On the Path of the Borghese, Rome, Italy

Pauline Bonaparte

I listened to Isabella carefully as she was telling me all this standing in front of Pauline’s Bonaparte, Princess Borghese, famous statue in the Borghese Gallery. She was depicted as Venus, reclining on a chaise-longue, one hand supporting her pretty head while in the other she holds the apple of Paris, in reference to the myth. The work had been executed by Canova, the most famous sculptor of the 19th century, who had proposed to sculpt her as Diana Huntress, goddess of purity.

She however, who was not superstitious and who never blushed with shame, insisted on being depicted as the goddess of Love. Wasn’t she Friday-born?

(Friday in Italian being Venerdì, originating from Venus). Officially, she had only agreed to pose for the head, but before her statuesque beauty, the sculptor was inspired and carved out the rest of her body in such a sensual way that, even today, the work is considered one of the great masterpieces of the Borghese collection. 

The statue of Pauline Bonaparte at the Borghese Gallery, Rome

The statue of Pauline Bonaparte at the Borghese Gallery, Rome

Even though nudity in sculpture was in fashion at the time, the princess’s pose was considered extremely daring. Whoever entered the Villa Borghese and viewed the work at its entrance, gazed at in speechless awe. The only person not embarrassed was Pauline herself. A lady asked her how she was able to pose without clothes before the artist, and she naively replied:

 “It wasn’t cold. There was a wood stove in the studio!”

As I observed the statue, I found myself wondering how she had felt when she arrived in Rome in 1804, with the letter of the First Consul in her luggage: “Excel for the courtesy you show the ladies and relatives of your husband –Prince Camillo Borghese –. This is demanded of you more than anyone else. Above all, adapt to the traditions of the place, be above nothing, nor say: ‘It was better in Paris.’ The only people you should not receive in your salon are the English, who continue to war with us. I bid you farewell, your loving brother, Napoleon.”

She obeyed him and enchanted Rome. Everyone. From her new family, to the Pope, who would become her protector, even when times would become difficult for the Bonaparte. Her walks were a sight to behold, and everyone, even the popolino, would never miss them, watching her making her rounds in her golden carriage, waited upon by a small black boy, dressed in the Turkish style...

An excerpt from the book Feeling Rome

Pauline Bonaparte, Princess Borghese, Rome

Pauline Bonaparte, Princess Borghese, Rome

Barbara Athanassiadis