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Christ Carrying the Cross with Mary

Attributed to Luciani Sebastiano called Sebastiano del Piombo

(Venice c. 1485 - Rome 1547)

Traditionally attributed to Sebastiano del Piombo, this painting derives from a well-known work by the Venetian painter held today in Budapest. Its subject is one of the master’s most successful ones, depicting Christ’s exhortation reported in the Gospel of Matthew (16:24): ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me’. The many replicas, copies and variations of the work prove that the theme was very popular in a period of marked spiritual tensions.

The canvas shows Jesus carrying the cross in the company of his mother Mary. The fact that the Virgin does not appear in any other known versions makes this painting unique.

Object details

c. 1540
Oil on canvas
162 x 106 cm

Salvator Rosa, 186.5 x 132 x 9 cm


(?) Ferrara, collection of Lucrezia d’Este, 1592 (Inv. 1592, p. 11; Della Pergola 1959); (?) Rome, Borghese Collection, 1650 (Manilli 1650; Della Pergola 1959); Inv. 1693, room I, no. 38; Inv. 1790, room IX, no. 26; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 17. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 1980 Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art;
  • 1982 Roma, Palazzo Venezia;
  • 1984 Roma, Palazzo Venezia;
  • 1985 Roma, Palazzo Venezia;
  • 2000 Helsinki, Museo Amos Anderson;
  • 2000-01 Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni;
  • 2005 Firenze, Casa Buonarroti;
  • 2009 Kyoto, The National Museum of Modern Art;
  • 2010 Tokyo, Metropolitan Art Museum;
  • 2018 Forlì, Musei di San Domenico.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1956-58 Gilda Diotallevi, Alvaro Esposti;
  • 2000 Laura Ferretti.


Paola della Pergola (1959) believed that this painting may have been executed for the Count of Sifuentes; yet her theory was later rejected by Mauro Lucco (1980). Della Pergola further contended that the work came from the estate of Lucrezia d’Este, entering the collection at the Casino di Porta Pinciana no later than 1650 through the marriage of the younger Olimpia Aldobrandini to Paolo Borghese. Yet here again the scholar’s hypothesis is based on thin evidence: while the 1592 inventory of Lucrezia’s possessions lists a work with ‘Our Lord with a crown of thorns and the cross on his shoulder, by Piombino’, the generic descriptions of the Aldobrandini inventories do not permit us to identify the painting in question with certainty among the many works depicting Christ carrying the cross listed there. Likewise, the description given by Iacomo Manilli (1650) of a work which he observed on the door of the Apollo and Daphne Room – ‘Christ carrying the cross [...] by Frà Bastiano del Piombo’ – is not precise enough to allow us to assert that it refers to this work. Our first certain reference to the painting in question in fact dates to only 1693, when the Borghese inventory of that year lists ‘a work on imperial canvas with Christ carrying the cross on his shoulder and another figure, with a gilded frame, no. 348, by Fra’ Sebastiano del Piombo’; the inventory number is in fact still visible in the lower left hand corner of the composition.

Critics have also expressed different opinions as to the name of the artist of this canvas. The traditional attribution to Sebastiano (Inv. 1592; Manilli 1650; Inv. 1693) has not persuaded all modern scholars: while some agree that this is a work by the Venetian master (Longhi 1928; Della Pergola 1959; Herrmann Fiore 2000; 2005(a); 2005(b); 2006), others have proposed different names, including Gerolamo Muziano (A. Venturi 1893) and Giovanni De’ Vecchi (Contini 2008; Coliva 2008); others again have argued that Sebastiano had the help of anonymous painter, whose hand is evident in the head of the Virgin (Zeri 1957). One critic contended that the work is of such mediocre quality that it cannot be ascribed to any of the artists mentioned above (Cantalamessa 1912). At the other extreme of this spectrum of opinions, the compiler of the 1790 inventory even attributed the work to the great Michelangelo. For his part, Michael Hirst (1981) did not include the work in his monograph on Sebastiano.

