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Female Head

Unknown, 16th century

The author of the painting is not known, nor is the identity of the subject. The unremarkable quality of the panel does not justify an attribution to any of the portraitists forming part of the Borghese circle of artists, and there are no clues as to the identify of the woman, who does not appear to be young.

Object details

16th century
oil on panel
cm 35 x 25

Rome, Collezione Borghese, recorded in the Inentario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 27. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

  • 2014-2015, Roma, Palazzo Barberini
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1903-1905, Luigi Bartolucci
  • 1953, Mauro Manca, Rocco Ventura, Gilda Diotallevi
  • 2016, Laboratorio della ex Soprintendenza presso Palazzo Barberini


The work under analysis can be identified, in the documents relating to the Borghese collection, as the painting listed in the fideicommissary inventory of 1833 and described as: “28. Portrait, by an uncertain artist, 1 palm wide, 1 palm high, 3 inches”.

Adolfo Venturi (1893) attributed the work to Ottavio Leoni, but Roberto Longhi (1928) disagreed. Paola della Pergola (1955) recognised similarities with the style of Alessandro Allori, but left the question of attribution open, arguing that it could be a fragment of a much larger painting made by an artist working between Florence and Rome in the late 16th century.

On the basis of stylistic comparison, format and also similarities in the rendering of the facial features, one hypothesis could be that it is close to the work of Daniele da Volterra, especially when comparing it to the Portrait of a Gentleman - formerly recognised by Pedro de Madrazo as Alfonso II d’Este and previously attributed to Girolamo da Carpi (also discussed in Pattanaro 2021 pp. 248-249 cat. RA12, with previous bibliography) - in the Prado Museum in Madrid. (inv. P000069, also known in a smaller replica preserved in Naples at the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte (inv. Q752).

Lara Scanu

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 451
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 206
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle gallerie italiane. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 221
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, pp. 141-142, n. 252