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Holy Family with the Young St John the Baptist

Luteri Battista called Battista Dossi

(Ferrara c. 1497 - 1548)

Scholars have always accepted the attribution to Battista Dossi, first proposed in the late nineteenth century. Almost half of this painting is occupied by a landscape, which disappears in the distance. The Holy Family is portrayed against a background comprising a ruin covered in vegetation, symbolic of the vestiges of antiquity fated to succumb to the passage of time. The work reformulates themes and models drawn from Raphael, filtered through Dosso and the Flemish painters.

Object details

1535-1542 circa
oil on panel
cm 46 x 52

Borghese collection, documented in Inv. 1693, room III, no. 166; Inventario fidecommissario Borghese 1833, room VIII, no. 8. Purchased by the Italian state, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1907 Luigi Bartolucci (pest control)
  • 1949 Alvaro Esposti
  • 1958 Alvaro Esposti
  • 1978 Gianluigi Colalucci
  • 2020 Koinè (frame)
  • 2021 Erredicci (diagnostics)
  • 2021 ArsMensurae di Stefano Ridolfi (diagnostics)
  • 2021 IFAC-CNR (diagnostics)
  • 2022 Measure3D di Danilo Salzano (laser scan 3D)


The attribution of this painting seems to have been controversial, judging from the Borghese inventories of 1693 and 1833. While the former attributes it generically to ‘Dossi of Ferrara’, the fideicommissary list assigns it to Garofalo. But then Giovanni Morelli attributed it to Battista (1897), an attribution that was universally accepted.

Contemporary and slightly later studies (Venturi 1893; Mendelsohn 1914) compare the work to the others of the same subject, and with a similar composition and painting style, in the Cini Collection, Venice (inv. VC6347) and the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo (inv. 725). The classicism of the painting, and here Battista’s personal style seems to have reached its apex (Mezzetti 1965; Gibbons 1968), has made it possible to date the work to between the 1530s and 1548, the year of the artist’s death (V. Romani in Ballarin 1994-1995), or in about 1533, the year of the commission for the Adoration of the Shepherds for the cathedral of Modena, now in the Gallerie Estensi (inv. R.C.G.E. 440, Bacchi 1990).

Battista’s handling of landscape in his mature period was influenced by Northern European painters, in particular Patenier and il Civetta (Herrmann Fiore 2002), with the atmospheric perspective and painstakingly detailed rendering of nature and architecture – see especially the city walls and bridges of the town on the left – in perfect harmony with the gleam of the decoration on the clothing, meticulously described hair and gracefully rounded face of the Virgin, framed by the ‘gypsy-like’ hair typical of Dossi’s painting. The grouping of the angel, the Young St John the Baptist and the Holy Family recalls Raphael’s similar triangular compositions, which were iconic for subsequent religious painting.

Lara Scanu

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 150
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 135
  • G. Gruyer, L’art Ferrarais a l’époque des Princes d’Este, II, Parigi 1897, p. 286
  • G. Morelli, Della Pittura Italiana. Studi Storici Critici: Le Gallerie Borghese e Doria Pamphili in Roma, Milano 1897, p. 219
  • H. Mendelsohn, Das Werk der Dossi, München 1914, pp. 150-151
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, n. 245
  • R. Longhi, Officina ferrarese, Roma 1934, pp. 149, 217
  • P. Della Pergola, Itinerario della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1951, p. 22
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, n. 5
  • F. Gibbons, L. Puppi, Dipinti inediti o poco noti di Dosso e Battista Dossi: con qualche nuova ipotesi, «Arte Antica e Moderna», VIII, 31-32, 1965, p. 318
  • A. Mezzetti, Il Dosso e Battista ferraresi, Ferrara 1965, pp. 43, 113, n. 163
  • B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Central Italian and North Italian Schools, I, London 1968, p. 115
  • F. Gibbons, Dosso and Battista Dossi Court Painters at Ferrara, Princeton 1968, p. 125, n. 111
  • V. Tatrai, Deux tableaux du cercle de Battista Dossi, «Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts», 70-71, 1989, pp. 41-42
  • A. Bacchi, Dipinti ferraresi dalla collezione Vittorio Cini, catalogo della mostra, Venezia, Galleria Vittorio Cini, 1989-1990, a cura di A. Bacchi, Vicenza 1990, pp. 86-88
  • V. Romani, in A. Ballarin, Dosso Dossi. La pittura a Ferrara negli anni del Ducato di Alfonso I, Cittadella (PD) 1994-1995, scheda 496
  • C. Stefani, in Galleria Borghese, a cura di P. Moreno e C. Stefani, Milano 2000, p. 328
  • S. Lucantoni, in Il museo senza confini. Dipinti ferraresi del Rinascimento nelle raccolte romane, a cura di J. Bentini e S. Guarino, Milano 2002, pp. 124-125, scheda 4