Arts, On Campus, Review

McMullen Lecture Explores Galleria Borghese’s Rich History

Known for its exquisite gardens, the Borghese Gallery is a popular tourist attraction in Rome. With its expansive collection of artworks and lavish architecture, the site boasts a rich history. BC community members had the chance to hear about this Roman marvel from a professor who has a special place in her heart for the Galleria Borghese—because she is a Borghese herself. 

The McMullen Museum welcomed American University of Rome art history professor Daria Borghese on Monday for a virtual lecture on the Galleria. Borghese dedicates much of her time to the art of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque period. 

This was not the first time the Boston College community heard from the art aficionado. Borghese spent time in Boston back in 2001, when she delivered a series of lectures on Roman collections through the BC Alumni Association. 

Borghese broadcasted from her home country of Italy for the lecture, which was hosted by McMullen Museum of Art Director and art history professor Nancy Netzer. The lecture was part of the curriculum of the undergraduate and graduate seminar Netzer is teaching on history, philosophy, and practices of art from the classical period to the present.

Borghese began the lecture by explaining the origins of the gallery, beginning when Pope Paul V ascended into the papal throne. His nephew, Cardinal Scipione Caffarelli Borghese, took a keen interest in acquiring works of art. 

The cardinal had a profound passion for art. He also hoped that the acquisition of a large collection would elevate the social status of the Borghese family. His collection of art included works by some of the most brilliant artists of the time, including Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, Correggio, Messina, Bellini, Bernini, and Canova.

The villa itself was originally built in the early 1600s by architect Flaminio Ponzio and designed by the cardinal. Built as a country house, it stood outside the city. The architecture of the building was very simple—in fact, it was almost entirely white inside. The cardinal believed the interior should be plain so the people could focus on the remarkable works of art. 

Scipione was nicknamed the “town delight.” As the pope’s nephew, he was entrusted to organize many social events to celebrate his recent election. 

“The Romans loved him because he provided joy to the whole town, not just to himself,” Daria Borghese said.

In the late 1700s, the gallery underwent a renovation led by Italian architect Antonio Asprucci. This time, the general theme was the “fear of empty space,” as Borghese described. Every square inch contained some sort of decoration or embellishment. This style is what visitors of the gallery today encounter.

Daria Borghese eventually opened the lecture to questions from the audience. Professor and art history department chair Stephanie Leone asked her to speak on Scipione’s wildly diverse artistic taste and his criteria for choosing what pieces to include in his magnificent collection. 

“He has such a passion for life, for beauty—such a developed aesthetic taste,” Borghese said. “Whatever pleased his eyes he wanted it.”

His one criterion: “It must be beautiful.” 

Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

October 16, 2020

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