Thursday, September 11, 2014

Discovering Art with Kids at Galleria Borghese

Galleria Borghese
Apollo and Daphne by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1625)

While visiting the Vatican Museum is de rigueur for any trip to Rome, I must confess that my family much preferred the art experience at Galleria Borghese. This private house turned public art gallery is located in the sprawling and verdant Villa Borghese park which itself has a ton of fun activities for kids like bicycles, rowboats, a zoo and a carousel.

Villa Borghese
Walking up to the Galleria Borghese

A Brief History

This 20-room villa was originally built in the 17th century on the outskirts of Rome as a party house for Cardinal Scipione Borghese who was the nephew of Pope Paul V. Why a cardinal needs a party house is beyond me. Flamboyant living must run in the family because one of his descendants, Lorenzo Borghese, was the featured catch on the modern day reality TV show, The Bachelor. Aside from acting as the pope's secretary and the Superintendent General of the Papal States, Cardinal Borghese took great pleasure in collecting art and antiquities as well as acting as a patron to the artists Bernini and Caravaggio. The... ahem... "gifts" from the papal government to the Cardinal immensely helped him fund and supply his hobby. The villa and the collection were sold to the Italian government in 1902. 

Galleria Borghese
Baroque style rooms

Baroque Rooms

The elaborate Baroque ceiling and trompe-l'œil that decorated the walls is what first caught my daughter's eye. She wondered, "Is that real or is it just painted on?" Sometimes, it was hard to tell. This place reminded her a lot of Versailles' Hall of Mirrors, and I'm going to have to agree. There was just so much going on with no place to rest your eyes. 

Considering how crowded all the other tourist attractions in Rome are, I also really enjoyed not feeling packed in like a can of sardines at the Galleria Borghese. They only admit 360 people maximum during each two hour viewing period, and you must leave at the end of your assigned time. The collection is small enough that you probably won't feel rushed. It used to be bigger until 1807 when Emperor Napoleon pressured his brother-in-law, Prince Camillo Borghese, into selling pieces from the family's art collection to the French. You now have to go to the Louvre to see some of the more spectacular items that the Borghese used to own.

Apollo and Daphne

My favorite piece in the entire collection is Bernini's Apollo and Daphne. In fact, that sculpture (pictured at the top of the post) is easily my favorite of every single piece of artwork I've seen in my entire life. When I gazed upon Michelangelo's Pieta at the Vatican or the Venus de Milo at the Louvre, I only knew that they were great works of vast importance because someone told me so. It was completely different with Apollo and Daphne. I'm basically ignorant when it comes to art, so I knew nothing beforehand about this sculpture, its creator, or even of its existence. I walked into the room, saw it, and was immediately captivated. 

The movement of Daphne's windswept tresses and the cloth whipping behind Apollo as she attempts to flee from him only to find herself turning into a tree are so very lifelike. How could this possibly be rendered in stone? I couldn't help walking around the statue and marveling at the craftsmanship. 

What the Kids Liked

My kids were surprisingly engrossed at this museum, paying close attention to their audioguides and getting only slightly distracted by their desire to annoy each other. I think that's why I like this museum so much. I was actually able to look at things without simultaneously playing referee. 

Villa Borghese
Paying rapt attention to the audioguide

My daughter kept pointing out all the funny things she saw. 

Naked children playing instruments and balancing precariously on a balcony.

I'm kind of wondering where the artist got his inspiration for the above piece. "Here hon, go out on the balcony and bang on this tambourine with your friends. Sure, I don't mind if you just balance on the ledge." If you let your kids actually do this nowadays, Child Protective Services would immediately be calling on you. 

Beware flying cupids with hammers
Why is this cupid wielding a hammer? It seems to be taking a certain measure of glee in the look of concern on the man's face. If you looked up to see a flying baby coming at you with a hammer, wouldn't you look a little more scared?

Lady with a Unicorn by Raphael (circa 1505)
Note: Pardon the reflection on the glass.

If I actually managed to capture a unicorn and give it to my kid, I would hope that she would be more excited. This lady has a very dour expression. What does she want? Two unicorns?

Swamp Creature?

This one is my favorite because it seems so out of place among the 1st century antiquities, classical sculptures and Baroque artwork. I think it looks like something out of a 1950's horror flick. The audioguide mentioned nothing about it, so I am free to make up my own story.

Do you like to make up your own stories for a work of art?

