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Bust of a Youth

Savoldo Giovanni Girolamo

(Brescia c. 1480 - Venice? after 1548)

The lack of any clues in this portrait makes it impossible to identify its subject. It entered the Borghese Collection at a late date; the Inventario Fidecommissario listed it as a work by Titian, yet critics later attributed it to Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo of Brescia. It was executed in the 1630s, the period in which the painter blended the figurative culture of Lombardy with the motifs and chromatic schemes of the Veneto school, looking in particular to the examples of the master from Pieve di Cadore.

Object details

1527 circa
oil on canvas
cm 60 x 40

16th-century frame decorated with punched rosettes and flowers, 78 x 57 x 5 cm


(?) Rome, Borghese Collection, 1790 (Inv. 1790, room X, no. 64; Della Pergola 1955); Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 20; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 1939 Brescia, Pinacotesa Tosio Martinengo;
  • 1953 Sciaffusa, Amsterdam, Bruxelles (varie sedi);
  • 1954 Parigi, Musée de l'Orangerie;
  • 1990 Brescia, Monastero di S. Giulia;
  • 1990 Francoforte, Schirn Kunsthalle;
  • 1991 Firenze, Palazzo Pitti;
  • 1992 Roma, Palazzo Ruspoli;
  • 1993 Parigi, Grand Palais;
  • 1993 Parigi, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais;
  • 1998-99 Milano, Palazzo Reale;
  • 2001 Milano, Palazzo Reale;
  • 2009 Kyoto, The National Museum of Modern Art;
  • 2010 Tokyo, Metropolitan Art Museum;
  • 2011 Milano, Museo Diocesano;
  • 2014 Brescia, Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1947 Carlo Matteucci;
  • 1958 Renato Massi (restauro della cornice);
  • 1981-83 Gianluigi Colalucci;
  • 2009 Cecilia Bernardini (ripresa dei ritocchi alterati e restauro cornice).


The provenance of this work is still unknown. It is only documented with certainty in the collection of Casino di Porta Pinciana from 1833, when it was mistakenly described as a work by Pier Francesco Mola (Inventario Fidecommissario 1833). Paolo della Pergola (1955) suggested that the work corresponded to the entry in the Borghese inventory of 1790 of a ‘head of a shepherd, by Tiziano’. Yet her proposal was rejected by later critics (see Santolini 1998; Hermann Fiore 2006).

With regard to the question of attribution, for some time the painting was held to be by Giovanni Battista Moroni and was displayed as such in the Galleria Borghese (see Della Pergola 1959). As early as 1880, however, Giovanni Morelli rightly ascribed the work to Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo of Brescia. Agreeing with this attribution and building on the suggestion of Venturi (1893), D’Achiardi (1912) argued that the canvas was a preliminary study for the figure of John the Evangelist in the lost Deposition (1573), formerly held in Berlin. This extremely fascinating hypothesis was accepted by Paola della Pergola (1955), who on the occasion of the publication of the catalogue of paintings of the Galleria Borghese in 1955 presented the work as by the artist from Brescia, noting the similarities in the melancholic execution of the face with the Young Peasant Man of the Contini-Bonacossi collection in Florence.

While most critics (Longhi 1928; Venturi 1928; Suida 1935; Gilbert 1986) dated the canvas to before 1537, Rossana Bossaglia (1963) proposed that it was executed immediately after the Deposition, maintaining that together with the Prophet of the Gussalli collection in Milan and the so-called Portrait in the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna the Portrait of the Borghese Collection reveals Savoldo’s pictorial itinerary as he gradually moved closer to the freer idiom of Venetian painting: transitioning from a manner marked by Germanic influences – evident in the work in Vienna – to a softer, rounder style, his development culminated in the work in question, one which looks toward trends in Venice, Titian in particular (see Begni Redona 1970).

