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Adoration of the Magi

copy after Rubens Pieter Paul

(Siegen 1577 - Antwerp 1640)

This painting was realised by skilfully incorporating the veins of the marble into the composition. It was only first mentioned in connection with the Borghese Collection in 1833. Executed by an anonymous painter – perhaps a young Genoese follower of Pieter Paul Rubens – it was inspired by a famous canvas by the Flemish master depicting the adoration of Jesus by the Three Wise Men, here portrayed together with two other men and several soldiers. Visible beneath the arch is the rising star, painted gold, which according to tradition guided the three men to the place where the Christ Child was born.

Object details

c. 1634
oil on marble
44 x 37 cm

19th-century frame with cymatium moulding, 54 x 61 x 5 cm


Rome, Borghese Collection, 1833 (Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 33). Purchased by Italian state, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1950 Carlo Matteucci
  • 1963 Alvaro Esposti
  • 1983 Gianluigi Colalucci


The provenance of this painting is unknown. Its first mention in connection with the Borghese Collection dates to 1833, when it was listed in the  Inventario Fidecommissario with the erroneous description which reads, ‘A nativity scene, by Bassano, 1 span 10 inches wide, 3 spans 3 inches high, on panel’. The work is in fact only identifiable by the tag attached to the back. With regard to the attribution given in this inventory, it was accepted by Giovanni Piancastelli (1891), who more precisely ascribed the work to Giacomo Bassano, but unhesitatingly rejected by Venturi (1893), who rather proposed an anonymous painter of the ‘school of Van Dyck’.

The first critic to associate this work on marble with Rubens was Roberto Longhi (1928), who rightly recognised it as ‘mediocre copy of a well-known composition’ by the Flemish painter. For her part, Paola della Pergola (1959) concurred, adding that the work was perhaps executed in Genoa, where Rubens’s works were widely imitated.

Agreeing with Longhi and Della Pergola, in 1977 Didier Bodard likewise associated the painting in question with the canvas by Rubens (held today at King’s College, Cambridge), which was executed in 1634 in Louvain. An original sketch of this work is conserved today in London (Wallace Collection, inv. no. P512), while an engraving by Hans Witdoeck is preserved at the Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe in Rome (FC 122517). Given, then, the importance and fame of the prototype, it is clear that the painter of the Borghese copy attempted to meet the challenge of reproducing the original, painting his version on marble to give expression to his skill. At the same time, his choice of support material endeavoured to make the work more attractive to the market, given that Rubens’s painting was as widely imitated in Italy as it was in the Low Countries.

Antonio Iommelli

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 42;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 220;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 215;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1951, p. 43;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 185, n. 275;
  • D. Bodart, in Rubens e l’incisione nelle collezioni del Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe, catalogo della mostra, (Roma, Palazzo della Farnesina, 1977), a cura di D. Bodart, R. Mezzetti, Roma 1977, 1977, p. 143;
  • 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. 163;
  • A. Iommelli, in Meraviglia senza tempo. Pittura su pietra a Roma tra Cinquecento e Seicento, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Borghese, 2022-2023), a cura di F. Cappelletti, P. Cavazzini, Roma 2022, pp. 110-111, 113 n. 73.