Project Description

The Borghese Gallery and the Capuchin Crypt: the Borghese and Barberini Families

The Borghese Gallery is perhaps the highest artistic expression of Roma Barocca (Baroque Rome, or Rome in the 1600s).  Scipio Borghese, Pope Paul V’s Cardinal nephew, had it built one the sprawling land he owned just outside Rome’s old walls.  His property bordered that of Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (later Pope Urbanus VIII).  Maffeo was on good terms with the avid art collector Scipio.  And eventually he introduced Scipio to a young sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  Scipio immediately recognized Bernini’s talent and bought one of the 16-year-old’s first sculptures.  Seen in the picture, it is the she-goat Amalthea. The goat bleats noisily as a baby Jove and a satyr fumble under her  thick mantle to milk her.  Without a doubt, Bernini knew how to tantalize his viewer’s senses even when he was a teenager!

Bernini's Amalthea in the Borghese Gallery not far from the Capuchin Crypt
Bernini's David in the Borghese Gallery, the apex of Roma Barocca with his grimace of intense concentration

From 1618 to 1624, Bernini worked for the Scipione Borghese, producing four, life-sized sculptures. While they are all on display at the Borghese Gallery, Bernini’s David steals the show.  Indeed, David was the hero and liberator of the Jewish state. But he also composed the Old Testament Psalms, making him poets and artists’ “patron saint.”  Therefore, this masterpiece of David grimacing as he kills Goliath is actually Bernini’s self-portrait!  You can admire it in the photo.

David’s theatrical expression is exactly what we expect from Roma Barocca. And it’s no surprise really, if you know the story behind the artwork. Cardinal Maffeo Barberini is said to have held a mirror for Bernini as he sculpted. That way, he could easily try out different expressions.  But in 1624, Bernini abruptly stopped work on the David.  Why?  Maffeo Barberini had just been elected Pope Urbanus VIII.  And he had named Bernini Head Architect of the Church of Saint Peter’s.  Bernini now had more important things to think about!

Six Caravaggio Oil Painting in Just One Gallery!

Before enjoying Bernini’s stunning sculptures, we will admire Scipio’s superb collection of six Caravaggio oil paintings. That is a number only the Borghese Gallery can drag about!  (Occasionally, however, it loans one or two of them to other museums and exhibitions.)  Coincidentally, the six paintings are like a storyboard that narrate specific moments in Caravaggio’s life and his development as an artist.  First, his early works are represented by a still life and the Sick Bacchus.  A close-up of the latter is seen in the picture.  Second, his controversial Virgin Mary and his Saint Jerome date to the apex of his career in Rome.  Third, his Saint John the Baptist and his grim self-portrait in David and Goliath were two of the last paintings he worked on before his premature death.

Caravaggio's very human and earthy Sick Bacchuss in the Borghese Gallery is Roma Barocca too

The Capuchin Crypt

Not far from the Borghese Gallery is the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione.  Underneath it is the famous Capuchin Crypt, better known as “the Bone Church.”  When Maffeo Barberini became pope, his brother Antonio — a devote Capuchin, who was said to have possessed nothing but his clothes and a bible — traveled to Rome at his brother’s request.  To strengthen their ties, the Pope built a monastery and church not far from the Barberini Palace.  The Church’s crypt was then embellished using the bones of long-deceased Capuchin friars.  The bones of circa 4000 bodies cover the walls and ceilings of four rooms, creating chandeliers, trellising gardens, and spiritual admonitions.  See it to believe it!  (Want a sneak preview?  Click here to check out the pictures in Fanpage, a cheesy Italian ‘zine, that wrote an article on the Crypt!

Roma Barocca: The Borghese Gallery and the Capuchin Crypt. What to Know Before You Go!

A visit to Capuchin Crypt and Borghese Gallery generally lasts about four hours.   To make the most of your Roma Barocca experience, please remember these two important details:

  1. The Borghese Gallery has timed entrances, which often sell out.  Daniella recommends that tickets be reserved ahead of time.  If you’d like to take care of them, great!  Otherwise, she’s happy to!  Please see “the costs” section of this website for more information regarding Daniella’s reservation fees.
  2. The Church of Santa Maria della Concezione and the Crypt underneath it are two of the few places in Rome that apply a strict dress code.  Just like at Saint Peter’s Basilica, you are expected to cover you knees and shoulders if you’d like to visit the Crypt.

The entrance fee to the Capuchin Crypt is euro 8,50/person (euro 5,00 with a reduction, and euro 6 if part of a group).

The entrance fee for the Borghese Gallery is euro 13,00/person (and euro 2,00 with a student reduction).  The Gallery also limits the number of visitors a guide can accompany.

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