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Museo Borghese, Rome, Italy
Reviews

From: Roxy Walsh
Category: Exhibitions
Date: 08 March 2001

Review

I had anticipated seeing Apollo and Daphne for years. Drawing Daphne over and over again, talking about the fluid delight of Bernini as opposed to the hardening trap of Pollaiuolo, but all this having never seen the Bernini except in execrable art historianís slides. The Pollaiuolo had sent me towards Ovid, and all of them made me think of the changes that adolescence brings on, in the age of adolescence and later, in changes that seem outside of our control. I had read about the translucence of the marble, of the miraculous change of marble to flesh and flesh to tree; I almost dreaded seeing the sculpture for the disappointment it might entail. In the three months that I have spent in Rome I have visited the Borghese alone, with an art historian, an architect, a sculptor, a photographer, a ten year old, a seven year old, my sister, my parents.. Iím not sure how many times, and I will go at least once more. I have written postcards and letters about it, and talked so much itís a joke here, so much that itís hard to think where to start to write anything down about it. Before her prayer was ended, torpor seized on all her body, and a thin bark closed around her gentle bosom, and her hair became as moving leaves; her arms were changed to waving branches, and her active feet as clinging roots were fastened to the ground-- her face was hidden with encircling leaves.-- Phoebus admired and loved the graceful tree, (For still, though changed, her slender form remained) and with his right hand lingering on the trunk he felt her bosom throbbing in the bark. He clung to trunk and branch as though to twine. His form with hers, and fondly kissed the wood that shrank from every kiss. Ovid, Metamorphosis I can start with Daphne, though on my first visit I nearly missed her, running out of time in the upstairs picture gallery, with last minute Titian, Bellini and Veronese. Already the galleryís sex pervades, and then to this wonder of equivocation and desire. Minutes to go, looking at thought made flesh, exquisite leaves disabling fingers, fine roots tying her down, a soft leafy shoot from her ankle growing back between his legs. Every view is a moment; from the arch of the billowing cloak to the flesh turned bark at his touch, the marble of the cloak so fine thereís a hole in it. Ther are two other Daphnes in the room: one on the ceiling and a Dosso Dossi behind. The one on the ceiling has tits like flaccid paper bombs, the Dossi a lamentable Phoebus Apollo, Daphne somewhere else entirely. The sculpture of the Borghese is so famous itís usual to start there, in the huge front hall with a Bernini figure being thrown by an antique horse, strange blank-faced mosaics, gladiators, chickens, and after a moment a firmament seething with figures in light. Then the Paulina of Canova, a nasty study in buttery coyness. Room three has Berniniís David, a sculpture of the young sculptor as a young hero; handsome, powerful, fit as hell but somehow not so involving as the two figure pieces to come, then the Daphne room. Away from Daphne and Apollo you come to a pretty, narrow, yellow space. Much higher than it is wide, and less lined with sculptures, you are brought back again to the surface of the walls. There are objects too, but this is the first space that pulls you right into the Baroque. Years ago I remember playing music for two choirs from opposite sides of the balcony of an oval church in Belfast. With very little knowledge indeed it opened up a multiplying, speculative space, where configurations of thought seemed endlessly variable. This space somehow echoes it, forms a still point in your passage, refocusses on the celebration of effect, the pale grey dots on yellow, the sweet flat stucco. I donít want to describe everything. There are porphyry heads of emperors, wall paintings of the zodiac, this room after the polkadots is high and grand and wide, the Rape of Prosperine at itís centre. Then another more domestically scaled room with a sheep and a last supper and arrows from angels in a luminous blue ceiling, the room with the hermaphrodite still turned to the wall, another Bernini, a pile of sleeping babies, several caravaggios and out. Out to the blue sky, and even the park all arranged for your pleasure. I prefer to see the Picture gallery first, partly because when you fall out from the bottom of the stairs, full of fancy, youíre in the calm of a box garden, more contained than the grander front vista. Next time I visit though, I should start in the room with the Caravaggios.. Iíve always been too full by the time Iíve got to them to relax into looking.

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