Splendor of Centuries Past

by Danilo Brunetti

This season’s major exhibit at Galleria Borghese explores the extraordinary work of an 18th-century master. Tiffany Parks shares her preview.

In the mid-1700s, when Rome had already spent over a century as the unparalleled capital of the art world, the city began a process of renewal that sought to remake its image after the excesses of the baroque period. Luigi Valadier, a goldsmith, furniture designer, and bronze founder, became one of the protagonists of Rome’s new style in the second half of the 18th century. The exhibit showcases Valadier’s unrivaled technique in working with silver and bronze, which led him to develop his avant-garde style. This, in turn, broadened his artistic output from the creation of furniture to the realization of more ambitious and monumental enterprises, such as large bronze sculptures, often with Classical inspiration.

The Borghese Gallery is a fitting setting for this monographic show, as the villa was a hotbed for forward-looking art in the 18th century. In fact, Princes Camillo and Marcantonio Borghese were two of Valadier’s most generous patrons, for whom he designed furnishings and fireplaces, built monumental tableware, and composed entire rooms, with the result that the entire villa is infused with his unmistakable style.

The exhibit brings together a number Valadier’s works, created for the leading noble families of Rome and beyond, with pieces on loan from prestigious museums across Europe, as well as drawings and designs of the same. Perhaps most remarkable is the bronze statue of St. John the Baptist, brought from the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Laterano for the first time in its history. The work, arguably the most important in Valadier’s oeuvre, is in the process of a thorough restoration, taking place at the gallery during the exhibition. Visitors have the opportunity to observe the restorers at work as they lovingly renovate this unique work of art.