The Villa Borghese

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In the openings of the wood there are fountains plashing into marble basins, the depths of which are shaggy with water-weeds; or they tumble like natural cascades from rock to rock, sending their murmur afar, to make the quiet and silence more appreciable. Scattered here and there with careless artifice, stand old altars bearing Roman inscriptions. Statues, gray with the long corrosion of even that soft atmosphere, half hide and half reveal themselves, high on pedestals, or perhaps fallen and broken on the turf. Terminal figures, columns of marble or granite, porticos, arches, are seen in the vistas of the wood-paths, either veritable relics of antiquity, or with so exquisite a touch of artful ruin on them that they are better than if really antique. At all events, grass grows on the tops of the shattered pillars, and weeds and flowers root themselves in the chinks of the massive arches and fronts of temples and clamber at large over their pediments, as if this were the thousandth summer since their winged seeds alighted there.

—Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, I, 83–84

The gardens of the Villa Borghese, situated just outside the Aurelian Walls, were a favorite subject for landscape painters of the nineteenth century. Palm’s oil sketch depicts one of the allées defined by ilex trees, laid out in the 1780s by Prince Marcantonio Borghese. Statues from the family’s extensive collection of ancient sculpture define the entrance to a portion of the garden known as the Giardino del Lago. Passing between the statues, a visitor enters the enclosed garden, the visual climax of which is a picturesque Temple of Aesculapius dominating an irregular lake from which the garden takes its name.

Gustav Wilhelm Palm, Entrance to the Giardino del Lago, Villa Borghese, Rome, 1844. The Morgan Library & Museum, Thaw Collection. Photography by Schecter Lee

Location photography by John Pinto