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Adoration of the Magi

Workshop of da Ponte Jacopo called Jacopo Bassano

(Bassano del Grappa 1510 - 1592)

In the past this work was believed to be by the Greek painter Domínikos Theotokópoulos and was recorded as such at the Export Office in Rome in 1923 when the Italian state purchased it from the Tartaglia company for 4,000 lire. It depicts the arrival of the Three Kings in Bethlehem: against a broad landscape dominated by several ruins, the trio are welcomed by the Holy Family while a group of angels look on from up high in the clouds.

The faithful representation of some of the physiognomies, together with the ingenuous rendering of certain details – such as the long face of the king on the far left and the hands and feet of Mary and Joseph – suggest locating the work in the workshop of Jacopo Bassano. In all likelihood, the canvas was executed in the mid-16th century and was based on a lost original.

Object details

c. 1555-1556
oil on canvas
cm 58 x 49

Frame decorated with flower and rocaille motifs, 72 x 62.5 x 6.2 cm


Formerly Tartaglia Company, 1923 (Della Pergola 1955); purchased by Italian state, 1923.

  • 1953 Bordeaux, Galerie des Beaux-Arts
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1992 Paola Tollo.


The history of this painting is unknown. Documented information concerning it dates to only 1923, when the Italian state exercised its right of pre-emption and purchased the canvas for 4,000 lire from the Tartaglia company (Della Pergola 1955).

Although published by Achille Bertini Calosso (1924) and August L. Mayer (1939) as a work by El Greco, alias Domínikos Theotokópoulos, the canvas was later attributed to Jacopo Bassano. At this point critical debate centred on the question of whether the work was an original (Porcella 1925; Longhi 1928; De Rinaldis 1938; Della Pergola 1955) or a derivation of a lost prototype (Porcella 1925; Longhi 1928; De Rinaldis 1938; Della Pergola 1955). Recently, the latter hypothesis has gained greater consent: while Alessandro Ballarin (1995) deemed it a product of Jacopo’s workshop, Kristina Herrmann Fiore (2006) attributed it to his circle. At the same time, in her brief description of the work in the image catalogue of the Galleria Borghese (Herrmann Fiore 2006) the latter scholar did not mention the possibility of it deriving from an original.

Concerning the dating of the canvas, in the view of Rodolfo Pallucchini (1948) this Adoration was executed in 1562, probably the same year as the lost prototype. For his part, Ballarin (1995) moved the date up to 1555-56, that is, in a complex moment of the artist’s career, when he distanced himself from the influence of Mannerism to embark on creating a new pictorial idiom. A painting with the same subject, dating to 1555-56, is held in Birmingham (Barber Institute of Fine Arts, inv. no. 78.1), while several workshop copies from roughly the same period are on display in Pommersfelden (Schloss der Grafen von Schönborn) and in Cambridge (Massachusetts, Harvard University, Fogg Art Museum, inv. no 1932.61; on these works, see Ballarin 1995, p. 1556).

Antonio Iommelli

  • A. Bertini Calosso, Un quadro giovanile del Greco, in “Bollettino d’Arte”, 1924, pp. 486-490;
  • A. Porcella, Per un quadro del Bassano nella Galleria Borghese, in “Emporium”, LXIV, 1925, p. 197;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 226;
  • A. De Rinaldis, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1939, p. 51;
  • A. L. Mayer, Notes on the Early El Greco, in “The Burlington Magazine”, 1939, p. 28;
  • R. Pallucchini, Some Early Works by El Greco, in “The Burlington Magazine”, XC, 1948, p. 134;
  • J. Aznar Camon, Dominigo Grego, Madrid 1950, p. 80;
  • E. Arslan, Appunto su Caravaggio, in “Aut-Aut”, V, 1951, pp. 112-113;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1951, p. 46;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, pp. 100-101, n. 176;
  • B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Venetian School, I, London 1957, p. 20;
  • E. Arslan, I Bassano, II, Milano 1960, p. 175;
  • A. Ballarin, Jacopo Bassano, II, Padova 1995, pp. 11, 634, fig. 634;
  • 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. 181.