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Adoration of the Christ Child

Luteri Giovanni called Dosso Dossi

(Tramuschio? 1487 ca - Ferrara 1542)

This painting was almost certainly made for Duke Alfonso d’Este or his wife Lucrezia Borgia. It entered the Borghese collection later, after Olimpia Aldobrandini married Paolo Borghese. The work is clearly marked by a few of the key features of Dosso’s style, drawn from different artistic currents, which the artist mixed in a personal, unmistakable way.

Object details

1519 circa
oil on panel
cm 49,2 x 32,5

Ferrara, Inventory of Lucrezia d’Este d’Urbino, 1592, no. 12 (Della Pergola 1959, pp. 343, 349); Inventory of Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, 1603, no. 107 (D’Onofrio 1964, p. 160); Inventory of Olimpia Aldobrandini, 1626, no. 65 (Della Pergola 1960, pp. 430, 441); Inventory of the art collection of Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini for Olimpia Aldobrandini-Pamphili, c. 1665, no. 107 (D’Onofrio 1964, p. 160 no. 107); Inventory of Olimpia Aldobrandini, 1682, no. 327 (Della Pergola 1963, pp. 75, 85). Borghese collection, documented in the Inv. 1790, room I, no. 24; Inventario fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 7 no. 3. Purchased by the Italian state, 1902.

  • 1998-1999, Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1907 Luigi Bartolucci (pest control)
  • 1937 Carlo Matteucci
  • 1978 Gianluigi Colalucci
  • 1995 Emmebici (diagnostics)
  • 2021 ArsMensurae di Stefano Ridolfi (diagnostics)
  • 2021 IFAC-CNR (diagnostics)
  • 2022 Measure3D di Danilo Salzano (laser scan 3D)


The work can be traced in the inventory of 1592 of Lucrezia d’Este d’Urbino (Della Pergola 1959) and it may have been commissioned by Duke Alfonso I or Lucrezia Borgia, theories that can be considered based on the dating proposed for the work on the basis of style (Herrmann Fiore 2002). Besides this purely technical information, the angels in the upper part of the painting are holding three sheets of paper, two of which are partly legible: the one on the far left reads ‘Te deum laudamus’, and the one in the middle is inscribed ‘Gloria in ex[cel]sis’, followed by a few illegible words and the date 1519. This dating is proposed in the most important monographs on the artist (Ballarin 1994-1995; Romani in Ballarin 1994-1995) and is supported by the powerful theatrical emotion of the composition, infused with Giorgionesque lyricism and emphasised by the ancient ruins that create a perfect backdrop crowned by the pathos of the frenetic flight of the angels blown by the wind. These elements seem to anticipate the same effects found in works from the early 1520s: the Allegory of Music in the Museo Horne, Florence (inv. 80) and the Learned Man with a Compass and Globe now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Ferrara (inv. FE 104). Other scholars have instead dated the work to the early 1520s (Longhi 1940; Mezzetti 1965; Gibbons 1968), still others to 1517 (Humphrey 1998) or, expanding the time frame, to between 1512 and 1520 (Mendelsohn 1914).

Listed in the fideicommissary document of 1833 as a ‘Holy Family, by Benvenuto Garofalo, 1 palm, 4 oncie wide; 2 palmi, 3 oncie high, on wood with a curved top’, Adolfo Venturi, in his catalogue for the Galleria (1893), considered this painting to be ‘sketch made up of strokes of colour and flashes of light’. To date, there is no known altarpiece that could have been inspired by this small painting, and so it is more likely that it was a devotional painting commissioned for the private chapel of an aristocratic palazzo in Ferrara.

The votive function of this work is revealed by the way the figures have been arranged on the ground. The Christ Child, who has been carefully placed on a white cloth, is sleeping while his mother lovingly covers his head with the hem of her blue and gold mantle, her own head covered with a sumptuously coiled golden turban. Next to them, his nude left foot in the foreground, the elderly Joseph leans on a staff, his beard and hair blown by the wind from the left, revealing the features of his face. Above, almost transported by the breeze that comes in from the beams of the ceiling of the ruined building sheltering the Holy Family, three angels with multicolour wings and crowns of leaves and flowers are wrapped in red, green and white drapery, hues connected to the three theological virtues: Charity, Hope and Faith.

