I love the expression on David's face. To my mind, he is not triumphant. He looks downright unhappy about what he has had to do. Caravaggio had murdered a man in his youth and had to flee from Rome and spent most of his life on the run. Perhaps the sadness in David's face is Caravaggio's own.


Finally, I wanted to share Genene's favorite, Raffaello's “Woman with a Unicorn.” This painting had been altered after the fact to remove the unicorn, probably out of concerns that it was too pagan. In 1935 during a restoration, the wheel and goose feathers were scraped away, revealing the tiny unicorn. Genene thought the lady and her pet were beautiful.


We also saw what is arguably the most famous work in the gallery, Titian's “Sacred and Profane Love.” In 1899, the Rothchild family offered more for this work than the estimated value of the entire gallery. Their offer was refused, and it remains in its rightful place of glory in the heart of Rome.

We left Jose in front of the museum and strolled through the Borghese Gardens. The park is vast, and we want to come back. There are places to rent bicycles, paddleboats, and even horses. There is even a zoo. We wandered aimlessly, and the wayfinding signs left something to be desired. Soon we were lost. Thank goodness for iPhones. We try not to use them too much, even though we have an international data package. It was certainly worth its price today. We turned it on, pressed the locator button, found ourselves and moved toward the house before the midday sun beat us to death.

As we headed down the Spanish Steps, an old beggar woman approached. It is not unusual to see them, and they usually adopt a pose of supplication with a cup in front of them. This lady was much more active than that. She was almost chanting, and Genene said that she thought the lady was trying to hex her. The lady put me in the mind of Snow White's step-mother when she was trying to give Snow White the apple. I wonder if Walt Disney was inspired by these Roma beggars?

We stopped a toy store and bought Genene a stuffed animal that she had been admiring in the window. It is a dog that is asleep on a mat, and by the miracle of batteries and some kind of balloon inside it, it looks like it is breathing. She loves it. I think it is a bit creepy. Hey, at least we don't have to take it out for a walk, and it won't soil the rug.

We cheated on our sandwich shop today and tried the pizza joint. They sell it by the weight, and the crust is very thin. Two slices are cut square and put face to face, so that you clutch the outer crusts like a sandwich and walk and eat. They were delicious. We had a long nap, awoke refreshed and took a stroll.

We like to use an ATM at a BNL Paribas near the Pantheon. For one thing, BNL is associated with my bank, so I avoid some ATM charges. For another, it gives me more money than other ATMs. What I think I like best, though, is that after a certain time in the afternoon, the glass door closes and you have to use your card to get inside the well lighted area. It gives me an added measure of comfort. Anyway, we got some euros, strolled by the Trevi Fountain, and stopped at our neighborhood grocery for a sandwich.

We just finished a picnic on the Spanish Steps. It was a nice night, and everyone was out. A young man got out his guitar and was playing and singing some songs in English. He was a good singer, and many of the young people in the crowd began to sing along and clap after each song. Before much time passed, a police officer made him stop, and the crowd booed the cop loudly. He kept a stern face, but I think he was a little bit sorry at having to stop the guy.

Here are two views of Trevi Fountain at night.


The Pantheon against the night sky.

Two street scenes.

The picnic on the Spanish Steps.

Daddy's girl.

And the view from our picnic on the Steps.

We strolled home happily. I'm headed up to the rooftop terrace now. Genene and Greg are already up there. The wine is waiting. We have no agenda tomorrow. I am looking forward to an easy day.


1 thought on “Thursday: Borghese Gallery and picnic on the Spanish Steps

  1. You could certainly see your expertise in the paintings you write.
    The world hopes for even more passionate writers
    such as you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe.

    All the time follow your heart.

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