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28.2.04

The Villa Borghese

Antonio Canova, Pauline Borghese, 1805-1808, Galleria Borghese, RomeIf you like to dream about the history of cities, you should read this article (At Rome's Heart, Villa Borghese, February 28) by Roderick Conway Morris in the International Herald Tribune, about the extraordinary park in Rome known as the Villa Borghese. The motivation is a special exhibit, Villa Borghese: Princes, Arts and the City in the 18th and 19th Centuries, which is being shown at a building called the Villa Poniatowski, a recently restored exhibition space on the grounds. The exhibit (open until March 21) commemorates the handing over of the massive park and set of buildings, once the private home of the Borghese family, to the city of Rome and the opening of the gardens to the public, 100 years ago.

The villa's original owner, Scipione Borghese, was named Cardinal by his uncle, Camillo Borghese, who was elected as Pope Paul V in 1605. He became extraordinarily wealthy because of his uncle's favor, money that he spent on building the villa and on a renowned collection of art. You can see a selection of some of the more famous works of art still at the Villa Borghese. In 1803, one of the Borghese descendants made an eventually unhappy marriage to Pauline Bonaparte, the sister of Napoleon, who was famously sculpted by Antonio Canova as Venus victrix, or Venus reclining in victory (completed from 1805 to 1808; image at left from Francesco Pini at DolceVita). Canova's lesser-known bust of Pauline is one of the works on display in this special exhibition. Napoleon's interest in classical art led him to remove to Paris a large collection of classical pieces from his brother-in-law's collection in the Villa Borghese, which became the foundation of the Louvre's antiquities collection. Another work in the exhibit is an oil painting from 1838 by Diofebi, showing the Porta del Populo entrance to the park. You may also want to see some more photographs of the grounds, or you can read Henry James's account of his visit to the place in 1873, as well as much more information and other images on the Villa Borghese from Roberto Piperno's Rome Art Lover. One of the best assortments of images of the Villa Borghese can be viewed at this CNN feature from 1998, by Elsa Klensch (Museum marvels: Rome's Villa Borghese is restored and renewed).

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