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Head of an Apostle

Manner of Rubens Pieter Paul

(Siegen 1577 - Antwerp 1640)

Only recently was this work identified in the Borghese inventory of 1693, allowing us to confirm its presence in the Collection from at least the late 17th century. In the past, the canvas was attributed to Ludovico Carracci, following the description given in the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario. Later, however, critics proposed the name of Peter Paul Rubens; yet given the lack of definitive evidence supporting this thesis, the identity of the painter of this canvas remains uncertain.


Object details

early 17th century
oil on canvas
cm 44 x 35

19th-century frame with four corner palmettes, 58.3 x 49 x 8 cm


Borghese Collection, cited in Inv. 1693, room VIII, no. 13 (?); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 16, no. 6. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 2002-2003 Roma, Galleria Borghese
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1953 Jolanda Scalia Ventura
  • 2000 Consorzio Capitolino (diagnostics)
  • 2000 Elisabetta Caracciolo e Elisabetta Zatti
  • 2002 Editech (diagnostics)
  • 2004 ENEA (diagnostics)
  • 2004 Elisabetta Caracciolo e Elisabetta Zatti


Of uncertain provenance, this painting cannot be easily identified among the many portraits and heads with brief descriptions in the inventories of the Borghese Collection. Paola Della Pergola (1959, p. 184) believed that the first sure reference to this canvas appeared in the entry of the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario which reads, ‘Head of a Prophet, by Carracci, in the style of Correggio, 1 span 11 inches wide, 2 spans 5 inches high’. Starting from this information, Sara Tarissi de Jacobis (2002, pp. 100-101) worked backwards through the documentation, proposing that the composition corresponded to ‘The Prophet, by Correggio’ in the late-18th century inventory as well to the ‘painting of roughly two spans with the head of an old man, on canvas, no. 74, with a gilded frame, by Correggio’ in that of 1693. The latter description also matches the work in question with regard to its support material and dimensions, indicating that the canvas may have already formed part of the Borghese Collection from at least that year.

While both Adolfo Venturi (1893, p. 88) and Giulio Cantalamessa supported the attribution to Ludovico Carracci, Roberto Longhi was less certain. Della Pergola was the first scholar to propose the name of Peter Paul Rubens, arguing that the work dated to his Mantuan period. Following the lead of Michael Jaffé (‘Some Unpublished Head Studies by Peter Paul Rubens’, The Burlington Magazine, XCVI, 1954, pp. 302-304), Della Pergola pointed to the artist’s habit of making studies of individual details for his compositions, including drawings of heads. This practice turned out to be useful for assessing the final outcome of a painting during the course of its execution, not only for the artist but also for patrons. It was further of benefit for collaborators in his workshop, who were often called upon to lend a hand in producing paintings commissioned to the master.

Della Pergola thus connected the Borghese canvas to these types of works, suggesting the Seneca of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich as a standard of comparison. She concluded that the attribution to Rubens was more convincing than one to a painter of the Bolognese school, while admitting that the question was still open.

Yet Della Pergola’s theory has not received the support of subsequent critics: the attribution to Rubens was confirmed just once, when Kristina Hermann Fiore published the canvas under the name of the Flemish master in the 2006 catalogue of the Borghese works (p. 39), and only with reservations. Several years before, Tarissi de Jacobis (2002, pp. 100-101) had indeed reproposed the name of Ludovico. Comparisons of the Borghese canvas with similar works by Rubens, such as the series of the Apostles held at the Museo Prado in Madrid, in fact reveal differences in style and in the ways of rendering details, such as the hair and the facial wrinkles. Recognising a strong Emilian imprint in the Head of the Apostle as well as a clear connection to the style of Correggio, Tarissi de Jacobis maintained that the attribution to Ludovico continued to be the most persuasive one.

The format of the work was modified at an uncertain date, losing its vertical layout in favour of a rectangular one; only in the early 1950s was it returned to its original dimensions, thanks to a restoration operation (Della Pergola, 1959).


Pier Ludovico Puddu


  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 186;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 88;
  • G. Cantalamessa, Note manoscritte al Catalogo di A. Venturi del 1893, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1912, n. 108;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 187;
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 184, n. 274;
  • S. Tarissi de Jacobis, in Incontri, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Borghese, 2002-2003), a cura di C. D’Orazio, Milano 2002, pp. 100-101;
  • 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. 39.