The “Galleria del Cembalo” – Palazzo Borghese

The Galleria del Cembalo occupies one portion of what in 1700 was the so-called Galleria Terrena of the Borghese Palace, opening on the secret garden with the wonderful fountains by Rainaldi (and others), which with the time became a perfect space for the exhibition of the paintings and sculptures collection of the Borghese. Nowadays it represents an ideal location for art exhibitions, meetings or private events.

Walking across the courtyard, the gallery is reached passing through the garden, with its geometrical green areas, small boxwoods in the corners, orange trees and surrounded by the fountains, adding the sound of the water to the stillness of the garden.

A multicoloured mosaic stands all around the stairs leading to the gallery, which is at a higher level compared to the garden. The Galleria del Cembalo occupies five intercommunicating large rooms, three facing the secret garden, with very high ceilings decorated with frescoes and gilded stucco.

The first welcome to the visitor is given by the figure of Aurora, in the big canvas on the ceiling by Francesco Caccianiga (1773), represented in the act of pouring flowers in the sky while the sun is raising. The canvas is contoured by a wooden gilded frame, showing at the two ends the emblem of the family, eagle and drake, as to underline that in that era the Borghese family was driven toward a sort of renaissance under the guide of the prince Marcantonio IV.

Leaving Aurora the path takes the guest to the large so called Audience Hall, where the prince used to receive the travellers of the Grand Tour. The ceiling is decorated with an amazing fresco representing ‘The Triumph of the Borghese’, by Ermenegildo Costantini (1767-1774), again with the coat of arms in evidence, brought up in the glory of the sky among exultants puttoes, with three-dimensional effects created by plaster clouds superposed on the gilded frames.

The Audience Hall is the bulk of the gallery and is also the largest room where the guests are received, in association or business meetings, book presentations or private events.

On the side of Piazza Borghese is the room of Hebe, the goddess of youth, raped by Time. The painting is by Ermenegildo Costantini e Pietro Rotati (1769). The image shows a typical baroque dynamism, in the gesture of the male figure strongly grabbing the goddess on her waist as in Proserpina’s sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

The room of Cupid, once the princess’s antechamber, is a good example of rigorous neoclassical taste decoration, by the hand of the French artist Laurent Pécheux, whose signature is visible in one of the paintings on the side, dated 1774.  At the centre of the vault is the canvas ‘Marriage of Cupid and Psyche’ and the lateral scenes recall the events preceding the marriage, with Mercury as love messenger.

The last room towards the tiber is the room of Minerva, with the windows opening on the garden. It is written that this room once was the ceremonial bedroom and it hosted the famous statue Ermafrodito, now in the museum of Galleria Borghese. The painting in the vault is ‘The reconciliation of Venus and Minerva’ by Pietro Angeletti (1773).

The history of the Galleria del Cembalo is related to that of the Borghese Palace, which was built between 1605 and 1676, as a result of a series of additions of existing buildings. As for most roman palaces, it requested the work of many famous architects, who contributed in the different phases of its growth until the great volume gained the shape we can see today, with its irregular plant extending toward the river giving it the name of Cembalo Borghese.

“It’s said by the people that the four wonders of Rome are the dado di Farnese the cembalo (harpischord) Borghese, the Caetani stairs and the portal of Carboniani”.
Giuseppe Antonio Guattani, Roma descritta e illustrata, (1805)

The first and most ancient bulk of the palace is the one facing Largo della Fontanella di Borghese, building owned by Tommaso del Giglio with project by the architect Vignola (1590), later sold to the Cardinal Deza, who encharged Martino Longhi il Vecchio and Flaminio Ponzio for the enlargement. The heraldic symbols of Deza and del Giglio families are still visible in the courtyard close to the main entrance. Cardinal Camillo Borghese, future pope Paolo V, bought it and the works went on until 1613 with the participation of other artists as Carlo Maderno, Giovanni Vasanzio (1670) and Carlo Rainaldi.
Changing the utilisation of the spaces in the passing years, the Galleria Terrena soon gained the function of receiving rooms for visitors to whom the family wanted to show the famous collection of artwork that the pope Paul V was collecting, specially following the taste and the knowledge of his nephew cardinal Scipione. Following what at that time became a common trend in all the important palaces of Rome, the ground floor was dedicated to hospitality independent from the residential areas, welcoming the visitors without interfering with the private daily life of the inhabitants.
For longer than two hundred years the Borghese collection filled up the twelve rooms of the ground floor and was visited by the large part of the Grand Tour travellers, who were received by the prince and the princess, competing with all the others aristocratic families in town. There were art works by Raffaello, Domenichino, Andrea del Sarto, Lorenzo Lotto, Van Dyck, Correggio, Tiziano, just to mention a few of them. The gallery of the palace as exhibition space ceased when the whole collection moved to the villa on the Pincio hill, the actual Galleria Borghese museum, built between 1608 and 1613 with the aim of being the place for the collection and was renewed in the mid 1700, giving a different specific style to each room, in function of the pieces of art it should contain.
What we see now in the frescoes of the Galleria del Cembalo is the result of the new decorations promoted around 1750 by Marcantonio IV Borghese, son of Agnese Colonna and head of the family at the time, to celebrate his own wedding with Anna Maria Salviati (1775).
The rooms all connected were the private apartments of the prince and the princess, the prince’s one exposed to the west and with the windows on the square, the one for the wife opening on the secret garden. It seems unlikely that anyone really lived there, unless occasionally in the spring or in the summer.
The frescoed and very high ceilings are inserted in wooden gilded frames and golden plaster decorations, each room having its own style inspired by the theme of the central painting. There is one definitely neoclassical room signed by the French artist Laurent Pécheux (1774), or the main prince’s Audience Hall, also called Throne Room in some text, with the fresco by Ermenegildo Costantini (1767), a grandiose baroque painting which deserved the definition by an art critic as “the last scream of the roman baroque”, actually being very similar to the ceiling painted one hundred years before by Giovan Battista Gaulli in the Church of Gesù (1674).
Large original wooden doors in rare alabaster frames decorate the passages between the halls, which enjoy the benefits of the overlook on the stillness of the garden and the fountains.

The current activity of the Galleria del Cembalo stands in the organisation of fine art photography exhibitions. The choice of Italian and International artists and the general planning are made exclusively by the owner and the director of the gallery. The gallery participates to international art fairs, in order to promote its artists and projects.
The location is available for rent for the period of one or several days, for private events, art exhibitions or workshops with the need of working in separate groups.
For this aim, there are one hundred conference chairs, several tables, a 80” TV for the slide-show and an amplifying system with microphones.
An external catering is called when needed for business lunch or cocktails in the meeting time.
On special request, it’s possible to plan the reception in the garden, facing the fountains, with the authorisation of the Palace’s administration.

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  • Salons : 4
  • Seats : 140

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  • Days : Thu,Fri,Sat
  • Timetables : 11:00-13:00 / 16:00-18:00 ingresso libero
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The “Galleria del Cembalo” – Palazzo Borghese

Region : Lazio

Province : RM

City : Roma

Address : Largo della Fontanella Borghese, 19

C.A.P. : 00186

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Telephone: 0039 06 83796619

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