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Allegory of the Creation

Zucchi Jacopo

Florence 1540-41 - Rome 1595-96)

The painting, recognised by critics as the work of Jacopo Zucchi, was probably painted around 1585 for the Roman study of Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici. To decorate his new Villa Pinciana, he commissioned the painter to create a series of allegorical subjects on wooden panel and copper, including Fishing for Coral (inv. 292).

Documented in the Borghese collection since 1693, this work on copper represents an unusual allegory of creation, whose inspiring source has been identified in the psalms of the Bible. The subject is a sort of hymn to the wealth and perfection of the human race, created by God, the ‘beginning’ and ‘end’ of everything. His image is represented in contrast to man’s, portrayed at the bottom left next to a base bearing the words “Omnia in sapientia fecisti et subiecisti sub pedibus eius”.

Zucchi shows considerable skill in the way a number of animal and plant details are accentuated, painted with an analytical and scientific eye according to the tastes of the time.


Object details

oil on copper
49 x 39 cm

Rome, Ferdinando de’ Medici; Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room IX, no. 20); Inv. 1790, room VI, no. 26; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 37; purchased by the Italian State, 1902

  • 1985 Roma, Palazzo Venezia;
  • 1986 Venezia, Biennale di Venezia;
  • 1993 Roma, Palazzo Venezia;
  • 1995-1996 Roma, Musei Capitolini;
  • 1996-1997 Firenze, Palazzo Pitti;
  • 1999 Roma, Villa Medici;
  • 2002-2003 Chicago, Art Institut;
  • 2003 Detroit, Institut of Art;
  • 2009 Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada;
  • 2010-2011 Parigi, Musée Maillol;
  • 2017-2018 Firenze, Palazzo Strozzi.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1907 Luigi Bartolucci (stuccatura, spianatura e piccoli ritocchi);
  • 1999 ABACUS s.n.c. di N. Naldoni e G. Tautschnig (pulitura, reintegrazione pittorica, verniciatura).


According to scholars, this small painting on copper was made by Jacopo Zucchi for Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici, who commissioned the artist to make a few works for his new studiolo in Rome. Giovanni Baglione reported that the artist, after his debut and first works in Florence, moved to Rome in 1572, entering into contact with the Medici prince, who commissioned him to paint a series of works, including Coral Fishing (inv. 292) and, probably, this sophisticated allegory.

It is unknown when the work entered the Borghese Collection, in which it is documented for the first time in the inventory of 1693 as a work by Giuseppe Cesari, called Cavalier d’Arpino, and described as ‘[un quadro in rame alto al sud.o con Christallo avanti] with God the Father and a seated figure holding up a globe in a landscape with animals, marked no. 362 on the back, by Cav. Giuseppe d'Arpino’. This attribution, rejected in 1790 in favour of Jean Brueghel the Elder, was again rejected by Roberto Longhi who argued instead for Zucchi.

The subject is a kind of hymn to creation, the source for which has been identified as the Psalms. The painting depicts creation, desired by God, who is portrayed as an old man with a beard, holding a book inscribed with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, the alpha and the omega, in a reference to Eternity, the ‘beginning’ and ‘end’ of all things. At lower left, in a play of opposites, we see a male figure, identifiable as the human genius, seated next to a base inscribed with the words ‘Omnia in sapientia fecisti et subiecisti sub pedibus eius’. This figure, who is holding up an armillary sphere, is surrounded by a Flemish-style landscape, the lenticular rendering of which is one of the most appealing aspects of the Florentine painter’s work, offering a vast catalogue of details drawn from the animal and plant worlds.

Scholars have dated the painting to about 1585 based on similarities with the altarpiece depicting the Birth of John the Baptist in the church of San Giovanni Decollato, Rome.

Antonio Iommelli

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 597; 
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 150; 
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I: La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 205; 
  • L. van Puyvelde, La Peinture Flamande à Rome, Bruxelles 1950, p. 182; 
  • P. Della Pergola, Itinerario della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1951, p. 32; 
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 59, n. 86; 
  • S. Guarino, scheda in La natura morta al tempo di Caravaggio, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Musei Capitolini, 1995-1996), a cura di A. Cottino, Roma 1995, p. 116, n. 17; 
  • A. Giovannetti, in Magnificenza alla corte dei Medici: arte a Firenze alla fine del Cinquecento, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Museo degli Argenti, 1998), a cura di C. Acidini Luchinat, M. Gregori, D. Heikamp, A. Paolucci, Milano 1997, p. 201, n. 155;
  • P. Morel, in Villa Medici: il sogno di un cardinale; collezioni e artisti di Ferdinando de’ Medici, catalogo della mostra, (Roma, Villa Medici, 2000), a cura di M. Hochmann, Roma 1999, p. 298; 
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 343; 
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, in Art energy. L’energia nella storia dell’arte dall’antichità classica al XX secolo, a cura di C. Biasini Selvaggi, Milano 2004, p. 68; 
  • 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. 97;
  • M.G. Aurigemma, Un corpus perduto?: sui disegni di Jacopo Zucchi, in "Studiolo", V, 2007, pp. 115-147;
  • F. Rigon, Jacopo Zucchi: Firenze? 1542 c. - Roma 1592, in Storia di una galleria romana, a cura di A. D’Amelio, Roma 2011,  pp. 193-195; 
  • D. Rezza, "La Gloria del Paradiso" di Jacopo Zucchi: Museo Artistico del Tesoro di San Pietro, Città del Vaticano 2014;
  • E. Ricchi, Il fregio dell’Appartamento Sud di Ferdinando de’ Medici: maestranze all’opera nel cantiere di Jacopo Zucchi, in Frises peintes, a cura di A. Fenech Kroke, A. Lemoine, Paris 2016, pp. 335-355;
  • L. Scanu, Alcune notizie sugli artisti fiorentini presso l’Arciconfraternita di san Giovanni Decollato in Roma e una precisazione per Jacopo Zucchi, in "Predella", XLIII-XLIV, 2018, pp. 137-148.