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Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist

Puligo Domenico

(Florence 1492 - after 1527)

Of unknown provenance, the painting does not appear in any of the oldest Borghese inventories. It is first listed in the Inventario Fidecommissario as a work in the ‘manner of Andrea del Sarto’. This master had a powerful influence on his collaborator Domenico Puligo, so much so that this panel may derive from a painting or drawing by Andrea. It was Adolfo Venturi who first ascribed the panel to Puligo, dating to the artist’s late career.

Object details

c. 1526
oil on panel
73 x 55 cm

Salvator Rosa, 84.5 x 66 x 6.4 cm


Borghese Collection, first cited in Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 38, no. 2. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 1965 New York, Brooklyn Museum
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1907 Luigi Bartolucci
  • 1963 Alvaro Esposti


The painting is a product of the final years of the production of Domenico Ubaldini, the Florentine painter called Puligo, a nickname whose origin scholars have not been able to explain.

The provenance of the work is unknown. It was first mentioned in connection with the Borghese Collection in 1833, when the Inventario Fidecommissario listed a ‘Madonna and Child, manner of Andrea del Sarto, 2 spans 7 inches wide, 2 ½ spans high’.

As in the case of other works by Puligo in the Collection, this inventory entry refers to Andrea del Sarto, Domenico’s close friend and collaborator. Andrea strongly influenced Puligo, teaching him the sfumato technique which is characteristic of the latter’s oeuvre. At the same time, Domenico developed this skill in his own way, as can be seen in the work in question. With the exception of the profile of Joseph, the faces of all the figures are sfumati, in particular that of the Virgin. Placed on the left side of the composition, Mary holds her son in her arms. The Child, meanwhile, leans in the opposite direction toward the young Saint John, while Joseph looks on from the middle ground. Each of the four figures occupies a different plane in the scene; together, they fill most of the composition, which is dominated by the representation of the Virgin. Behind them we see a large wall of rock.

Analysis of the painting revealed that the artist changed his mind on several occasions, specifically with regard to the position of the Virgin’s left hand as she tries to hold the Child (Gardner 1986, p. 214). These changes of strategy may be connected to Puligo’s uncertainties as a draughtsman, to which Vasari alluded in his biography of the painter, a weakness which inclined him to rely heavily on the sfumato technique (G. Vasari, The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Florence 1568, p. 104).

Venturi (1893, p. 202) was the first scholar to propose the attribution of the panel to Puligo. His thesis received the support of Longhi (1928, p. 218), Berenson (1936, p. 409) and Della Pergola (1959, p. 49). The last-named critic found the work to be stylistically coherent with the artist’s production, adding that it may be a derivation of a painting or drawing by Andrea del Sarto. It is in fact known that Puligo collaborated so closely with Andrea that he would have been able to directly study his drawings and projects before they were completed (A. Nesi, ‘Ubaldini, Domenico, detto il Puligo’, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, XCVII, p. 302), a circumstance which lends credence to Della Pergola’s hypothesis. Her proposal receives further support from the fact that the physiognomies and expressions of the two boys in this panel are reminiscent of Andrea’s style. At the same time, we must recognise that these are only conjectures, as no evidence has been forthcoming to prove such a derivation (Gardner 1986).

The attribution to Puligo has never been called into question and is still generally accepted by critics today (see also Stefani 2000, p. 288; Herrmann Fiore 2006, p. 141).

Pier Ludovico Puddu

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 241.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 202.
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 218.
  • B. Berenson, Pitture Italiane del Rinascimento (trad. it. E. Cecchi), Milano 1936, p. 409.
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1948, p. 55.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (“Itinerari dei musei e monumenti d’Italia”, XLIII), Roma 1951, p. 38.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 48, n. 68.
  • S.B. Lockart, The Work of Domenico Puligo, Disertation, London, Courtald Institute, 1973, n. 35.
  • G.A. Gardner, The paintings of Domenico Puligo, Dissertation, The Ohio State University, 1986, pp. 214-215, n. 34 (con bibliografia precedente).
  • C. Stefani in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese 2000, p. 288, n. 8.
  • Domenico Puligo (1492-1527). Un protagonista dimenticato della pittura fiorentina, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Palazzo Pitti, 2002-2003), a cura di E. Capretti et alii, Livorno 2002, p. 49.
  • 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. 141.