The work was recorded for the first time in 1642 in the inventory of the inheritance of Ortensia Santacroce, wife of Francesco Borghese. Attributed in 1833 to Francesco Vanni, this name was accepted by critics for the undeniably Baroque ideas, which are particularly evident in the figure of the Child and the use of vivid colours.
The painting depicts the mystical wedding of Catherine of Siena. Kneeling and crowned with thorns, she receives the ring from her divine Spouse. Witnessing the scene along with the Virgin are Francis of Assisi and John the Evangelist, the latter depicted while holding a cup with a snake, his typical iconographic attribute. According to tradition, in fact, the saint – forced to drink infected wine – miraculously transformed the poison in the cup into a slimy snake.
Salvator Rosa, 86.7 x 75.2 x 6 cm
Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room. III, no. 163, see Della Pergola 1964, p. 227); Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 8; purchased by Italian state, 1902.
This painting is mentioned for the first time in the context of the Borghese Collection in 1693, when the compiler of the document attributed it to Annibale Carracci. Later, the painting was ascribed to Domenico Puligo in both the Inventario Fidecommissario (1833) and in the handwritten catalogue by Giovanni Piancastelli (1891). While Adolfo Venturi proposed the name of Ludovico Carracci in 1893, Roberto Longhi took up the attribution to Annibale in 1928, an opinion accepted by Paola della Pergola (1955; 1964).
In 2001, Sir Denis Mahon (2001) suggested that this Holy Family was the painting mentioned by Giovanni Battista Agucchi in a letter of 1609: ‘a Madonna secretly painted [by Annibale Carracci] shortly before he went to Naples’. Anna Stanzani (2006) dissented from this view, proposing rather that the Borghese canvas is the work alluded to by Giulio Mancini (1617-21, ed. 1956-57), who wrote that it was in possession of Cardinal Scipione and that it was executed at a different time from what Agucchi believed. Recently, Antonella Mampieri (2018), basing her conclusion on a conversation about the work with Alessandro Brogi, wrote that it should rather be attributed to Innocenzo Tacconi: this painter from Bologna is mentioned in the sources as a student of Annibale Carracci (Baglione 1642; Bellori 1672; Malvasia 1678) who followed his master to Rome and worked with him on decorating Palazzo Farnese (see Furlotti 2019).
The painting portrays Mary and Joseph absorbed in thought as they contemplate Jesus, who is asleep in the centre of the space of the canvas. The Child’s pose recalls Guido Reni’s Sleeping Putto (Roma, Palazzo Barberini, inv. no. 2603), a motif repeated several years later by Alessandro Algardi in his sophisticated Allegoria del Sonno (inv. no. CLX). In many ways, this model is similar to the Infant Jesus Asleep among Adoring Angels (Lord Wimborne Collection, Ashby St. Ledges; see Brogi 1995). The simplicity of the compositional scheme contributes to underscoring the spiritual content of the subject represented.