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Head of the Virgin

Veneto school

First mentioned in connection with the Borghese Collection in the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario, the painting has been associated with the Veneto school. This portrait of the Virgin, which once formed part of a larger composition, is set here against a dark background with an embroidered fabric. The refined play of colours highlights the oval form and the absorbed expression of Mary, who is dressed in a black mantle fastened by a small knot on her chest.

Object details

inizio XVI secolo
oil on canvas
cm 30 x 26

Salvator Rosa, 42.5 x 36 x 5.5 cm


Rome, Borghese Collection, 1833 (Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 28); purchased by Italian state, 1902.


The provenance of this painting is still unknown. Undoubtedly a fragment of a larger composition, it is first documented as forming part of the Borghese Collection in 1833, when, together with the Christ as a Boy by Bartolomeo Montagna (inv. no. 430), it was mistakenly described as a work on copper.

The painting has been variously ascribed to the Venetian school (Venturi 1893) and to that of Verona (Longhi (1928). For her part, Paola della Pergola (1955)  believed it to be by a ‘master of Veneto’ familiar with the style of Giorgione in the Virgin and Child in a Landscape of St Petersburg (see Valcanover 1951). Bernard Berenson (1957), finally, attributed the work to a collaborator of Vittore Carpaccio, yet his opinion has not been corroborated by other critics. The quality of the composition does in fact seem to reflect the manner of an artist of the Veneto hinterland in touch with developments in Venetian painting and not unfamiliar with the production of Antonello da Messina in the rendering of the expressions and the attention to detail.

Antonio Iommelli

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, n. 182;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 115;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 195;
  • F. Valcanover, Mostra dei Vecellio. Catalogo illustrato, Belluno 1951, p. 9;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, p. 119, n. 212;
  • B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance - Venetian School, I, London 1957, p. 59:
  • 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. 64.