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Crucifixion with the Madonna and Saint John the Evangelist

Siciolante Girolamo

(Sermoneta 1521 - Rome 1575)

The canvas has formed part of the Borghese Collection since at least 1693. It forcefully recalls the Crucifixion executed by Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta for the Massimo Chapel in Saint John Lateran in Rome. John’s gestures and the formal simplification of the background and landscape demonstrate the painter’s respect for the principles of post-Tridentine culture, as is further confirmed by his production between the 1560s and 70s.

Object details

c. 1573
oil on canvas
cm 218 x 133

Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room IX, no. 6); Inv. 1700, room IX, no. 7; Inv. 1790, room II, no. 55; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 16; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 1995 Torre dei Passeri, Casa di Dante in Abruzzo
  • 2000 Helsinki, Museo Amos Anderson
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1910 Luigi Bartolucci
  • 1945 Carlo Matteucci


The provenance of this painting is still unknown. According to Paola della Pergola (1959), it entered the Borghese Collection around 1619, perhaps in the wake of the removal of many paintings from churches and chapels authorised by Paul V for the benefit of his nephew Scipione. While credible, this theory lacks documentary support, as no list of works has come to light which specifically cites the Crucifixion in question.

By contrast, critics are more certain in affirming that this canvas was executed shortly before the altarpiece with the same subject painted by Girolamo Siciolante for Orazio Massimo: in 1573, the nobleman of Roman origin indeed commissioned the artist to decorate his family chapel, which had been built by his paternal grandmother Faustina Rusticelli in the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome (see Hunter 1996, p. 151, cat. 22). As proposed by some scholars (Della Pergola 1959; Herrmann Fiore 1995) and confirmed by John Hunter in his monograph on the artist from Sermoneta (1996), the painting in the Massimo Chapel seems to derive from the Borghese canvas; the latter was probably intended as an opportunity to finetune the compositional model, which underwent variations in the Lateran work. The painting in question, then, is not a copy but the actual ‘model’ (see Hunter 1996), ‘grander and more efficient [than] the Crucifixion in Saint John Lateran’ (Della Pergola 1959), a judgement with which the present writer concurs. On the other hand, if this theory is true, it suggests that the work came from a private collection rather than a public venue.

In either case, we know with certainty that the painting was first documented in connection with the Borghese Collection in 1693, when it was ascribed to an unknown painter. The inventory of 1790 attributed it to Giulio Romano, whose name had been put forth by Pietro Rossini (1725) and was later accepted by Giovanni Piancastelli (1891). For his part, Adolfo Venturi (1893) suggested that the work was by Marcello Venusti. It was Roberto Longhi (1928) who first detected the hand of Siciolante, a view accepted by subsequent critics (Venturi 1932; Della Pergola 1959) and confirmed by Hunter’s catalogue (1996) as well as the studies of Kristina Herrmann Fiore (1995; 2000; 2006).

Antonio Iommelli