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Holy Family

Bazzi Giovanni Antonio called Sodoma

(Vercelli 1477 - Siena 1549)

Of unknown provenance, this work was first documented in connection with the Borghese Collection in the mid-17th century, when Manilli described it in his guidebook to Villa Pinciana. This writer ascribed the painting to Sodoma (Giovanni Antonio Bazzi), an attribution that reappeared in the late 18th- and early 19th-century inventories and has been accepted by critics since.

The painting reveals the artist’s familiarity with northern Italian artistic culture, suggesting that he may have spent time in Milan before moving to Siena in the early 16th century.

Object details

c. 1525-1530
oil on panel
85 x 69 cm

Salvator Rosa, 106.5 x 87 x 8 cm


Collection of Scipione Borghese, cited in Inv. 1790, room VII, no. 101; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 36, no. 17. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 1950 Vercelli, Museo Civico Francesco Borgogna; Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1903-1905 Luigi Bartolucci
  • 1914 Tito Venturini Papari
  • 1936 Carlo Matteucci
  • 1957-1958 Gilda Diotallevi, Alvaro Esposti
  • 2012 Emmebi (diagnostics); Paola Tollo (restoration)


The painting depicts the seated Madonna with the Child in her lap, who receives a flower from Joseph standing behind them. The faces of the figures show that the artist paid great attention to representing emotions, in particular in the exchange of gazes between Joseph and the Child and in the Virgin’s fixed, melancholic expression, which probably alludes to the future Passion of Christ. On the right, a landscape is visible, which begins with several structures in the middle ground and others farther in the distance next to a bridge.

The work shows the painter’s familiarity with Leonardo’s production, specifically in the expressiveness of the figures and in the development of perspective, which had been fine-tuned by artists active in Milan, such as Zenale, Bramante and Bramantino (Stefani 2000, p. 270). Sodoma (Giovanni Antonio Bazzi) trained in his hometown of Vercelli before moving to Siena in the first years of the 1500s; he may have spent time in Milan before arriving in Tuscany, as seems to be suggested by several works of his, including this Holy Family (on this topic, see R. Bartolini, Le occasioni del Sodoma. Dalla Milano di Leonardo alla Roma di Raffaello, Rome 1996, pp. 87ff.).

Of uncertain provenance, the work has formed part of the Borghese Collection since at least the mid-17th century, when Jacopo Manilli (1650, p. 79) mentioned it in his guidebook to Villa Pinciana: ‘[...] the painting of the Madonna with the Child in her lap, by Sodoma’. Yet this attribution was evidently not universally accepted in the following years, as we learn from the description of the work by Guglielmo Della Valle in his Lettere Sanesi sopra le Belle Arti (1786, p. 279): ‘The very rich collection of the Galleria Borghesi [sic] also includes a work on panel by him [Sodoma], a Virgin and Child, which the caretaker says is by an unknown artist, although I am certainly not of that opinion’ (see also Radini Tedeschi 2010, p. 224). Only several years later, in 1790 Borghese inventory, did the Holy Family again appear under the name of Bazzi. The 1833 Inventario fidecommissario repeated the attribution, with which most critics have agreed since the late 19th century.

Over the years, scholars have attempted to situate the panel chronologically, with some dating it to the first half of the 1510s (Priuli Bon 1900, p. 113; Faccio 1902, p. 189; Cust 1906, p. 351; Gielly 1911, p. 168; Hauvette 1911, p. 56;) and others to between 1525 and 1530 (Carli 1950, no. 21; Hayum 1976, pp. 209-210; Radini Tedeschi 2010). This last range of years is perhaps more persuasive, given the similarities between the work in question and several others from the artist’s Sienese period, including the Adoration of the Magi in the church of Sant’Agostino (1528) and the four panels of a litter commissioned by the Society of Saint John the Baptist (1526-28, today in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo; see Hayum, 1976).

Pier Ludovico Puddu

  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 79.
  • G. Della Valle, Lettere Sanesi sopra le Belle Arti, III, Roma 1786, p. 279.
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 233.
  • G. Frizzoni, Arte italiana del Rinascimento, Milano 1891, p. 144.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 210.
  • G. Morelli, Della Pittura Italiana. Studi Storici Critici: Le Gallerie Borghese e Doria Pamphili in Roma, (trad. G. Frizzoni), Milano 1897, p. 152.
  • L. Priuli Bon, Sodoma, London 1900, p. 113.
  • G.C. Faccio, G. A. Bazzi, Vercelli 1902, p. 189.
  • H. Cust, Giovanni Antonio Bazzi Hitherto Usually styled «Sodoma». The Man and the Painter, 1477-1549, London 1906, p. 351.
  • E. Kupffer (von), Der Male der Schönheit, Leipzig 1908, p. 99.
  • A. Segard, Giovan Antonio Bazzi detto Sodoma, Paris 1910, p. 459.
  • E. Jacobsen, Sodoma und das Cinquecento in Siena. Studien in der Gemälde Galerie zu Siena, Strassburg 1910, p. 67.
  • L. Gielly, Giovan Antonio Bazzi dit Le Sodoma, Paris 1911, p. 168.
  • H. Hauvette, Le Sodoma, Paris 1911, p. 56.
  • C. Terrasse, Sodoma, Paris 1925, p. 57.
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 222.
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1948, p. 41.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Milano 1950, p. 23.
  • Mostra delle opere di Giovanni Antonio Bazzi detto Il Sodoma, catalogo della mostra (Vercelli, Museo Civico Francesco Borgogna; Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale, 1950), a cura di E. Carli, Vercelli 1950, n. 21.
  • M.T. Marcianò-Agostinelli Tozzi, Il Sodoma, Messina 1951, p. 183.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma, 1955, p. 83, n. 148.
  • M. Salmi, Inizi senesi del Sodoma, in “Commentari”, XVIII, 1967, pp. 159-161.
  • A. Hayum, Giovanni Antonio Bazzi Il Sodoma, New York, London 1976, pp. 209-210, n. 27.
  • E. Carli, Il Sodoma, Vercelli 1979, pp. 70-71.
  • C. Stefani, in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese 2000, p. 270, n. 3.
  • 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. 149.
  • D. Radini Tedeschi, Giovan Antonio Bazzi detto il Sodoma (Vercelli 1477-Siena 1549). Dissertazione sulla teoria delle influenze e sul metodo fisiognomico attraverso le botteghe di Padova, Ferrara e Vercelli, Roma 2008.
  • D. Radini Tedeschi, Giovan Antonio Bazzi detto il Sodoma. La vita, le opere e gli allievi di uno dei massimi artisti del Rinascimento, Subiaco 2010, p. 224, n. 84.