The page covers:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
in page two:
More Recent Additions
in page three:
Inside Casino Borghese:
- Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Imprint
- Late XVIIIth Century Redesign
- Borghese Collection at the Louvre
- Present Borghese Collection
In this 1761 etching Giuseppe Vasi showed the arrival of very important guests at Villa Borghese; however the access to the southern gardens of the villa was not restricted to the friends of Prince Borghese, but it was allowed to the public in general, following a practice initiated by Cardinal Scipione Caffarelli Borghese, the founder of the villa. We owe to his generosity the fact that his heirs were unable to partition and sell the gardens in the late XIXth century, because of a clause in his will which turned the practice into a vested right of the citizens of Rome.
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Fašade of the Casino in the first precinct; 2) Box hedges separating the first precinct from a second precinct where the Casino has another similar fašade.
The view in November 2009
The casino, the main building of the villa, has lost most of the stucco decoration which framed ancient statues and reliefs. In 1807 Prince Camillo Borghese sold (or was invited to sell) to Napoleon Bonaparte, his brother-in-law, the collection of antiquities which decorated the interior and the exterior of the building. Eventually the design of the fašade was simplified and the empty frames were removed.
Balustrade surrounding the first precinct (original at Cliveden House, Berkshire)
In 1892 Prince Paolo Borghese sold the balustrade of the first precinct to American billionaire William Waldorf Astor, who used it to decorate his mansion at Cliveden-on-Thames; today the building belongs to the English National Trust, but it has been turned into a luxury hotel.
In 1895 a copy replaced the original. Until a few years ago cars were allowed to enter this area and to park in the precinct, hopefully this is no longer permitted.
In 1901 the casino and the gardens were bought by the Italian State.
Detail showing the remaining decoration on the southern fašade
The casino was designed by Giovanni Vasanzio (Jan Van Santen) based on a project by Flaminio Ponzio and it was built in 1608-615; it resembles that of Villa Medici (you may wish to see an aerial view of the casinos of the two villas side by side in another window); its main aim was to house the collection of ancient statues and reliefs owned by Cardinal
Scipione (*), rather than to be used as a summer residence, because for this purpose the Cardinal had other villas near Frascati.
Prince Camillo Borghese was unable to recover the collection he sold to Napoleon with the exception of a few items, but he managed to re-establish the old decoration in the central part of the fašade with statues he found in his estates in the Roman countryside.
(*) The Cardinal is usually referred to by his name, an indication of the affection the Romans have for him.
(left) One of the two obelisks at the sides of the casino; (right) side view of the casino
In 1586-590 Pope Sixtus V restored and re-erected several ancient obelisks; by doing this he severed the connection between these monuments and pagan beliefs; as a result modern obelisks were used to decorate the casino.
Today the building houses a national museum. Its collections include the gallery of paintings which was located in Palazzo Borghese in town, ancient statues, reliefs and mosaics, some statues by Gian Lorenzo Bernini which were created for the casino and a statue portraying Princess Paolina Borghese, Napoleon's sister, by Antonio Canova. They are covered in page three.
The northern fašade has a design similar to the southern one; the closure of the loggia gives it a flat appearance; it does not have a grand entrance because this part of the villa was reserved to the landlords. After the death of Cardinal Scipione in 1633, the villa was inherited by his cousin Marcantonio II, who was given the title of Prince of Sulmona (a town in Abruzzo) by the King of Spain (and Naples).
(left) Giardino dei Melangoli; (right) a lemon tree
The casino and a series of adjoining gardens formed a barrier between the public (southern) and private (northern) parts of the villa. These gardens and their facilities date to the time of Cardinal Scipione and they were part of his project of recreating a villa similar to those of the ancient Romans. The area to the east of the building was devoted mainly to a citrus fruit orchard; the varieties which were selected for this garden were the bitter ones (melangoli). They were grown in pots and this enhanced their decorative use. In 1650 Jacopo Manilli, head gardener of the villa, wrote that 22 different fruit trees were grown in this garden.
(above) Uccelliera (Aviary); (below) painted ceiling
The garden to the west of the building was planted with flowers and divided into two sections by an aviary designed by Girolamo Rainaldi; in this small building the highly decorated, but overall plain shape of the casino was replaced by a more complex design where eagles and dragons, the heraldic symbols of the Borghese, played a major role.
(left) Giardino della Meridiana; (right-above) relief portraying a wind; (right-below) ceiling inside the building
A second aviary was designed by Carlo Rainaldi in 1688; it is named after the sundial placed at its centre; the building was modified at a later stage, but the paintings inside its arched entrance reveal its original purpose. The sundial indicated both the Italian and the French/International hours. In addition at noon (meridies in Latin, hence meridiana) it indicated the day of the year.
Eagles and dragons in the special gardens (left) and in the private gardens (right)
(left) The gate in Via Pinciana; (right) rear side of the gate
While the special gardens have retained to a great extent their XVIIth century appearance, the gardens open to the public were enlarged and underwent many changes which are discussed in page two; the original gate built by Cardinal Scipione is located along Via Pinciana, the street leading from Porta Pinciana to Via Salaria.
An inscription in Latin stated the rights of the visitors: I, the custodian of the Villa Borghese on the Pincio declare the following. Whoever you are, provided you are a free man, do not fear the fetters of the law here. Go wherever you want to, ask for whatever you desire, leave whenever you wish. Here things are provided more for the visitor, than for the owner. (..). It is now inside the casino. Similar inscriptions had been placed by Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici at his villa.
Rotonda di Goethe (the image used as background for this page shows the head of one of the dragons)
Yesterday, after sunset - you cannot go out here sooner
on account of the heat - I was in the Villa Borghese.
How I wished that you were with me! I at once found
four splendid scenes which one might well copy if he could. (August 1, 1787)
On a splendid morning I at once hastened with your letter to the Villa Borghese, and followed in thought for two hours the course of the piece, the characters and the conditions (..). (December 1787)
J. W. Goethe - Italian Journey - 1885 edition by George Bell and Sons.
A small semicircular wall separated the public gardens from other areas which were farmed. J. W. Goethe was one of the many foreigners who enjoyed going for a walk at Villa Borghese. He might have sat in this spot, which is named after him. It is protected from winds and in the morning the walls reflect the rays of sun, so that Goethe could have spent hours there reading his correspondence even in December.
Fontana dei Cavalli Marini
The public gardens were divided into square sections by long alleys; each section was bordered by hedges; the trees were those typical of the ancient sacred woods: elms, ilexes and laurel groves.
The fountains had a rustic appearance, with rocks, masks and statues of rivers (perhaps similar to Fontana dell'Aquilone, another fountain by Vasanzio in the Vatican Gardens). One of these fountains was replaced in 1791 by Fontana dei Cavalli Marini, which was designed by Cristoforo Unterberger and other fountains disappeared during the many changes made to the gardens (they are discussed in the next page).
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Dal Card. Scipione Borghese nipote di Paolo V. fu eretta questa villa, ed il magnifico casino, li quale darÓ motivo al cortese mio Lettore di dar fine a questa giornata: perci˛ lo consegno all'erudito, e garbato Custode, che farÓ il piacere di mostrargli una dopo l'altra le maravigliose statue, bassirilievi, e busti antichi, e moderni, con altre raritÓ di quadri, e pitture insigni. Dipoi volendo tornare in CittÓ, sarÓ bene di trapassare per mezzo de' viali della gran villa ornata di fontane, di statue, e di amenissimi giardini.