  • Open Tuesday to Sunday from 8:30AM to 7:30PM. Closed all Mondays, January 1 and December 25.
  • Tickets are for timed entry and limited to a 2 hour visit. Only 360 people are admitted during each time period. You must exit at the end of your slot.
  • Full-price admission is €11,00 (+ € 2,00 mandatory service charge). Included in Roma Pass. Free on the first Sunday of each month, but a reservation is imperative. 
  • Reserving tickets beforehand is highly recommended. When I was there in June, the next walk-up ticket available was 2 days away. Buy tickets online. If you have a Roma pass or are reserving for the free 1st Sunday of the month, call +39 06 32810 where an English-speaking representative can assist you in reserving a time without paying.
  • If you are visiting during the summer, an afternoon reservation will give you a place to escape the heat for a few hours.
  • Audioguides in Italian, English, French, German and Spanish available for 5.
  • Guided tours in English are conducted at 9:10AM and 11:10AM. Guided tours in Italian are conducted at 11:10AM, 3:10PM, and 5:10PM. Price is 5.
  • All bags and umbrellas must be deposited for free in the cloakroom. I suggest you arrive 15 minutes before your entry time to deposit items.
  • A cafe serving sandwiches, baked goods, and drinks is located on the bottom floor.
  • See the website for more information.
  • Try to leave some time to explore the surrounding Villa Borghese park

This post is part of the following linkups. Be sure to check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.


  1. Hi Michelle, a visit to Borgehese Gallery is definitely much more pleasant than Vantican Museum, where a visit is like a sport, you need a strategy. I think it's awesome that your kids were into it. I like your take on the babies on the balcony. I like making up stories, too. My thought on that baby with the hammer was that people back then were so lenient with their kids that they let them play with anything. It's like, "You're bored with your baby toys? Here, you can play with this big boy toy."

  2. I had no idea this museum existed and thanks so much taking me along to learn so much about it. The gal with the Unicorn is saying "but I wanted a puppy!" How fun to make up stories and these works of art are amazing. Actually we had an amazing tour guide take us through the Vatican and he made our tour very interesting and we learned so much..

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  4. We didn't go inside when we went to Rome recently, but thanks to this, I definitely will be next time we go! :)

  5. Michele, I love it. Medieval art is, sometimes. I can't do many museums like this in a row, but one or two always make my list. Love the hammer and swamp! Thanks so much for linking up with Weekend Travel Inspiration! I hope we see you next week as well!

  6. Thanks so much for writing about this! I'm in the midst of planning an Italy trip and would love to go here.

  7. Wow, such a great tip about reserving tickets beforehand. I cant imagine the walk-up tickets being 2 days away - gah, imagine trying to explain that to the kiddos. Thanks for linking up to #SundayTraveler again.

  8. Beautiful photos! Are you now allowed to bring cameras in? I would love to have been able to take photos when I was a guide here but they always made us leave our bags and cameras in coat check. I love Bernini and always go back and forth on whether I love Apollo and Daphne or The Rape of Persephone more!

    1. They started letting people bring in cameras in June with the understanding that no flashes would be used. I think that it's a trial run to see if people comply. You still have to check bags.

  9. It's always hard to engage kids in art museums and I'm glad this one gave you a break while your kids enjoyed the pieces. I love that they only allowed a certain number of people for a limited time and there aren't too many pieces t overwhelm anyone. Apollo and Daphne sure is a beauty. This has got to be the fanciest "party house" I've come across so far.

  10. I agree that sometimes I can't figure out why certain works of art are considered great apart from art historians telling me so. I think it's great that your creative storytelling juices start flowing as you view certain pieces and that your kids do the same. That's the beautiful thing about art - it's completely subjective. I'll definitely have to check out Galleria Borghese the next time I'm in Rome.

  11. What a pity! I wasn't able to visit when I was there, because of the no camera issue.
    Glad that all that has change.
    I would love to see every single detail of it.
    The art pieces esp. that of Raphael's was just breathtaking.
    thanks for letting see us a slice of Galleria.

  12. I like your art commentary! I agree that the lady with the unicorn has a total 'not impressed' face. I guess she asked for a FLYING unicorn.

  13. I never know what to look at when I'm in an art museum. I feel like I never truly appreciate what is in front of me. Maybe I should start making up stories too. Sounds like a good way to pass the time!

  14. I would love to visit here! After recent trips to Asia and Africa, I am missing a dose of classical Western European art! Sounds fun to make up your own story for artwork, especially with kids. We used to do this in school.


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