Scipione Borghese bigraphy, stories - Catholic cardinal

Scipione Borghese : biography

1 September 1577 - 2 October 1633

Scipione Borghese (1 September 1577Torgil Magnuson, Rome in the age of Bernini, Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1982, p. 103. – 2 October 1633) was an Italian Cardinal, art collector and patron of the arts. A member of the Borghese family, he was the patron of the painter Caravaggio and the artist Bernini. His legacy is the establishment of the art collection at the Villa Borghese in Rome.

Art collector

Borghese used the immense wealth that he acquired as Cardinal Nephew to assemble one of the largest and most impressive art collections in Europe. Even though later generations dispersed some of his acquisitions through sales and diplomatic gifts, the works that he assembled form the core of the holdings of the Galleria Borghese (Rome), a museum housed in the villa commissioned by Scipione (1613–15) from the architect Giovanni Vasanzio.

The Satyr and Dolphin (Roman marble copy of lost Greek bronze, 4th century BCE) typifies the elegant and sensual depictions of young male figures that were prominently featured in Borghese's collection. One of his most prized works was the Hermaphrodite (now in the Louvre, Paris, Roman copy after Greek original of 2nd century BCE). From the young sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Scipione commissioned in 1620 a realistically rendered mattress on which to lay this sensuous nude figure. Borghese is reported to have kept this statue in a specially made wooden cupboard, which he would open with a theatrical flourish to the amusement of his close friends. However, this sculpture was given in the early 19th century to Napoleon upon Camillo Borghese's marriage to Napoleon's sister, and what is in the Borghese collection today is another 2nd-century copy that was found. The original Borghese Hermaphrodite is in the Louvre.

Pope Paul V willingly assisted his nephew's efforts to obtain the art works that aroused his interest. For instance, through the influence of his uncle, Borghese secured the cooperation of the parish priest in arranging to have Raphael's famous Deposition stolen from the Baglioni family chapel in San Francesco, Perugia, for which it had been commissioned a century before.


On July 31, 1607, Paul V ordered 105 pictures confiscated from the artist Cavaliere d'Arpino (1568–1640), who had been unable to pay his full tax bill, and he had them delivered to his nephew. Among the pictures that Borghese acquired through this seizure were two important early works by Caravaggio (both 1593, still in Galleria Borghese): a probable self-portrait, usually called Sick Bacchus, and A Boy with a Basket of Fruit, an overtly homoerotic image of a youth extending a large basket of fruit seductively toward the viewer.

Borghese also greatly admired Caravaggio's naturalistic and psychologically complex later religious paintings, such as the brooding (but still sensual) youthful Saint John the Baptist (1605/6), which the collector acquired from the artist's estate shortly after his death, and the intense David with the Head of Goliath (1609/10), which represents the Biblical hero extending outwards a decapitated head with the features of the artist

Borghese appropriated Caravaggio's Madonna and Child with St. Anne, a large altarpiece commissioned in 1605 for a chapel in the Basilica of Saint Peter's, but rejected by the College of Cardinals because of its earthly realism and unconventional iconography. Recent archival research has established that Borghese intended from the early stages of the commission that the altarpiece would end up in his own collection.

Patronage of Bernini

Borghese's early patronage of artist Gianlorenzo Bernini assisted to establish him as the leading Italian sculptor and architect of the seventeenth century. Between 1618 and 1623, Bernini worked primarily for the Cardinal, creating innovative pieces that would become early touchstones of the Baroque style. For the decoration of the Villa Borghese, Bernini produced a life-sized figure of David (1623) and three sculptural groups with mythological themes.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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