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Rome’s Borghese Gallery and Bernini Statues

Rome, Italy

We tour the Borghese Gallery, a 17th-century villa containing a rich collection of work by Bernini, a sculptor who could seemingly turn marble into human flesh and emotion. The highlight is his masterful Apollo and Daphne, consisting of as much air as stone.

Complete Video Script

For a breezy escape from the big city noise and intensity, head for the Borghese Gardens, Rome's "Central Park." Romans are proud of their generous green spaces. This sprawling park has long offered people here a place to relax, unwind, and let the kids run wild.

The park's centerpiece is the Borghese Gallery. Once a cardinal's lavish mansion, today it welcomes the public.

As is the case for many of Europe's top sights, admission requires a reservation. Getting one is easy — just a phone call or visit the website and you get an entry time. Good guidebooks have all the details.

The wealthy Borghese family filled their 17th-century villa with art. This was the age when the rich and powerful not only collected beautiful art, but actually employed leading artists to spiff up their homes.

Cardinal Borghese was the pope's nephew and one of the wealthiest people in Rome. With unlimited money, his palace dazzled with both fine art of the past, such as Raphael's exquisite Deposition, and with the best art of the day.

Each room has a masterpiece at its center — like this intriguing look at Napoleon's sister, Pauline, by Canova. The polished marble is lifelike — even sensuous.

Bernini's David is textbook Baroque. Bursting with life, David's body — wound like a spring and lips pursed as he prepares to slay the giant — shows the determination of the age. Bernini was just twenty five when he sculpted this — and the face of David is his.

Caravaggio tackled the same topic on canvas. Grabbing an opportunity to shock his viewers, the artist Caravaggio also sneaks in a self-portrait — this time, as the head of Goliath.

In keeping with the Baroque age, Bernini's Rape of Persephone packs an emotional punch. Persephone's entire body seems to scream for help as Pluto drags his catch into the underworld. His three-headed dog howls triumphantly.

Bernini's Apollo Chasing Daphne is a highlight. Apollo — happily wounded by Cupid's arrow — chases Daphne who's saved by turning into a tree. In typical Baroque style, Bernini captures the instant when, just as Apollo's about to catch Daphne, her fingers turn to leaves, her toes sprout roots… and Apollo's in for one rude surprise.

The statue — as much air as stone — makes a supernatural event seem real. This classical scene — while plenty fleshy — comes with a church-pleasing moral: chasing earthly pleasures leads only to frustration. The place to contemplate that thought is at the Vatican.