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Holy Family

Manner of Roncalli Cristoforo called Pomarancio

Pomarance 1552 - Rome 1626)

This painting may correspond to an entry in a 17th-century inventory of the Borghese Collection. It is certainly identifiable beginning with that of 1833. In the past, critics variously attributed the work to Niccolò Circignani and Cristoforo Roncalli, who both had the nickname ‘Pomarancio’. It depicts the Christ Child embracing the Virgin Mary against a dark background, from which the figure of the elderly Joseph emerges. The colours of their clothing and Jesus’s complex pose certainly drew inspiration from models of Roman Mannerism: together with the artificial construction of the perspective and the variety of gazes and expressions, these features place the panel in Roncalli’s circle.

Object details

Late 16th century
oil on panel
cm 72 x 55

Late 19th-/early 20th-century, 88.5 x 72 x 4 cm


(?) Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room V, no. 54; Della Pergola 1959); Rome, Borghese Collection, ante 1833 (Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 10, n. 40); purchased by Italian state, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1936 Augusto Cecconi Principi.


The provenance of this painting is still unknown. According to Paola della Pergola (1959), it had entered the Borghese Collection by 1693, when the inventory of Palazzo Borghese in Campo Marzio listed ‘a work of three spans, the Virgin and the standing Child, no. 338, on panel (Inv. 1693; Della Pergola 1959). Although her theory is feasible, it remains tentative, as the document does not provide enough detail to identify the work with certainty.

Generally ascribed in the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario to ‘Pomarancio’, Giovanni Piancastelli (1891) and Adolfo Venturi (1893) made the more precise attribution to Niccolò Circignani. Hermann Voss (1920), Roberto Longhi (1928) and Paola della Pergola (1959), however, all rejected this name in favour of that of Cristoforo Roncalli, the Pisan artist who like Niccolò before him was born in Pomarance.

In 1978, Carlo Volpe attempted to put an end to all doubts by proposing that the Borghese panel was a copy of a painting executed by Roncalli in Piacenza (formerly in private collection in Piacenza), with the former differing from the latter in certain details. Yet William C. Kirwin (1979) was not persuaded by this idea, claiming rather that the work in question was by the young Roncalli (Kirwin 1972), painted around 1580-81, as several traits similar to the style of Raffaellino da Reggio seem to suggest.

As critics have rightly pointed out (see Chiappini di Sorio 1983), certain flaws in the execution of the panel, such as the hardness of the faces, the vague, approximate rendering of the indistinct figure of Joseph, and the imperfect design of the Child’s legs, indicate that the work is likely not by Roncalli himself but by a member of his circle.

Antonio Iommelli

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 247;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 175;
  • H. Voss, Die Molerei der Spätrenaissance in Rom und Florenz, Berlin 1920, p. 538 nota 1;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 213;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 47, n. 65;
  • W. C. Kirwin, Christofano Roncalli (1551/2 - 1626), an exponent of the proto-baroque. His activity through 1605, tesi di dottorato, (Stanford, Stanford University), 1972, pp. 334-337;
  • K. Rozman, Painter Franc Kavčič/caucig and his drawings of old masterpieces, in “Zbornik za umetnostno zgodovino”, XI-XII, 1974-1976, pp. 58-59;
  • C. Volpe, Una precisazione sul Roncalli, in "Paragone.Arte", XXIX, 1978, pp. 87, 89 n. 2;
  • W. C. Kirwin, in Disegni dei toscani a Roma (1580-1620), catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, 1979), a cura di M.L. Chappell, W.C. Kirwin, Firenze 1979, p. 23;
  • I. Chiappini di Sorio, I pittori bergamaschi, a cura della Banca popolare di Bergamo, IV, Bergamo 1983, cat. n. 108;
  • 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. 121.