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Bath of Venus

Scarsella Ippolito called Scarsellino

(Ferrara c. 1550 - 1620)

This work, reported in the inventory of Scipione Borghese datable to 1620–1630, is considered a pendant to Salmacis and Hermaphrodite (inv. 214), even though it was painted on a different type of support. The style is in fact perfectly consistent with the narrative tone used by Scarsellino for mythological subjects. In this scene, Venus, against a background of striated sky, has just come out of the water, assisted by putti who offer her towels dried by the warmth of the fire.

Object details

1610-1615 circa
oil on canvas
cm 45 x 57

Collection of Scipione Borghese, documented in Inv. 1620-1630, no. 62; Manilli 1650, p. II p. 112; Inv. 1693, room IV, no. 311; Inventario fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 25. Purchased by the Italian state, 1902.

  • 2008, Milano, Palazzo Reale
  • 2021, Mantova, Palazzo Te
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1947 Carlo Matteucci
  • 1958 Alvaro Esposti
  • 2020 Measure 3D di Danilo Salzano (laser scan 3D)
  • 2020 Erredicci (diagnostics)
  • 2021 IFAC-CNR (diagnostics)
  • 2021 Ars Mensurae di Stefano Ridolfi (diagnostics)


The first inventory listing of the painting is found in a document published by Sandro Corradini, where it is described as ‘a painting on canvas [of] Venus bathing with lots of Cupids who are serving her [in a] gilt frame with dragons and eagles [measuring] about 1 high, 1 wide, [by] Scarsellino’. The painting, which was probably expanded given the square format mentioned in the inventory, might have been a diplomatic gift to Cardinal Scipione from one of his acquaintances in Ferrara or, more probably, was commissioned directly by him from the artist by the first decade of the seventeenth century (Herrmann Fiore 2002).

Scarsellino has portrayed Venus sitting on the edge of a pool of water near a river. The artist included only a few elements of nature in the painting: the few trees stand out against a sky painted in dawn-like hues and the scene is framed by a crumbling building with a broken roof resting on two columns and, to the left, a fountain topped by a dolphin and a puer mingens, a male child urinating. The latter is linked to the theme of fertility and fecundity and had been very popular in decorative sculpture for fountains and similar since the publication of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili by Francesco Colonna (1433–1527), which was printed by Aldo Manuzio in 1499 (Miarelli Mariani 1996). The goddess is surrounded by a group of winged cupids. Two are helping her out of the bath, one of which offering her towels while the other helps her get her feet out of the water. Two other putti are near the small atrium in front of the building, tasked with warming towels by the fire and bringing them to the goddess. And two more are resting in the right corner, to the side, having left their arrows and quiver near the edge of the natural pool.

A pendant to the painting of Salmacis and Hermaphrodite (inv. 214), this work, like the others by the Ferrara painter, has been difficult to date. Maria Angela Novelli (1955; 1964; 2008) proposed a date prior to 1592-1593, the period when Scarsellino came into contact with the Carracci during the decoration of Palazzo dei Diamanti and adhered closely to the formal language of Venetian painting. This dating was accepted by Coliva (1994), who proposed the more specific date of 1585, and Stefani (2000). The strong influence of the classical ideal of Carraccesque painting, found in the stripped-down nature of the landscape, in harmony with the figures, led Morandotti (1997) and Herrmann Fiore (2002) to instead date the work to the artist’s mature period.

Lara Scanu

  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 112
  • X. Barbier De Montault, Les Musées et Galeries de Rome, Roma 1870, p. 351, n. 25
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 129
  • G. Gruyer, L’art Ferrarais a l’époque des Princes d’Este, Parigi 1897, p. 413
  • G. Morelli, Della Pittura Italiana. Studi storico critici. La Galleria Borghese e Doria Pamphili in Roma, Milano 1897, p. 119
  • G. Lafenestre, E. Richtenberger, Rome, les musées, les collections particulières, les palais, Parigi 1905, p. 52
  • E. G. Gardner, De painters of the School of Ferrara, London 1911, p. 252
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 197
  • B. Berenson, The Italian painters of the Renaissance, Londra 1932, p. 518
  • R. Longhi, Officina ferrarese, Roma 1934, p. 153
  • A. Venturi, Storia dell’arte italiana, IX, 7, Milano 1934, pp. 804, 812
  • R. Buscaroli, La pittura di paesaggio in Italia, Bologna 1935, p. 220
  • B. Berenson, Pitture italiane del Rinascimento, Milano 1936, p. 445
  • A. De Rinaldis, La R. Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1939, p. 44
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, p. 67, n. 118
  • M.A. Novelli, Lo Scarsellino, Bologna 1955, pp. 16, 67, fig. 7
  • F. Arcangeli in Maestri della pittura del Seicento emiliano: catalogo critico, catalogo della mostra (Bologna, Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio, 26 aprile – 5 luglio 1959) a cura di F. Arcangeli e M. Calvesi, Bologna 1959, p. 243, n. 125
  • G. Mariacher, in La pittura del ‘600 a Venezia, catalogo della mostra (Venezia, Museo d’Arte Moderna Ca’ Pesaro, 27 giugno – 25 ottobre 1959), Venezia 1959, pp. 6-7, n. 4
  • M.A. Novelli, Lo Scarsellino, Ferrara 1964, pp. 10, 39, n. 151
  • B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Central Italian and North Italian Schools, I, London 1968, p. 391
  • J. Bentini, Il fascino della pittura veneta: il caso dello Scarsellino, in La Pittura in Emilia e in Romagna. Il Seicento, vol. II, Milano 1993, p. 258
  • A. Coliva, Galleria Borghese, Roma 1994, p. 140, fig. 75
  • I. Miarelli Mariani, in Immagini degli Dei. Mitologia e collezionismo tra ‘500 e ‘600, catalogo della mostra (Lecce, Fondazione Memmo, 7 dicembre 1996 - 31 marzo 1997) a cura di C. Cieri Via, Milano 1996, pp. 194-195, scheda 37
  • S. Corradini, Un antico inventario della quadreria del Cardinale Scipione Borghese, in Bernini Scultore. La nascita del Barocco in casa Borghese, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Borghese, 15 maggio – 20 settembre 1998) a cura di A. Coliva e S. Schütze, Roma 1998, p. 451
  • C. Stefani, in Galleria Borghese, a cura di P. Moreno e C. Stefani, Milano 2000, p. 265
  • 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. 218-219, scheda 49
  • M.A. Novelli, Scarsellino, Milano 2008, p. 311, cat. 131
  • M. Simone, in Venere. Natura, ombra, bellezza, catalogo della mostra (Mantova, Palazzo Te, 12 settembre-12 dicembre 2021) a cura di C. Cieri Via, Milano 2021, p. 157, n. 27