The title of this post is in reference to the statuary of animals both fantastic and natural found on the grounds of the Villa Borghese and its garden park in Rome.
Scipione Borghese was the Cardinal Nephew of Pope Paul V. The Cardinal Nephew (Cardinal Nepotente in Italian, from which the term nepotism is derived) was an official position and title in the church until 1692. In addition to the familial tie it implies, the position brought with it immense opportunities for wealth and power. Scipione Borghese took full advantage of these opportunities, at one point being one of the largest landowners in central Italy. He was a lover of art, and had a passion for gardening, creating famous gardens at both the Palazzo Borghese and the much larger private park of the Villa Borghese. The gardens consist of 148 acres of naturalistic parkland landscaped in the English fashion.
The Villa Borghese itself sits on the edge of the park, and houses the Galleria Borghese, an art museum focused around the collection amassed by Scipione Borghese. The art includes paintings by Caravaggio, Titian, and Raphael, ancient Roman sculpture, and contemporary work by Bernini. The museum operates by timed, limited entry tickets, so unlike some of the larger, more popular museums (think Vatican Museum or the Louvre in Paris), the experience is never crushing as only a fixed number of people are in the museum at any time. You can always see the art without jostling or rushing. The park, on the other hand, is open to the public free of charge. It provides an oasis of greenery and openness amidst the chaos and compactness bordering on claustrophobia that is the city of Rome.
The plaza in front of the Villa is decorated by statuary, fountains, and an Egyptian obelisk or two. On the wall that demarcates the boundary between the plaza and the park, pedestals to support decorative urns are carved with dragons and eagles, elements from the Borghese family coat of arms. The eagles and dragons here are from the pedestals.
The lion devouring the stag is from an ancient Roman marble vessel on the side terrace of the Villa Borghese.
The bull’s head is from one of a pair of cornucopia/planters adorning the front steps to the Villa Borghese.
For the photo geeks in the house, these were all shot with my Tele-Rolleiflex, many using the 0.35 Rolleinar close-up filter. The 0.35 Rolleinar helps bring the minimum focus down from 8 feet to a much more manageable 4-ish.