By Maggie Bell 

Scipione Borghese was born in Rome on 1 September 1576.  He was the nephew of Pope Paul V, who upon his election in 1605 made Scipione a cardinal.  In this capacity, Scipione held numerous offices and eventually amassed a great wealth that he used to construct two palazzi. The first was a garden palace (now the Palazzo Rospigliosi–Pallavicini), built on the site of the Baths of Constantine and designed by the architect Flaminio Ponzio.  Scipione was a great patron of the arts, and had the palace decorated with work by an array of international artists, including Lodovico Cardi, Agostino Tassi, Orazio Gentileschi, father of Artemisia, and Paul Bril.  

In 1612 Scipione again commissioned Flaminio Ponzio (succeeded after his death by Giovanni Vasanzio) to build the villa that is now known as the Villa Borghese.  In it, Scipione housed his diverse and expansive art collection that included sensual and amusing sculptural works from the ancient world that challenged the severe tastes of post-Counterreformation Rome.  Among the most famous objects are the Borghese Gladiator discovered in 1611, the Hermaphrodite, excavated near Santa Maria della Vittoria, and the Centaur with Cupid, all of which were taken by Napoleon I in 1807 and are now in the Louvre.  Among the most well-known works of early modern art are sculptures by Gianlorenzo Bernini, who studied amongst the ancient sculptures in Scipione’s collection.  These are still accessible to viewers today in the collection at the Borghese Villa.  

Further Reading:

Sharon Gregory and David L. Bershad. “Borghese.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed August 31, 2017,

Giuliano Finelli, 1601/2-1657, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, 17th century (ca. 1632), marble, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ottavio Mario Leoni, Portrait of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, 17th century, oil on canvas, Réunion des Musées Nationaux (RMN).

Designed by Flaminio Ponzio, completed by Giovanni Vasanzio, Villa Borghese (facade), 1612-13, Rome, Italy.

Borghese Gladiator, copy c. 100 AD, marble, Louvre Museum, Paris.

Gianlorenzo Bernini, Rape of Proserpine, 1621-1622, marble, Galleria Borghese. 

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