The touch of Pygmalion. Rubens and sculpture in Rome

© Galleria Borghese | Il Tocco di Pigmalione. Rubens e la scultura a Roma. Installation view. Galleria Borghese I Ph A. Novelli


From 14 Novembre 2023 to 18 Febbraio 2024


Place: Galleria Borghese

Address: Piazzale Scipione Borghese 5

Times: from Tuesday to Sunday. From 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Last entrance at 5.45 p.m. Closed on: 25th December, 1st January. The ticket office is open from 8.30 am to 1 hour before closing time

Responsibles: Francesca Cappelletti e Lucia Simonato

Ticket price: FULL PRICE € 13,00 (last slot € 8,00) DISCOUNTED 18-25 years of age € 2,00 FREE OF CHARGE under 18 years of age

Telefono per informazioni: +39 06 8413979

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From November 14th, Galleria Borghese, with the exhibition The Touch of Pygmalion. Rubens and Sculp- ture in Rome, curated by Francesca Cappelletti and Lucia Simonato, opens the second stage of RUBENS! The Birth of European Painting, a major project realised in collaboration with Fondazione Palazzo Te and Palazzo Ducale in Mantua that recounts the relationship between Italian culture and Europe through the eyes of the Master of Baroque painting, and is also part of a broader research project of Galleria Borghese dedicated to the times when Rome was a cosmopolitan city in the early 17th century.
With more than 50 works from the world’s most important museums - including the British Museum, the Louvre, the Met, the Morgan Library, the National Gallery in London, the National Gallery in Washington, the Prado, and the Rijksmusem in Amsterdam, to name but a few - the exhibition is divided into eight sections that emphasise Rubens’ extraordinary contribution, at the threshold of the Baroque, to a new conception of the antique and of the concepts of natural and imitation, focusing on the disruptive novelty of his style and how the study of models constitutes a further possibility for a new world of images. For this reason, the exhibition takes into account not only the Italian works that document his passionate and unrestricted study of ancient examples, but also his ability to reread Renaissance works and engage with his contemporaries, exploring new aspects and genres.
“A magnet for Northern European artists since the 16th century, the Rome of Rubens, between the Aldobrandini and Borghese pontificates, is the place to study the antique again, whose masterpieces of painting begin to be known, with the discovery in 1601 of the Aldobrandini Wedding,” emphasises Francesca Cappelletti, Director of the Galleria Bor- ghese and curator of the exhibition. This was the moment of Annibale Carracci’s Farnese Gallery and Caravaggio’s Contarelli Chapel, which stunned a generation. Through the eyes of a young foreign painter such as Peter Paul Rubens we look once again at the experience of elsewhere, we try to reconstruct the role of collecting, and of the Borghese collection in particular, as the driving force behind the new language of European naturalism, which united the research of painters and sculptors in the first decades of the century”.
During the 17th century, Peter Paul Rubens was considered by his contemporaries, the French scholar Claude Fabri de Peiresc and other scholars of the République de Lettres, to be one of the greatest connoisseurs of Roman antiquities: nothing seemed to escape his powers of observation and his desire to interpret the Old Masters, and his drawings made the works he studied vibrant, adding movement and feeling to gestures and expressions.
Rubens enacts in the stories that process of vivification of the subject that he uses in portraiture. In this way, marbles, reliefs, and famous examples of Renaissance painting come alive under his brush, as do vestiges of the ancient world. A case in point is the famous statue of the Spinario that Rubens draws in sanguine, and then with red charcoal, taking the pose from two different viewpoints. In this way, the drawing seems to have been made from a living model rather than a statue, so much so that some scholars imagine that the painter used a boy posed like the sculpture. This process of animating the antique, although executed in the first decade of the century, seems to anticipate the moves of artists who, in the decades following his passage to Rome, would be defined as Baroque.
How Rubens’ formal and iconographic insights filter into the rich and varied Roman world of the 1620s is a question that has not yet been systematically addressed by studies.
The presence in the city of painters and sculptors who had trained with him in Antwerp, such as Van Dyck and Georg Petel, or who had come into contact with his works in the course of their training, such as Duquesnoy and Sandrart, certainly ensured the accessibility of his models to a generation of Italian artists who were by then accustomed to confront Antiquity in the light of contemporary pictorial examples and on the basis of a renewed study of Nature. Among them, Bernini stands out: his Borghese groups, created in the 1620s, rein- terpret famous ancient statues, such as the Apollo of Belvedere, to give them movement and translate marble into flesh, as in the Rape of Proserpine.
“In this challenge between the two arts, Rubens had to appear to Bernini as the champion of an extreme pictorial langua- ge, with which to be confronted: for his intense study of nature and for the depiction of motion and the ‘horses in levade’ suggested by Vinci’s graphics, which were also to be tackled by the Neapolitan sculptor in his senile marbles with the same Leonardesque ‘fury of the brush’ acknowledged by Bellori to the Antwerp master; and finally also for his portraits, where the effigy seeks dialogue with the viewer, just as would happen in Bernini’s busts for which the felicitous expression ‘speaking likeness’ was coined,” says Lucia Simonato, curator of the exhibition.
The exhibition The Touch of Pygmalion seeks to illuminate the controversial relationship between Bernini’s masterpieces and naturalism, as were other early sculptures by the artist, such as the Vatican Charity in the Tomb of Urban VIII, already judged by late 18th century European travellers as ‘a Flemish nanny’.
In this figurative context, the timely circulation of prints, taken from Rubensian graphic proofs, accelerated the dialogue throughout the 1630s, prompting publishing operations such as the Galleria Giustiniana, where antique statues came definitively to life, according to an effect already defined as Pygmalion by critics.