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A dance

Lancret Nicolas

(Paris 1690 - 1743-45)

According to critics, this small work on copper was one of the seven paintings by Flemish artists sold in 1783 by the merchant Giovanni De Rossi to Prince Marcantonio IV Borghese. At the time of that transaction, it was ascribed to Jean-Antoine Watteau. Since then, however, the attribution has been revised: although only vaguely, the style of the work suggests the hand of Nicolas Lancret, the French painter known for his depictions of refined, festive scenes who like Watteau was a student of Claude Gillot. The painting depicts a man dressed like a dancer – perhaps a masked figure of the commedia dell’arte – together with a flute player portrayed from behind.

Object details

Mid-18th century
oil on copper
cm 16 x 13

Frame, 32 x 28.8 x 4.7 cm


(?) Rome, purchased by Marcantonio IV Borghese from Giovanni De Rossi through Antonio Asprucci, 30 January 1783 (Della Pergola 1959); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 29. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1958 Gilda Diotallevi, Alvaro Esposti


Paola della Pergola (1959) identified this work as one of two pastorals ‘by the painter Watteau’ purchased in 1783 by Prince Marcantonio IV Borghese through Antonio Asprucci. While some subsequent critics have been in agreement (C. Stefani, in Galleria Borghese 2000; Herrmann Fiore 2006), Della Pergola’s thesis has its weaknesses. Indeed, the subject described in the purchase receipt does not seem to coincide with the work in question, which depicts a man in a dance costume, probably a masked figure of the commedia dell'arte. It is likely, however, that what confused the compiler of the payment document – a certain Giacomo Rovinelli – was the flute player depicted from behind. This figure in fact often appears in representations of country scenes in the company of figures of the comédie italienne, as is evident in several canvases by Watteau, to whom this work on copper was originally attributed.

Moving beyond the question of when the work actually entered the Borghese Collection, we are certain that it appears in the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario, where it is listed as a work of the Flemish school. This generic attribution was accepted by Giovanni Piancastelli (1891) but rejected by Adolfo Venturi (1893) in favour of Nicolas Lancret, who like Watteau was a student of Claude Gillot. This name was accepted by Roberto Longhi (1928) and Paola della Pergola (1959), albeit with reservations in the case of the latter. For their part, both Chiara Stefani (in Galleria Borghese 2000) and Kristina Herrmann Fiore (Ead. 2006) were in agreement with the attribution to Lancret. On the other hand, the work was absent in the monograph on the Parisian master by Miriam Raffaella Gaudio (2009).

Doubts as to the attribution are certainly due to the poor conservational state of the work, which prevent critics from recognising that freshness and those typical stylistic traits of Lancret. At the very least, we can consider it a product of his circle.


Antonio Iommelli


  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 426;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 148;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 202;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, pp. 168, n. 245; 224 n. 90;
  • C. Stefani in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 352;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 9;
  • M. R. Gaudio, Monografia di Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743), Torino 2009.