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Damien Hirst steps in among Rome's famed Berninis

Dozens of Hirst's works have been placed in Rome's Borghese Gallery, home to priceless works by Italian sculptors Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Antonio Canova

'Five Grecian Nudes' by British artist Damien Hirst, next to 'Paolina Borghese Bonaparte as Venus Victrix', a 1805-1808 marble sculpture by Antonio Canova, as part of the exhibition 'Archaeology Now' at Galleria Borghese in Rome. Photo via AFP

Beneath the sumptuous ceiling of the entrance hall of Rome's Borghese Gallery, under the gaze of a dozen busts of caesars, Damien Hirst's giant sandalled foot looks only a little out of place.

The giveaway that this is not another piece of Roman sculpture but the work of the provocative British artist is the laboratory rat with an ear growing on its back that climbs on the limestone toes.

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The gallery is home to a spectacular collection of classical Roman sculpture, Renaissance paintings and priceless works by Italian sculptors Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Antonio Canova.

Into this rarefied environment has stepped Hirst, for many years one of the most notorious of the "Young British Artists" who made his name by bisecting a cow and displaying it in a tank of formaldehyde.

While many of Hirst's sculptures are clearly modern, others blend into those around them thanks to his use of traditional materials such as bronze and Carrara marble.

"They are completely unsettling works, but even in the (permanent) collection there are works of strong, terrible and terrifying beauty—as true beauty is," curator Anna Coliva told AFP.

"So this is the place where this poetry (of Hirst) can be exalted."

Dozens of his works, mostly from his 2017 Venice show "Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable", have been placed around the Borghese Gallery's opulent halls, while outside on the terrace, his towering sculpture "Hydra and Kali" overlooks the citrus trees.

In the entrance hall, a coral-covered bronze of a headless female diver points towards Mariano Rossi's ornate ceiling, a step away from five bronze Disney characters similarly depicted as if recently found on the sea bed.

In an adjoining room, Bernini's "Apollo and Daphne" is surrounded by three Hirst sculptures, each depicting a chained man and woman, in various stages of decay.

Elsewhere, Canova's reclining "Paolina Borghese Bonaparte as Venus Victrix" is flanked by two sets of Hirst's Grecian nudes in bronze and in pink marble.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Hirst said that Bernini "blows my mind" but insisted: "I am not interested in any comparison.

"The world in which we live today is very different from the world in which the great masters who are at the Borghese Gallery used to live. Today being an artist is different."

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Put to him that his Medusas—in gold and silver, malachite and bronze—are on display next to a Caravaggio painting, he added: "If I had to choose between Titian and Caravaggio I would choose Titian.

"The light of Caravaggio is amazing. But I love things that are falling apart, that are corrupted."

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