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Borghese, Scipione Caffarelli (1576?-1633)  
 
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Caravaggio

Also, 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 both a large basket of fruit and his tongue 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.

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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 Bernini helped to establish him as the leading Italian sculptor and architect of the seventeenth century. Between 1618 and 1624, Bernini worked primarily for the Cardinal, creating for him innovative pieces that served to define Baroque principles in sculpture. For the decoration of the Villa Borghese, Bernini produced a life-sized figure of David (1623), originally displayed to create the impression that he was hurling a stone directly at the spectator, and three sculptural groups with mythological themes.

The culminating work in this series that Bernini created for Borghese, Apollo and Daphne (1623-25), represents an incident popular in Italian poetry of the early seventeenth century, and ultimately derived from the Metamorphoses by the ancient Roman poet Ovid. Bernini depicts Apollo reaching out toward the river nymph Daphne just as she is transformed into a laurel tree by her father in order to prevent her from being burned by the touch of the god of the sun. Understood within its original intellectual context, this group represents frustrated desire and enduring despair and pain, provoked by love.

These meanings may have had special resonance for Borghese, who, at the time, was widely ridiculed for his attraction to other men. The specific moment depicted by Bernini also was thought in the early seventeenth century to signify the fusion of genders, more explicitly depicted in the Hermaphrodite also in the Cardinal's collection.

In 1632 Bernini executed two marble portrait busts of Borghese (both Galleria Borghese). These works capture the exuberance that the Cardinal's friends admired and which his critics decried as frivolity inappropriate to his office.

Collection as a Whole

Within the scope of a brief entry, it is impossible to acknowledge fully the breadth of Borghese's collection. Although he is most associated with the development of the Baroque, he also eagerly collected works of many artists of quite different styles.

Borghese's collection includes works as diverse as Early Renaissance altarpieces such as Fra Angelico's Last Judgment (ca 1450); examples of northern art such as two paintings of Venus (early 1500s) by Lucas Cranach; sixteenth-century Venetian paintings such as Titian's Sacred and Profane Love (1514); and classicizing pictures such as Domenichino's Diana (1616/7). The Cardinal even owned a very uncharacteristic work by Michelangelo, a depiction of Cupid now called The Manhattan Marble (Payne Whitney House [Embassy of France], New York, 1490s).

Development of Gardens and Restoration of Churches

Borghese took special interest in the development of the extensive gardens undertaken by various artists at his Roman residences, the Palazzo Borghese on the Quirinal (primarily 1610-16) and the Villa Borghese (initiated in 1613 and elaborated for the rest of the Cardinal's life). Both these influential gardens featured innovative elements such as waterfalls, and they incorporated dense groves of trees, which provided rural seclusion within the city. Derek Jarman and other queer artists and writers of the twentieth century celebrated the gardens of the Villa Borghese as a place of sexual and psychological freedom.

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