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Fantastic landscape

Bril Paul (?)

(Antwerp 1554 - Rome 1626)

Attributed with reservations to Paul Brill, the painting portrays a nocturnal landscape with a small river port on the left in the background. In any case, the dramatic light-shadow contrast evident in the tree in the middle points to the Flemish landscape painters active in Rome together with Brill, whom Scipione Borghese must have admired.

Object details

ultimo decennio del XVI secolo
oil on canvas
cm 78 x 106

19th-century frame decorated with four corner palmettes


(?) Rome, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, 1607 (Della Pergola 1959, p. 153); Inv. 1693, room XI, nos 100, 128; Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, pp. 15, 26; purchased by Italian state, 1902.


The provenance of this work is still unclear. According to Paola Della Pergola (1959, p. 153), it may have formed part of the group of works confiscated by Paul V’s fiscal police from Giuseppe Cesari, called Cavalier d'Arpino. This set of paintings certainly included several landscapes, which it is impossible to identify.

The first certain mention of this painting dates to the inventory of 1693, in which it is described as ‘an oblong painting of about three and a half palms of a rural scene with a village: no. 583’ (the number is still visible in the lower left corner). The entry attributed the painting to Paul Bril, a name which also appears in the Inventario Fidecommissario of 1833; unlike the Landscape with a Classical Temple and a Hunter (inv. no. 12), however, the 1833 inventory considered this painting to be the work of the Belgian artist. In 1893, Venturi (pp. 28, 36) judged this landscape and the three other works previously attributed to Bril (inv. nos 12, 18 and 19) to be ‘weak paintings, which should rather be considered the work of a follower’. His verdict was later shared by both Longhi (1928, p. 76) and Della Pergola (1959, p. 154): taking into account the work’s style, the latter critic spoke of Bril’s workshop and therefore ruled out a complete attribution to him.

In 1980, Gerszi asserted that both this painting and the Landscape with a Classical Temple and a Hunter (inv. no. 12) were the work of Frederik van Valckenborch, a Belgian artist who was present in Italy beginning from 1590-92, together with his brother Gillis; Gerszi dated the execution of the work to 1595-96. While Francesca Cappelletti expressed the same opinion (2005-6), Kristina Herrmann Fiore dissented: she published the painting in 2006, attributing it to Paul Bril and followers.

Antonio Iommelli

  • S. Francucci, La Galleria dell’Illustrissimo e Reverendissimo Signor Scipione Cardinale Borghese cantata in versi [1613], Arezzo 1647, St. 126-127; 
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, pp. 381-3; 
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, pp. 28, 36; 
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I: La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 176; 
  • L. van Puyvelde, La Peinture Flamande à Rome, Bruxelles 1950, p. 76; 
  • P. Della Pergola, Itinerario della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1951, pp. 13, 17; 
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 153, n. 216;
  • D. Bodart, Les peintres des Pays-Bas méridionaux et de la principauté de Liège à Rome au XVIIème siècle, Bruxelles-Roma 1970, p. 228; 
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, in Paesaggio con figura, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo Venezia, 1985), Roma 1985, pp. IX-XI, n. 36;
  • T. Gerszi, Neuere Aspekte der Kunst Frederik van Valckenborchs, “Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen”, 32, 1990, pp. 173-189, in part. pp. 182-183; 
  • L. Pijl, Paintings by Paul Bril in collaboration with Rottenhammer, Elsheimer and Rubens, in "The Burlington Magazine", CXXXX, 1998, pp. 660-667;
  • L. Pijl, Figure nd Landscape: Paul Bril’s collaboration with Hans Rottenhammer and other figure painters, in Fiamminghi a Roma 1508-1608, atti del convegno (Utrecht 1995), a cura di S. Eiche, G.J. Van der Sman, J. van Waadenijen, Firenze 1999, pp. 79-91;
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 144; 
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Caravaggio e la quadreria del Cavalier d’Arpino, in Caravaggio: la luce nella pittura lombarda, catalogo della mostra (Bergamo, Accademia Carrara di Belle Arti, 2000), a cura di C. Strinati e R. Vodret, Milano 2000, p. 69; 
  • F. Cappelletti, Paul Bril e la pittura di paesaggio a Roma (1580-1630), Roma 2005-2006, p.179, n. 38;
  • 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. 11;
  • R.L. Wood, Landscape in Rome: Adam Elsheimer and Paul Bril, in Adam Elsheimer in Rom, a cura di A. Thielemann, S. Gronert, München 2008, pp. 51-70.