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Christ on the Cross between Saints Christopher and Jerome

Bernardino di Betto called Pinturicchio

(Perugia c. 1454 - Siena 1513)

This panel has been in the Borghese Collection only since 1891; its original destination is unknown. It probably formed part of a portable altarpiece that was meant for private worship, given the small size of the work. Its perfect conservational state allows us to appreciate its quasi-miniaturist technique, glazed colours and close attention to detail. The panel was executed by Bernardino di Betto Betti, called Pinturicchio, a painter from Perugia considered one of the great Umbrian masters of the second half of the Quattrocento.

The scene depicting the crucifixion of Christ is set in a broad landscape which is rendered with great care, close to Flemish styles. Jerome appears on one side in penitent’s clothing and with his inseparable lion. On the other we see Christopher, the good-natured giant who according to legend carried the young Jesus from one bank of a deep river to the other: in fact his name derives from the Greek word for ‘he who carries Christ’.

Object details

Ante 1473 or c. 1475-78
oil on panel
cm 59 x 40

19th-century frame with cymatium moulding, 66 x 45.5 x 12 cm


Rome, collection of Agostino Mariotti, 1806 (Todini 1989); Rome, Monaco collection, 1837 (Vermiglioli 1837); (?) formerly Rothschild collection (Della Pergola 1955); Rome, Borghese Collection, 1891 (Della Pergola 1955). Purchased by Italian state, 1902.


on the back, eighteenth-century handwriting: "ORIGINALE DEL PINTURICCHIO"

  • 1930 Londra, Burlington House;
  • 1935 Parigi, Petit Palais;
  • 2006 San Severino Marche, Palazzo Servanzi Confidati;
  • 2008 Perugia, Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria;
  • 2017 Roma, Musei Capitolini - Palazzo Caffarelli.


This panel entered the collection of the Casino di Porta Pinciana only in 1891. It was in fact exchanged for the Portrait of Cesare Borgia – at the time attributed to Raphael – which the Borghese family sold to Baron Quattrocento. In the 19th century, the work in question was believed to be by Carlo Crivelli. Cavalcaselle (1871), however, rather proposed the name Fiorenzo di Lorenzo, an opinion which Adolfo Venturi initially accepted (1893) but then rejected in favour of the young Perugino (in Storia 1913). Giovanni Morelli (1897) was the first to suggest the name of Pinturicchio, an attribution accepted by all subsequent critics (Wingenroth 1897; Ricci 1912; Longhi 1928; De Rinaldis 1948; Zeri 1953; Della Pergola 1955; Ferrara 1956; Camesasca 1959; 1969), with the exception of Luigi Grassi (1955), who maintained that the panel was the joint creation of Pinturicchio and Perugino, and of Bernard Berenson (1968), who argued that it was solely the work of Vannucci. For his part, Luciano Bellosi (2007) expressed agreement with Berenson.

To achieve such a narrative and fairy-tale-like representation of this subject, the painter was clearly familiar with and open to the most modern tendencies of the era: his vision of Christ betrays the influence of the Pollaiuolo (Delpriori 2006; Scarpellini 2008), while his rendering of Jerome shows that of Verrocchio (Carli 1960). In addition, he makes several allusions to Nicolò Alunno and Fiorenzo di Lorenzo (Carli 1960). Indeed the last-named painter executed the Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints Christopher and Sebastian (Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, inv. no. 1078), in which Christopher seems the mirror image of the same saint in the work in question. This detail has led some critics to propose that Pinturicchio used a drawing by Fiorenzo or that he spent a brief period of time in the latter’s workshop (Scarpellini 2008).

Regarding the date of the work, Pietro Scarpellini (2004; 2008) and Alessandro Delpriori (2006) proposed that it was executed in the second half of the 1470s, while Enzo Carli (1960) and Franco I. Nucciarelli (1998) suggested an earlier period, namely before 1473. These different opinions clearly demonstrate the difficulty in generally defining the Perugian artistic scene in the early 1470s: while dominated by the influence of Verrocchio, this was a period characterised by a great variety of styles and pictorial idioms, such that sorting out artists and dates becomes an arduous task. This is in fact the context in which this small panel came into being: it joins together the most modern tendencies with very traditional approaches. The latter are evident in Jerome’s heavy mantle, Christopher’s garments and the highlighting of the leaves – a late-Gothic motif (see Delpriori 2006) – while the former can be seen in the detailed, calligraphic rendering of the landscape, which recalls contemporary developments in Flemish painting. This attentive treatment of backgrounds is fully characteristic of Pinturicchio’s works, as is confirmed in the frescoes which he executed in the Sistine Chapel in Rome (Delpriori 2006).

