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Landscape wiht the Baptism of Christ and the preaching of Saint John the Baptist

Bles Hendrick met de called Civetta

(Bouvignes? c. 1510 - after 1554)

Although attribution of this work presents difficulties, critics today concur that it has a connection to Herri met de Bles, the Flemish master appreciated in Rome and other Italian cities, where he left meticulously detailed landscapes that were pure products of his imagination. This painting shows a rocky landscape with very thin trees, which forms the backdrop for two episodes from the life of John the Baptist – Preaching to the Crowds and the Baptism of Christ – which blend well into the surrounding natural setting.

Object details

1540/1550 ca.
oil on panel
cm 36 x 54

Salvator Rosa, 42 x 61 x 4.7 cm


Rome, Borghese Collection, 1833 (Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 38); purchased by Italian state, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1903 - Luigi Bartolucci (support);
  • 1906 - Luigi Bartolucci (support).


The provenance of this painting is still unknown. There is evidently no trace of it in the Borghese documentation of the 17th and 18th centuries, as the lack of an inventory number and a precise description of the subject renders identification difficult. In 1959, Paola della Pergola suggested that the small panel once belonged to Lucrezia d’Este and came into the Borghese Collection through the estate of the elder Olimpia Aldobrandini; yet this is merely a conjecture that lacks supporting evidence.

The first certain reference to the painting dates to 1833, when the Landscape appears in the Inventario Fidecommissario as a work by an ‘unknown Flemish artist’. At the end of the 19th century, Adolfo Venturi (1893) ascribed it to Joachim Patenier. Yet this idea did not persuade critics (Cantalamessa in Note manoscritte; Hoogewerff 1926); Robert Longhi in particular maintained that it was executed by an imitator of the well-known painter from Flanders.

Paola della Pergola (1959) was the first scholar to propose that the panel was a product of the circle of Herri met de Bles, the painter from Dinant and nephew of Patenier. Noting a certain mediocrity in the execution, Della Pergola rightly spoke of the ‘manner’ of this artist, an opinion which the present writer accepts. While the work presents certain elements that are found in other paintings by ‘il Civetta’ – who received this nickname because he signed his paintings with an owl on a tree – it does not achieve that quality typical of his oeuvre, characterised by a precise rendering of details.

Antonio Iommelli

  • X. Barbier de Montault, Les Musées et Galeries de Rome, Rome 1870, p. 357;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1891, p. 432;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 137;
  • G. Cantalamessa, Note manoscritte al Catalogo di A. Venturi del 1893, in Archivio Galleria Borghese;
  • G. J. Hoogewerff, Joachim Patenier in Italië, in “Onze Kunst”, XLIII, 1926, pp. 23-24;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 200;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 177, n. 261;
  • 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. 86.