In the words of De Rinaldis (1935), the painting shows ‘a prevalence of soft, transparent shadows over areas illuminated by dazzling twilight’. In a narrow space it depicts a young man in three-quarter profile set against a dark background while he leans slightly toward the observer. The close-up perspective, pose and use of silvery light (Santolini 1998) are undoubtedly indicative of Savoldo’s response to the enticements of Venetian culture. At the same time – as Boschetto (1963) emphasised – the work represents a departure from the style of Giorgione, whose idiom is more dramatic and less introspective compared to that of the painter from Brescia. The painting, which may have been trimmed on its right side, has been variously interpreted: while some scholars have seen it as a portrait from life of an unknown patron perhaps belonging to the circle of Gasparo Contarini (see Begni Redona 1990), others have proposed that it is a John the Evangelist (Venturi 1893; D’Achiardi 1912; Gilbert 1986); although both suggestions are valid, neither has been supported by documentary evidence.

Antonio Iommelli

  • G. Frizzoni, La Pinacoteca Comunale Martinengo in Brescia, in “Archivio Storico dell’Arte”, II, 1889, p. 32;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 117;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 99;
  • G. Morelli, Kunstkritische Studien uber Italianische Malerei: die Galerien Borghese und Doria-Pamphili in Rom, Leipzig 1880, p. 319, note 1-2;
  • G. Morelli, Della Pittura Italiana. Studi Storici Critici: Le Gallerie Borghese e Doria Pamphili in Roma, Milano 1897, p. 250;
  • P. D'Achiardi, Nuovi acquisti della R. Galleria Borghese, in "Bollettino d'Arte", 1912, fasc. III (marzo), p. 92;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 190; Suida 1935, p. 511;
  • B. Berenson, Pitture Italiane del Rinascimento, Milano 1936, p. 139;
  • Catalogo della Mostra: la Pittura Bresciana del Rinascimento, Brescia 1939, p. 172;
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1948, p. 48;
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Milano 1950, p. 19;
  • 500 Jahre venezianische Malerei, catalogo della mostra (Sciaffusa, Museum zu Allerheilegen, 1953), a cura di G. Jedlicka, Schaffenhausen 1953, p. 33;
  • De Venetiaanse Meesters, catalogo della mostra (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, 1953), Amsterdam 1953, p. 48;
  • La Peinture Vénetienne, catalogo della mostra (Bruxelles 1953), a cura di A. Michel, Bruxelles 1953, p. 47;
  • Chefs d’oeuvre venitiens de Paolo Veneziano à Tintoret, catalogo della mostra (Parigi, Musée de l'Orangerie, 1954), a cura di M. Florisoone, G. De Angelis d'Ossat, Paris 1954, n. 36;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, pp. 127-128, n. 230;
  • R. Bossaglia, in Storia di Brescia, II, La dominazione veneta (1426-1575), Brescia 1963, pp. 1024, 1030 nota 2, 1031;
  • A. Boschetto, Giovan Gerolamo Savoldo, Milano 1963, tav. 31;
  • L. Ferarra, Galleria Borghese, Roma, Novara 1970, p. 78;
  • C. Gilbert, The works of Girolamo Savoldo. With a review of research, New York 1986, pp. 184 n. 33, 360-361;
  • P. V. Begni Redona, in Giovanni Gerolamo Savoldo tra Foppa, Giorgione e Caravaggio, catalogo della mostra (Brescia, Monastero di Santa Giulia, 1990; Frankfurt, Main, Schirn-Kunsthalle 1990), Milano 1990, pp. 170-171, I. 28;
  • F. Frangi, Savoldo: catalogo completo dei dipinti, Firenze 1993, p. 451, n. 73;
  • S. Santolini, in L’anima e il volto: ritratto e fisiognomica da Leonardo a Bacon, catalogo della mostra (Milano, Palazzo Reale, 1998-1999), a cura di F. Caroli, Milano 1998, pp. 86-88;
  • C. Stefani, in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 331;
  • C. Brown, in Il genio e le passioni: Leonardo e il Cenacolo; precedenti, innovazioni, riflessi di un capolavoro, catalogo della mostra (Milano, Civico Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, 2001), a cura di P. Marani, Milano 2001, p. 298;
  • 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. 49;
  • L. Bartoni, in Galleria Borghese. The splendid collection of a noble family, catalogo della mostra (Kyoto, The National Museum of Modern Art, 2009; Tokyo, Metropolitan Art Museum, 2010), a cura di C.M. Strinati, A. Mastroianni, F. Papi, Kyoto 2009, p. 82, n. 9.