Saturday, 18 August 2012

Villa Borghese

We visited the Villa Borghese this morning.

I forgot, when they forbid you to take your camera in there is usually a reason. On the outside it is a small unassuming little villa, lightly dotted with busts of important Romans, but on the inside, it was breathtaking (literally). Every public room was panelled in varicoloured marble, and these walls merged with the ceiling in a cornicopia of colours and symbols. Even when you had recovered from the overwhelming sight, there was still too much to revel in every detail. And this was just the public rooms; In the more private rooms, the walls at least were plain but you could have lain in bed staring all day at the ceilings or the famous paintings that hung around you. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any books that replicate the art collection or rooms to satisfaction.  

Here, there was a delightful reference to the current location of some of the collection. In Athens they refer to Lord Elgin stealing the marbles, in Villa Borghese it is more diplomatically described as ‘the emigration of the marbles’. It seems Camillio Borghese sold 304 pieces of his collection to his brother-in-law (Napoleon) for something like 13 million francs. This included the rather superb Hermaphroditus now reclining in the Louvre along with several other pieces the Louvre is unwilling to return. As a result there is now a legal clause attached to the gallery which forbids the collection from being broken up any further. 

What makes this villa extra special is that it was inhabited by Pauline Borghese nee Bonaparte (wife of one of the princes) who was one of the few people who rebelled against Napoleon's arrogance and power complex. It was because she was his sister that to some extent she could get away with whatever she wanted, including posing nude for the sculpter Cavona. When asked how she could possibly have done it, her response was that he'd kept his studio well heated. Have to love her - though it may have something to do with loving women who could cut Napoleon down to size. That sculpture was rather stunning, but the piece de resistance was the Bernini sculpture of Apollo and Daphne. The way she transformed in the Laurel tree was done so delicately and in a manner that made the myth appear realistic. 

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