Paolina Borghese’s (unairconditioned) feet

Set in the Mannerist splendour of Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s villa on the Pincian Hill, today the Galleria Borghese is one of Rome’s most beautiful museums. Its owner spared no expense to create a suburban party palace that would set off his superlative collection of paintings, sculpture and antiquities. Frescoed ceilings and walls, inlaid marble floors and every other sumptuous architectural feature you can imagine serve as the backdrop to one of the greatest private collections of art ever amassed.

As the nephew of Camillo Borghese, Pope Paul V, Scipione benefitted handsomely from papal nepotism (not coincidentally, the English term derives from the Italian word for nephew), first garnering the elevation to the cardinalship and then a heap of other titles, benefices and revenues that would make the most exploitative Roman tax farmer blush. Much of those moneys he spent amassing an art collection worthy of the crowned heads of Europe. One of those crowned heads, in fact, the notoriously self-crowned head of Napoleon Bonaparte, bought a large part of it from his wastrel brother-in-law Camillo Borghese in the early 19th century. It would form the nucleus of the Louvre’s collection.

Apollo and Daphne by Bernini.Before it was chipped away by his heirs after his death, the collection included 12, count them, 12 Caravaggios. Today that figure is reduced by half, still an incredible concentration of paintings by the master of dark and light in a single small museum. When Caravaggio’s Youth with a Basket of Fruit, The Young Bacchus Ill and David with the Head of Goliath come to life at night, they get to play Texas Hold ‘Em with the likes of Raphael’s La Fornarina and Woman with Unicorn, Corregio’s Danae, Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love and Boticelli’s Madonna and Child with the Young St. John the Baptist and Angels. If they need to sweeten the pot, they let figures by Rubens, Parmigianino, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Pinturicchio, Andrea del Sarto, Canaletto, and Perugino chip in. If they’re really in the mood to party, Paolina Borghese, sister of Napoleon Bonaparte and wife of Camillo Borghese, rises from the marble couch the sculptor Antonio Canova captured her on and brings the heat. Bernini’s extraordinary, almost unbelievable Apollo and Daphne are too realistically frozen in mythological time to play along.

With so many world class treasures of the arts to enjoy, the Galleria Borghese was an obvious addition to my itinerary, all the more so since it would allow me to post an update to a past story. Remember this story from 2013 about Paolina Borghese’s dainty shoes discovered in the University of Aberdeen museum archives? I was delighted to find that according to my viewcount stats, it has been consistently popular ever since, largely thanks to foot fetish websites. Well, for all you feet fans out there, here’s Canova’s representation of Princess Paolina’s doggies.

I thought I had posted about a distinctly less entertaining story, but I can’t seem to find it in the archives so I guess I never did. The Galleria Borghese needs a new climate control system. I read about this situation a couple of years ago, if I recall correctly, and it was dire then. The ancient air conditioning was so hobbled that it barely produced enough cool air to keep the areas around the units at proper temperature, so they had to leave windows open to let some of the heat out of the hot, humid rooms and institute reservation-only ticketing to control the numbers of people allowed in at any given time. When I read about it back then, they were raising money to replace and update the whole system, but it was an expensive proposition and the Italian government wasn’t exactly rushing to spend that dough.

It still hasn’t been fixed, and y’all, it was bad. I mean really, really bad. I was genuinely horrified to my core by what I saw and experienced. The larger rooms with the more popular works (mainly Renaissance Old Masters) were stultifying, and you could actually see the moisture damage on the surface of oil paintings. One was so bad the paint was cracking in a line down the middle and bubbling up. Only a few of the works even had the protection of a glass panel covering the canvas. Only one of the 20-year-old air conditioners was blowing any air. I put my hand over it and it was lukewarm. It was deeply upsetting, so much so that I almost wished I hadn’t gone because seriously they need to shut the doors to human bodies and the heat, dirt, bacteria and effluvia they inevitably bring into a space and fix this monstrous state of affairs immediately. It is a true state of emergency. I can only hope against hope that my ticket price might help right this terrible wrong.

 

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3 Comments »

Comment by Rowan
2017-10-20 23:15:58

I started reading this post with envy and wonderment of what you were seeing. All those masterworks on display that you had the opportunity to see in person.

By the end of the post I was horrified at the description of their condition due to the lack of climate control. Unbelievable. If they were to part with even one painting they could raise the money needed to install adequate air conditioning.

 
Comment by Caius Caligula Minus
2017-10-21 13:52:35

A famous literary fairy by Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875), entitled ‘The Princess, the Pea and the Climate Control’, tells of a prince who wants to marry, but is having difficulty finding a suitable wife. Something is always wrong with those he meets, and he cannot be certain they are real princesses because they have bad table manners or they are too fat or thin or not beautiful enough.

One stormy night, however, a young woman from Corsica, drenched with rain, seeks shelter in the prince’s castle. She claims to be a princess, so the prince’s mother decides to test their unexpected, unwitting guest by placing a pea in the bed she is offered for the night, covered by 20 mattresses and 20 feather-beds. In the morning, the guest reports that she endured a sleepless night, kept awake by something hard in the bed that she is certain has bruised her.

The prince rejoices. Only a ‘real’ princess would have the sensitivity to feel a pea through such a quantity of bedding, so the two are married. The story notably ends with the pea being placed in a museum, where according to the storyteller it can still be seen today, unless there is a climate control system in place and no one removed it.

:hattip:

 
Comment by RomaLadrona :skull:
2017-10-22 18:36:07

I’ve used to read somethin about it in 2014! With google now i’ve found again the newspaper piece, but If you try to find some update about it today, nothing at all!
Only the 2014 newspaper articles, like a forgotten or “fixed” thing, instead still present today!
So sad for us..Its the same old story here, Its just the tip of the iceberg!
“Ancient things”, not at all a priority for us damn governments by decades..

 
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