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Death of the Virgin

Morandi Giovanni Maria

(Florence 1622 - Rome 1717)

The painting, documented in the Salviati collection in 1673, came to the Borghese through a legacy. This is the sketch of The Death of the Virgin, the first public work painted by Giovanni Maria Morandi for the Roman church of Santa Maria della Pace, commissioned in 1657 by Alessandro VII Chigi for Duke Salviati. The work, from the years when the Florentine artist was in Rome, shows the full and complete adherence to the compositional and formal methods of Carlo Maratti. It represents the so-called Dormitio Virginis, the Virgin Mary’s passage from earthly life to heavenly life. Having conceived without original sin, she did not die like a common mortal but fell asleep to awaken in divine grace. In fact, the scene shows the moment when the Madonna, assisted by the Apostles and a choir of angels, is about to pass away.


Object details

1657-1659 circa
oil on canvas
cm 134 x 147

18th century stucco frame.


Rome, Francesco Maria Salviati Collection, 1673 (Silos 1673); Rome, Borghese Collection, 1833 (Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 36); purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1804 Francesco Popive (rifoderatira);
  • 1950-1951 Alvaro Esposti, Augusto Cecconi Principi (ampliamento del telaio, rifoderatura, pulitura e verniciatura).


This painting is mentioned for the first time as part of the collection of the Salviati house by Giovanni Michele Silos, who in 1673 published the text Pinacotheca sive Romana Pictura et Sculptura, in which the work is thus described: “Deiparae Transitus adstantibus Apostolis et psallentibus Angelis; Morandi apud eundem Ducem.” This canvas is in fact a preparatory painting for a work produced by the Florentine artist in 1660 for the Roman church of Santa Maria della Pace, for which, between 1706 and 1717, he was still receiving a monthly fee of 15 scudi (Della Pergola 1959).

This Death of the Virgin joined the Borghese Collection towards the end of the 18th century, mentioned for the first time in the fideicommissum listing of 1833 as a work by Carlo Maratti, an attribution repeated in 1891 by Giovanni Piancastelli, but rejected by Adolfo Venturi (1893), who was the first to ascribe it to Morandi, recognising it as a preparatory painting for the altarpiece of Santa Maria della Pace, commissioned around 1657 and completed when the artist returned from Vienna in 1667 (see Mocci 2012 and previous bibliography). This opinion was unanimously embraced by later critics (Longhi 1928; Waterhouse 1937; De Rinaldis 1939; Della Pergola 1959, Waterhouse 1967) and more recently by Kristina Herrmann Fiore (2006).

A preparatory drawing for this canvas was presented by Catherine Monbeig Gogue (2010) during the exhibition Italian drawings of the Renaissance and Baroque.  

Antonio Iommelli

  • G.M. Silos, Pinacotheca, sive Romana pittura et sculptura, Roma 1673, p. 132; 
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 351; 
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 194; 
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 216; 
  • E.K. Waterhouse, Baroque Painting in Rome. The Seventeenth Century, London 1937, p. 84; 
  • A. De Rinaldis, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1939, p. 42; 
  • P. della Pergola, Itinerario della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1951, p. 19; 
  • C.A. Petrucci, Catalogo generale delle Stampe tratte dai rami incisi posseduti dalla Calcografia Nazionale, Roma 1953, p. 176; 
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 107, n. 156; 
  • E.K. Waterhouse, A note on G. M. Morandi, in “Studies in Renaissance and Baroque Art presented to A. Blunt”, Londra 1967, p. 118, f. 3;
  • E.K. Waterhouse, Roman Baroque painting, Oxford 1976, p. 98; 
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 164; 
  • 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. 133; 
  • L. Mocci, Morandi, Giovanni Maria, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, LXXVI, 2012, ad vocem;
  • C. Monbeig Goguel, in Capturing the Sublime. Italian Drawings of the Renaissance and Baroque, catalogo della mostra (Chicago, The Art Institute, 2012), a cura di S. Folds McCullagh, New Haven and London 2012, p. 195, n.110.