Antonio Iommelli

  • G. B. Vermiglioli, Memorie di Bernardino Pintoricchio Pittore Perugino de’ secc. XV, XVI, Perugia 1837, pp. 109-110;
  • J. A. Crowe, G. B. Cavalcaselle, A. History of Painting in North Italy, II, London 1871, p. 373;
  • A. Venturi, Questioni d’Arte, in “Archivio Storico dell’Arte”, V, 1892, p. 14;
  • La Direzione, Questioni d’Arte, in “Archivio Storico dell’Arte”, V, 1892, p. 4;
  • A. Venturi, II Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 183;
  • G. Morelli, Della Pittura Italiana. Studi Storici Critici: Le Gallerie Borghese e Doria Pamphili in Roma, Milano 1897, pp. 107-108;
  • M. Wingenroth, Die Jugend Werke des Benozzo Gozzoli, Heidelberg 1897, p. 91;
  • E. Steinmann, Pintoricchio, Bielefeld, Leipzig 1898, p. 11;
  • J. C. Broussolle, La Jeunesse du Perugin et les Origines de l’Ecole Ombrienne, Paris 1901, p. 370;
  • S. Weber, Fiorenzo di Lorenzo. Eine Kunsthistorische Studie, Strassburg 1904, pp. 118, 141;
  • C. Ricci, Pintoricchio, Perugia 1912, p. 28;
  • A. Venturi, in Storia dell’Arte Italiana, VII, La pittura del Quattrocento, II, Milano 1913, p. 466;
  • A. Schmarsow, Peruginos Erste Schaffensperiode, XXXI, Leipzig 1915, pp. 62-64;
  • G. Briganti, F. Canuti, C. Ricci, IV Centenario dalla morte di Pietro Perugino, Perugia 1923, p. 21;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 213;
  • F. Canuti, Il Perugino, I, Siena 1931, p. 47;
  • A commemorative catalogue of the Exhibition of Italian Art held in the Galleries of the Royal Academy, Burlington House, London, catalogo della mostra (Londra, Burlington House, 1930), a cura di K. Clark, Oxford 1931, p. 92;
  • R. Van Marle, The Development of the Italian School of Painting, XIV, The Hague 1934, pp. 188, 206, 391;
  • Exposition de l’Art Italien de Cimabue à Tiepolo, catalogo della mostra (Parigi, Petit Palais, 1935), Paris 1935, p. 166;
  • B. Berenson, Pitture Italiane del Rinascimento, Milano 1936, p. 378;
  • W. Boeck, Der Junge Perugino, in “Pantheon”, XXV, 1940, pp. 235 ss.;
  • F. Hartt, Carpaccio’s Meditation on the Passion, in “The Art Bulletin”, XXII, 1940, p. 33;
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1948, p. 32;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1951, p. 27;
  • F. Zeri, Il Maestro dell’Annunciazione Gardner, “Bollettino d’Arte”, IV, 1953, p. 139;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, pp. 94-95;
  • L. Grassi, Il Pinturicchio e i suoi primi dipinti, in "Perugia", I, 1955, pp. 8-9, 11 (nota 5);
  • L. Ferrara, Galleria Borghese, Novara 1956, p. 50;
  • E. Camesasca, Tutta la pittura del Perugino, Milano, pp. 163-64;
  • E. Carli, Il Pintoricchio, Milano 1960, pp. 10-11, 16-17;
  • B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance-Central Italian and North Italian Schools, I, London 1968, p. 332;
  • E. Camesasca, L’Opera completa del Perugino, Milano 1969, p. 122;
  • F. Todini, La pittura umbra dal Duecento al primo Cinquecento, I, 1989, p. 208;
  • A. Coliva, Galleria Borghese, Roma 1994, pp. 38-39;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Guida alla Galleria Borghese, Roma 1997, p. 67;
  • F. I. Nucciarelli, Studi sul Pinturicchio: dalle prime prove alla Cappella Sistina, Ellera Umbra 1998, pp. 178-203;
  • C. Stefani in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 233;
  • P. Scarpellini, M.R. Silvestrelli, Pintoricchio, Milano 2003, pp. 48-50, 55 n. 64;
  • P. Scarpellini, Pintoricchio, Milano 2004, pp. 48-50;
  • L. Teza, Influssi adriatici nel ciclo perugino dei "Miracoli di S. Bernardino", in Bartolomeo Corradini (Fra' Carnevale) nella cultura urbinate del XV secolo, a cura di B. Cleri, Urbino 2004, 2004, p. 345;
  • A. Delpriori, in I Pittori del Rinascimento a Sanseverino, 2006, p. 96, cat. n. 1;
  • 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. 126;
  • L. Bellosi, Considerazioni sulla mostra del Perugino, in "Prospettiva", CXXV, 2007 Milano 2007, pp. 67-87;
  • F. I. Nucciarelli, Pinturicchio; il Bambin Gesù delle mani, Perugia 2007, pp. 58, 61;
  • P. Scarpellini, in Pintoricchio, catalogo della mostra (Perugia, Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, 2008; Spello, Pinacoteca Comunale, 2008), a cura di V. Garibaldi, F.F. Mancini, Cinisello Balsamo 2008, p. 230, n. 33.