What critics do agree on is that the work derives from one of three possible prototypes, namely those held in Madrid (Museo del Prado, P345), Saint Petersburg (Hermitage Museum inv. no. 77) and Budapest, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, inv. no. 77.1). In particular, the Christ Carrying the Cross in Budapest, which Sebastiano executed on slate in roughly 1540, would seem to be the best candidate (see Lucco 1996; Contini 2008; Benati 2018). Indeed, in the work in question the representation of Jesus’s gait is quite similar to that of the painting in Hungary; on the other hand, the landscape resembles that of the composition in Madrid. Yet what distinguishes our work from its supposed prototypes and other known copies is the presence of Our Lady of Sorrows (see Della Pergola 1959), who appears here in place of Simon of Cyrene or the perfidious jailers. Kristina Herrmann Fiore, who believed the work to be a product of Sebastiano’s late career (Herrmann Fiore 2000; 2005a), maintained that Mary here resembles Vittoria Colonna (2000; 2005b), the well-known Marchioness of Pescara and friend and correspondent of both Michelangelo and Sebastiano. Vittoria’s Rime were published in Venice in 1540, close to the time of the execution of the work in question. A woodcut print of Vittoria’s image included in that volume may have been the source for this depiction of Mary.

Antonio Iommelli

  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 71;
  • A. Manazzale, Itinerario, I, Roma 1817, p. 240;
  • X. Barbier de Montault, Les Musées et Galeries de Rome, Rome 1870, p. 361;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 98;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 156;
  • J. A. Rusconi, La Villa, il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Bergamo 1906, p. 90;
  • G. Bernardini, Sebastiano del Piombo, Bergamo 1908, p. 52;
  • P. D’Achiardi, Sebastiano del Piombo, Roma 1908, p. 242;
  • M. Perotti, Federico Zuccari, in “L’Arte”, XIV, p. 388;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 156;
  • U. Da Como, Girolamo Muziano, Bergamo 1930, pp. 134, 204;
  • A. De Rinaldis, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1935, p. 19;
  • R. Pallucchini, Sebastian Veneziano (Fra' Sebastiano del Piombo), Milano 1944, pp. 133, 149, 169;
  • I. Fenyö, Der Kreuztragende Christus Sebastiano del Piombo in Budapest, in “Acta historiae artium”, I, 1953, p. 162;
  • F. Zeri, Pittura e Controriforma. L’Arte senza tempo di Scipione da Gaeta, Torino 1957, p. 28;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, pp. 133-134;
  • M. Calì, Da Michelangelo all’Escorial: momenti del dibattito religioso nell’arte del Cinquecento, Torino 1980, p. 161;
  • M. Lucco, L’opera completa di Sebastiano del Piombo, Milano 1980, p. 124, n. 100;
  • M. Hirst, Sebastiano del Piombo, Oxford 1981, p. 135, n. 55;
  • A. Coliva, a cura di, La Galleria Borghese, Roma 1994, p. 143, n. 81;
  • M. Lucco, Sebastiano del Piombo, in The Dictionary of Art, XXVIII, London-New York 1996, p. 335;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, in The art of the jubilees in papal Rome 1500 - 1750: exhibition at the Amos Anderson Art Museum, catalogo della mostra (Helsinki, Amos Andersonin Taidemuseo, 2000-2001), Helsinki 2000, pp. 69-71;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore(a), Sebastiano del Piombo e il "Cristo portacroce" della Galleria Borghese: novità del recente restauro e rapporti con Vittoria Colonna, in "Storia dell'Arte", X, 2005, pp. 33-74;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore(b), in Vittoria Colonna e Michelangelo, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Casa Buonarroti, 2005), a cura di P. Ragionieri, Firenze 2005, p. 134, cat. 45;
  • 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. 103;
  • R. Contini, in Sebastiano del Piombo 1485 – 1547, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Museo Nazionale di Palazzo di Venezia, 2008; Berlino, Gëmaldegalerie, 2008), a cura di C. Strinati, B. W. Lindemann, Milano 2008, p. 244, n. 63;
  • 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. 126, n. 27;
  • M. Firpo, F. Biferali, Immagini ed eresie nell'Italia del Cinquecento, Roma 2016, pp. 283-284;
  • D. Benati, in L'Eterno e il Tempo tra Michelangelo e Caravaggio, catalogo della mostra (Forlì, Musei di San Domenico, 2018), a cura di A. Paolucci, A. Bacchi, D. Benati, P. Refice, U. Tramonti, Cinisello Balsamo 2018, cat. n. 57.