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Diana bathing

Cuylenborch Abraham van

(Utrecht c. 1610 - 1658)

Purchased in 1783 by Marcantonio Borghese, this painting was executed in 1646 by Abraham van Cuylenborch, the Dutch painter whose signature appears on the rock in the bottom left hand corner. It depicts a group of nymphs gathered around the chaste Diana, who is shown here reclining in a fantastic landscape. The composition is dominated by a large pedestal with a bas relief representing a sacred scene and a statue to which a prisoner is tied.

Object details

oil on panel
59 x 72 cm

19th-century frame with four corner palmettes, 75.6 x 89 x 6.5 cm


Rome, collection of Marcantonio Borghese, 1783 (Doc. 1783, no. 90; Della Pergola 1959); Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 13; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1936 - Augusto Cecconi Principi;
  • 1960/61 - Renato Massi (frame).


This painting has been identified with the one described in the receipt that reads ‘[...] Cornelio Polembourg [sic], 3 1/12 spans wide and 2½ high, with an engraved gilded frame’. Together with other works, the panel was sold by a certain Giovanni de Rossi to Prince Marcantonio Borghese for a total sum of 670 scudi (Doc. no. 90, dated 30 January 1783, in Della Pergola 1959). It is quite probable that at that time the painter’s signature – ‘A. CUYLENBORCH 1646’ – was hidden under various layers of paint or, as Paola della Pergola (1959) suggested, that the fame of Cornelius Polembourg was such that intentionally confusing its artist made the work more valuable. Whichever hypothesis is more tenable, it is certain that the painting appears in both the Inventario Fidecommissario (1833) and the profiles by Giovanni Piancastelli (1891) with the erroneous attribution to Polembourg: the correct one was only made in 1883 following the discovery of the signature and date (Bode 1883).

Curiously missing from Leo van Puyvelde’s study of Flemish painters in Rome, the painting received its due attention when Paola della Pergola (1959) connected it to other works by the Dutch painter with the same subject, conserved today in Genoa (Diana and Callisto, private collection), Madrid (Prado Museum) and The Hague (Landscape with Diana and the Nymphs, Mauritshuis). Pursuing Della Pergola’s thesis, Luigi Salerno (1977) related the work in question to other well-known works by the artist, in particular the Grotto of Diana (formerly in the Feigen collection, New York, signed and dated 1649), a fact which indeed demonstrates Cuylenborch’s limits in varying his subjects.

Executed in 1646, the work in question shows the influence of Van Lear’s rocky grottoes, a motif developed here in a more suggestive way through the inclusion of several archaeological ruins. In fact it is this detail which connects the painting with Rome: the representation of ruins in painting was an established strategy by the 1640s, most notably in the works of Grechetto; prints and engravings of such paintings made their way to the city of Utrecht.

Antonio Iommelli

  • X. Barbier de Montault, Les Musées et Galeries de Rome, Rome 1870, p. 363;
  • W. Bode, Studien zur Geschichte der Holländischen Malerei, Braunschweig 1883, p. 327;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 401;
  • G. Morelli, Italian Painters. The Borghese and Doria Pamphili Galleries, London 1892, p. 248;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 145;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 201;
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1948, p. 80;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1951, p. 50;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, pp. 160-161, n. 230; 224 n. 90;
  • L. Salerno, Pittura di Paesaggio del Seicento a Roma, I, Roma 1977, p. 286;
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 363;
  • 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. 93.