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Head of the Baptist

copy after Solario Andrea

(Milan 1473-74 - 1520)

The panel, mentioned in the Borghese collection in an inventory dated 1700, is one of the countless variations of the celebrated Head of John the Baptist by Andrea Solario. This painting, made in Milan, was brought across the Alps by the Lombard artist and used as a devotional image by King Louis XII who, seriously ill, requested it from his advisor Cardinal Georges d’Amboise, with whom Solario was staying. The painting depicts the severed head of the young ascetic, presented by Salome to the cruel Herod on a silver platter. This image, besides inspiring compassion and emotion in the faithful, testifies to the iconographic fortune of this subject in mid-16th-century Milan.

Object details

16th century
oil on panel
25 x 34 cm

19th-century frame (cm 40,5 x 107,5 x 5,6)


Rome, Borghese Collection, 1700 (Inv. 1700, St. III, no. 22; Della Pergola 1955); Inv. 1790, St. X, no. 60; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 23; Italian State Purchase, 1902.

  • 1984 - Roma, Palazzo Barberini (Leonardo e il leonardismo a Roma)
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1903/05 - Luigi Bartolucci
  • 1953 - Gilda Diotallevi, Mauro Manca


The provenance of this panel is presently unknown. This painting, in fact, is mentioned in the Borghese collection in an inventory dated 1700, and attributed by the author of the document to Titian (Inv. 1700).

Attributed shortly afterwards to Raphael and his school – respectively in 1790 and in the Fidecommisso inventory of 1833 – the painting was first connected to the Veneto area (Venturi 1893) and later to the Lombard context (Longhi 1928) and represents, as duly stated by Paola della Pergola, (1955), one of the countless versions of a lost original by Leonardo interpreted by Andrea Solario in a drawing now in the Louvre (Della Pergola 1955). On the contrary, according to Angela Ottino Della Chiesa (1956), the Borghese painting may be a work after an unknown model by Bernardino Luini, a hypothesis that was also orally supported by Roberto Longhi (see Della Pergola 1955).

The success of this subject, confirmed by the existence of numerous replicas, leads us to attribute this painting to an anonymous Lombard painter (on this subject, see Vezzosi 1983), who had the chance to witness the fortune of Leonardo’s prototype in 16th-century Milan.

Antonio Iommelli

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 302;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 159;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 207;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, pp. 84-85, n. 151;
  • A. Ottino Della Chiesa, Bernardino Luini, Novara 1956, p. 134;
  • P. Della Pergola, Gli Inventari Aldobrandini: l’Inventario del 1682 (III), in “Arte Antica e Moderna”, XXII, 1963, pp. 175-191, p. 177;
  • D. A. Browm, Andrea Solario, Milano 1987, p. 161;
  • A. Vezzosi, Presenze di Leonardo e del leonardismo a Roma, in Leonardo e il leonardismo a Napoli e a Roma, catalogo della mostra (Napoli 1983, Roma 1983), a cura di A. Vezzosi, Firenze 1983, p. 213, n. 475;
  • 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. 104.