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Coral Fishing (or The Realm of Amphitrite)

Zucchi Jacopo

Florence 1540-41 - Rome 1595-96)

The painting was mentioned for the first time by Giovanni Baglione (1642) at the Roman studio of Ferdinando de’ Medici, a Florentine cardinal forced to abandon the priesthood to marry Cristina di Lorena in 1589.

When it entered the Borghese collection is as yet unknown, but this work on copper was mentioned in 1693 as the work of painter Lavinia Fontana, an attribution that was not corrected until the beginning of the 20th century, in favour of Jacopo Zucchi.

The painting, probably related to discovery of America, recent at that time, shows women collecting coral. According to Baglione, their features are those of the most beautiful women in Rome portrayed by Zucchi for the rich and powerful Florentine prince. Like the Allegory of Creation (inv. 293), this copper painting was also dated by critics to 1585.


Object details

oil on copper
cm 52 x 42,5

Rome, Ferdinando de' Medici; Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room VI, no. 22); Inv. 1700, room VI, no. 38; Inv. 1790, room VI, no. 25; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 26; purchased by the Italian State, 1902

Nell'angolo in basso a destra "734".
  • 1940 Firenze, Palazzo Strozzi;
  • 1985 Roma, Palazzo Venezia;
  • 1992 Genova, Esposizione Internazionale;
  • 1999 Roma, Villa Medici;
  • 1999 Madrid, Centro Cultural de la Villa;
  • 2002-2003 Chicago, Art Institut;
  • 2003 Detroit, Institut of Art;
  • 2003-2004 Firenze, Museo degli Argenti;
  • 2007 Bologna, Museo di Palazzo Poggi;
  • 2008 Budapest, Szépmuvésti Muzeum;
  • 2009 Kyoto, The National Museum of Modern Art;
  • 2010 Tokyo, Metropolitan Art Museum;
  • 2014 Roma, Museo dell'Ara Pacis;
  • 2020-2021 Parigi, Musée d'Orsay;
  • 2021 Montréal, Musée des Beaux Arts.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1907 Luigi Bartolucci (stuccature e ridipinture);
  • 1947 Carlo Matteucci (verniciatura);
  • 1999 ABACUS s.n.c. di N. Naldoni e G. Tautschnig (pulitura, stuccature, reintegrazioni pittoriche, verniciatura).


This work was probably painted in Rome by Jacopo Zucchi for Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici, as we read in the life of the artist written by Giovanni Baglione in 1642: ‘He came to Rome as a young man during the papacy of Gregory XIII and enjoyed the protection of Ferdinando de’ Medici, cardinal at the time, who kept him in his house and had him paint many things, among others one for the studiolo in the palace in the Medici garden representing fishing for coral with many nude women, but small scale, among which there are many portraits of beautiful and distinguished Roman matrons of the day, and it is a marvellous thing to see’. This source, while useful for various aspects of the painting, including its attribution to Zucchi and provenance in the collection of the Medici prince, does not, however, mention the entry of the work into the Borghese Collection, where it is documented starting in 1693 as a work by Lavinia Fontana: ‘a painting on copper about two-and-a-half palms high with various figures fishing for coral by Lavinia Fontana, no. 734 gilt frame’. This attribution, which was maintained until the Inventario Fidecommissario of 1833, was rejected by Adolfo Venturi, who instead attributed the painting to Jan Brueghel the Elder. Later attributed by Voss to Cornelis van Poelenburgh in 1910, that name was then rejected in favour of Jacopo Zucchi, an attribution accepted by, among others, Roberto Longhi.

According to scholars, the subject, often described as ‘Coral Fishing’ or ‘The Treasures of the Sea’, is closely linked to the recent discovery of America, references to which include the treasure, the dark-skinned figures and some of the animals, including the monkey and parrot. According to Baglione, the faces of the women are portraits of the most beautiful women in Rome, including Clelia Farnese, the illegitimate daughter of Cardinal Alessandro and lover of Ferdinando de’ Medici, portrayed in the middle of the painting as Amphitrite, the wife of Poseidon in Greek mythology. 

Like the Allegory of Creation (inv. 293), this painting on copper is also dated to 1585.

Antonio Iommelli

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