Lara Scanu

  • G. Morelli, Kunstkritische Studien über italienische Malerei. Die Galerien zu München und Dresden, Leipzig 1890 (ed. 1892), p. 216, nota 7
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 130
  • G. Gruyer, L’art Ferrarais a l’époque des Princes d’Este, II, Parigi 1897, p. 286
  • B. Berenson, The North Italian Painters of the Renaissance, New York-London 1907, p. 210
  • E. G. Gardner, The Painters of the School of Ferrara, London 1911, p. 232
  • W. C. Zwanzinger, Dosso Dossi mit besonderer berucksichtigung seines Künst lerischen verältnisses zu seinem bruder Battista, Leipzig 1911, pp. 80-81, 117
  • H. Mendelsohn, Das Werk der Dossi, München 1914, pp. 52-53
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle gallerie italiane. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 343
  • A. Venturi, Storia dell’Arte Italiana. La pittura del Cinquecento, IX, 3, Milano 1928, p. 977
  • B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of Renaissance. A list of the Principal Artist and their Works with an Index of Places, Oxford 1932, p. 175
  • N. Barbantini, Esposizione della pittura ferrarese del Rinascimento, catalogo della mostra (Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti, maggio-ottobre 1933), Venezia 1933, n. 207A
  • B. Berenson, Pitture italiane del Rinascimento: catalogo dei principali artisti e delle loro opere con un indice dei luoghi, Milano 1936, p. 151
  • R. Longhi, Ampliamenti nell’Officina Ferrarese, «La Critica d’Arte», IV, 1940 (ed. 1956), p. 159
  • V. Lazareff, A Dosso Problem, «Art in America», XXIX, 1941, pp. 132-133
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, n. 41
  • E. Arslan, Una Natività di Dosso Dossi, «Commentari», VIII, 4, 1957, p. 259 +P. Della Pergola, L’ inventario del 1592 di Lucrezia d’Este, «Arte Antica e Moderna», 7, 1959, pp. 343, 349
  • P. della Pergola, Gli inventari Aldobrandini, «Arte antica e moderna», 12, 1960, pp. 430, 441
  • P. della Pergola, Gli inventari Aldobrandini: l’inventario del 1682. 2-3, «Arte antica e moderna», 1963, pp. 75, 85
  • C. D’Onofrio, Inventario dei beni del cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini compilato da G. B. Agucchi nel 1603, «Palatino», VIII, 1964, p. 160
  • P. Dreyer, Die Entiwicklung des jungen Dosso (I): ein Beitragzur Chronologie der Jungendwerke des Meisters bis zum Jahre 1522, «Pantheon», (II) XXII, 6, 1964, p. 365
  • A. Mezzetti, Il Dosso e Battista ferraresi, Ferrara 1965, pp. 17, 112 n. 161
  • B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Central Italian and North Italian Schools, I, London 1968, p. 113
  • F. Gibbons, Dosso and Battista Dossi Court Painters at Ferrara, Princeton 1968, pp. 122-123, 200-201, n. 60
  • A. Ballarin, Dosso Dossi. La pittura a Ferrara negli anni del Ducato di Alfonso I, Cittadella (PD) 1994-1995, p. 43
  • V. Romani, in A. Ballarin, Dosso Dossi. La pittura a Ferrara negli anni del Ducato di Alfonso I, Cittadella (PD) 1994-1995, scheda 379, p. 316
  • B. Fredericksen, Collecting Dosso: the Trail of Dosso’s Paintings from the late Sixteenth Century onward, in Dosso’s Fate: Painting and Court Culture in Renaissance Italy, a cura di L. Ciammitti, S. F. Ostrow, S. Settis, Los Angeles 1998, p. 374
  • P. Humfrey, in Dosso Dossi. Pittore di corte a Ferrara nel Rinascimento, catalogo della mostra (Ferrara, Civiche Gallerie d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, 26 settembre – 14 dicembre 1998; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 14 gennaio – 28 marzo 1999; Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum 27 aprile – 11 luglio 1999) a cura di P. Humphrey e M. Lucco, Ferrara 1998, pp. 126-127, scheda 17
  • C. Stefani, in Galleria Borghese, a cura di P. Moreno e C. Stefani, Milano 2000, p. 327
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, in Il museo senza confini. Dipinti ferraresi del Rinascimento nelle raccolte romane, a cura di J. Bentini e S. Guarino, Milano 2002, pp. 138-139, scheda 10
  • S. Tarissi de Jacobis, Nuova luce su vecchie carte: l’eredità Aldobrandini e la collezione Borghese, «Proporzioni», 4, 2003(2004), pp. 160-191