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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in December 2009.

Villa Borghese (part one) (Book 10) (Map A1) (Day 2) (View B6)

In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Today's view
Casino Borghese
Special Gardens
Public Gardens
in part two:
Prince's Gardens
Neoclassic Additions
More Recent Additions

The Plate (No. 187)

In this plate 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 tradition 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 the tradition had become a vested right.
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 seen from the first precinct; 2) Curtains of trees 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; this occurred in 1807 century when Prince Camillo Borghese sold (or was forced to sell) to Napoleon Bonaparte the collection of ancient statues which decorated the interior and the exterior of the Casino.

Louvre Museum: statues of the Borghese collection; those of the two Dacian prisoners decorated the fašade of Villa Borghese

The great majority of the statues of the Borghese collection are at the Louvre Museum; many of them are grouped in a large gallery which is part of the Roman antiquities collection.

Louvre Museum: statues of the Borghese collection: that of Diana (left) was placed inside a small circular temple

In some instances the ancient statues were so largely "restored" by sculptors of the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries that the Louvre Museum could place them in the Gallery of Italian Sculptures.

Louvre Museum: (left/centre) statues of the Borghese collection which are copies of Greek ones; (right) the original M(useo) B(orghese) reference number on one of the statues

The statues, mainly white marbles, which can be associated to Greek models are placed in the Greek antiquities collection. You may wish to see a statue of Hermaphroditus which was restored by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Balustrade surrounding the main entrance to the Casino (original at Cliveden House, Berkshire)

In 1892 Prince Paolo Borghese sold the balustrade surrounding the entrance to the casino 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 which boasts being the site where British Minister John Profumo was introduced to Christine Keeler (an affaire of the 1960s), rather than the works of art collected by Lord Astor.
In 1895 a copy replaced the original. Until a few years ago cars were allowed to enter this area and to park in front of the casino, hopefully now the site is more peaceful.

The Casino

Detail showing the remaining decoration on the southern fašade

The Casino was designed Giovanni Vasanzio (Jan Van Santen) based on a project by Flaminio Ponzio; it resembles the Casino of Villa Medici; its main aim was to house the collection of ancient statues owned by Cardinal Borghese, rather than to be used as a summer residence, as for this purpose the cardinal had several possessions near Frascati.
The Borghese were unable to recover their collection, but, with statues found during the XIXth century in their estates in the Roman countryside, they were able to maintain the old decoration in the central part of the fašade.

(left) One of the two obelisks at the sides of the Casino; (right) side view of the Casino

Pope Sixtus V restored and re-erected several ancient obelisks; by doing this he severed the connection between this kind of monuments and pagan beliefs; as a result modern obelisks were used to decorate Villa Borghese.
The Casino now houses the gallery of paintings which was located in Palazzo Borghese in town. In addition it includes some statues by Gian Lorenzo Bernini which were sculpted for the Casino and did not attract the interest of Napoleon's art experts.

Rear/northern fašade
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 owners; at the death of Cardinal Scipione Borghese 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).

Special Gardens

(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 Borghese and they were part of his project of recreating a villa similar to those of the ancient Romans or to be precise similar to the idealized Renaissance vision of those villas. The garden to the right of the main fašade was devoted to a citrus fruit orchard; the varieties which were selected for this garden were the sour ones (melangoli) and most likely they had only an ornamental purpose.

Uccelliera (Aviary)

The garden to the left of the main fašade 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 (Sundial); (right-above) relief portraying a wind; (right-below) ceiling inside Meridiana

A second aviary was added towards the end of the XVIIth century; 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.

Rotonda di Goethe

The special gardens ended with a small semicircular wall which separated the formal villa from other properties of the Borghese which were farmed. J. W. Goethe was one of the many foreigners who enjoyed strolling in the gardens. In particular he liked to sit in this spot near the aviary, which is called after him Rotonda di Goethe, probably because in winter it is protected from winds and the walls reflect the rays of sun.

Eagles and dragons in the special gardens (left) and in the Prince's gardens (right)

Public Gardens

(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 underwent many changes which are discussed in page two; one of the original gates built by Cardinal Borghese is located along Via Pinciana, the street leading from Porta Pinciana to Via Salaria.

Fontana dei Cavalli Marini

The public garden was 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 (an example is Fontana dell'Aquilone by Giovanni Vasanzio in the Vatican Gardens). One of these fountains was replaced in 1791 by Fontana dei Cavalli Marini, a work by Cristoforo Unterberger.

Go to part two.

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:

Villa Borghese
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.

Next plate in Book 10: Villa e Casino Medici sul Monte Pincio
Next step in Day 2 itinerary: Muro Torto