After restoring the Trevi Fountain, Fendi continues to give back to its native city by supporting the Galleria Borghese.
When I was 19, I lived for a year in Rome, working for Christie’s in Piazza Navona and surrounded by the most extraordinary beauty. Every day, I would stroll along the curves of this ancient Roman stadium past Gian Lorenzo Bernin’s Fountain of the Four Rivers. I explored everywhere I could go, but there was one place I was never able to visit: The Villa Borghese. A majestic Baroque palace built by the Cardinal Scipione Borghese, it is now a public museum, the Galleria Borghese, filled with gems with the Cardinal’s collection. At the time of my residence, however, the Galleria was undergoing what its director Anna Coliva calls “an apparently intermina ble restoration”, its Raphael Deposition and Caravaggio self-portrait as a sick Bacchus all hidden from view. So, too, was its astonishing Bernini sculpture of Apollo and Daphne—the nymph’s plump form turning to bark and her hands to the branches of a laurel tree just as the lovesick god reaches out to grasp her.
So famous and so familiar is this piece that I can’t believe I only saw it in the flesh, so to speak, recently, when I was invited to the Galleria Borghese by Fendi, the quintessentially Roman fashion house, which is to fund the museum for the next three years, as well as supporting its new Caravaggio institute.
This is not the first time Fendi has come to the rescue of some essential and fragile Roman treasure. The Trevi Fountain—made memorable in La Dolce Vita—was restored with Fendi’s support, as were the Four Fountains on the intersection between Via del Quirinale and Via delle Quattro Fontane. Now, the archetypcal Roman painter, Michelangela Merisi da Caravaggio, takes centrestage.
“In the end, a luxury brand has to show a love for beauty, and a love for culture in every form. It’s not about going into a store, buying something and going home. What we do has to have a beautiful story. We have to know who we are and what we stand for,” says Pietro Beccari, Fendi’s outgoing CEO, whose friendship with Coliva was the starting point for the Galleria Borghese project. “I decided we should adopt a museum and this is my favourite one. We didn’t want to just sponsor an exhibition, have a nice dinner and go away until next year. This is a long-term partnership.” It will enable the Galleria to finance research into Caravaggio, not least identifying the numerous extant fakes; for if the tempestuous artist was hard-up, which he usually was, he was happy to put his name to someone else’s work.
Violent, passionate, theatrical and dark: “Caravaggio is the right artist for Rome today,” says Coliva. “Forty years ago, no one cared about him or appreciated him, but his work is all about emotion and excitement. It’s of our time, we feel what he feels.” For me, the emotion was joy that I had finally crossed that marble threshold and entered those glorious painted halls.
From top: Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne. The Fendi Haute Fourrure fall/ winter 2016 finale at the Trevi Fountain. A fresco at Galleria Borghese. Caravaggio’s SelfPortrait as Bacchus (Sick Bacchus). Prospetto di Villa Borghese by Johann Wilhelm Baur.
BY DANA KOH AND KIMBERLY ONG. PHOTOGRAPHY: ALAMY; MINISTERO DEI BENI E DELLE ATTIVITÀ
CULTURALI E DEL TURISMO-GALLERIA BORGHESE; SHOWBIT; COURTESY OF FENDI