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Landscape with a Laundress

Workshop of Castrucci Cosimo e Giovanni

This commesso, or Florentine mosaic, was made with different types of jasper from Bohemia, Alsace and Siberia. First mentioned in connection with the Borghese Collection in 1693, it was most likely executed around the first decade of the 17th century in the workshop of Cosimo and Giovanni Castrucci. It depicts a mountain landscape with a river crossed by a long bridge, which is approached by a man in a boat. In the central portion of the foreground we see a woman washing clothes, whom the historic Borghese inventories identify as the Virgin Mary.

Object details

first quarter of the 17th century
Commesso in hardstone (Bohemian, Alsatian and Siberian jasper)
cm 23 x 31

17th-century frame with gilded bronze and painted glass pane to produce amethyst effect, 35.1 x 46 x 5 cm


Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room XI, nos 34, 43, 92); Inv. 1790, room VII, nos 87, 90; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, pp. 29-30; purchased by Italian state, 1902.


Nell'angolo inferiore destro '132'.

Sul retro dell'opera "... nota 2a lett. B Camera del Gabinetto n. 70. Quadro di pietre dure con cornice di ametista lavoro di Firenze largo pal[m]i 1 alto palmi ...".

  • 1972 Roma, Galleria Borghese


The circumstances and date of the entry of this Florentine mosaic into the Borghese Collection are still unclear. According to Paola della Pergola (1959), the work was purchased in 1634 by Prince Marcantonio Borghese, who through his chamberlain Domenico Baroncino signed several receipts, thus entering into possession of an unspecified number of compositions in ‘fine stone’. Although some critics unhesitatingly accepted Della Pergola’s thesis (Herrmann Fiore 2006), it is marred by the fact that the documents she cited – while undoubtedly attesting to the interest of the Borghese family in this artistic genre – cannot with certainty be associated with the work in question, as they lack precise descriptions.

In addition, as Sara Staccioli rightly observed (1972), Scipione Borghese took an interest in ‘certain flowers made in hardstone’ as early as 1612, which Pietro Strozzi judged to be ‘rare pieces’ in a letter to the rich and powerful cardinal. This document allows us to hypothesise that the works of this kind already formed part of the collection of the Casino di Porta Pinciana in the time of the ambitious and curious cardinal-nephew.

Whichever theory is correct, it is certain that this Landscape became part of the Borghese Collection prior to 1693, when the inventory of the belongings of the Roman palazzo of Ripetta dating to that year lists it as entry no. 132 – the number is still visible in the bottom right hand corner – with the description of a work ‘in Florentine mosaic of a small landscape with Joseph and the Madonna as a laundress’ (Inv. 1693). It is cited in later inventories (Inv. 1790; Inventario Fidecommissario) but not mentioned either in Giovanni Piancastelli’s Manoscritto or by Adolfo Venturi (1893), as it was deemed a secondary work.

Together with the Landscape with Penitent Mary Magdalene (inv. no. 491) and two other Florentine mosaics in the Borghese Collection (inv. nos 490 and 494), the work has been associated with others produced in Prague by the workshop of Cosimo and Giovanni Castrucci, Florentine artists active at the court of Rudolf II in Prague from 1596 (Staccioli, 1972: Iommelli 2022). Sara Staccioli, who rightly classified the four mosaics into two groups on the basis of the materials used for them, maintained that the Landscape with a Laundress recalls the Landscape with an Obelisk by Giovanni Castrucci, today held at the Kunsthistorisches Museum di Vienna (inv. no. 3397). This close resemblance – both with regard to the figure of the woman at the fountain and the overall compositional arrangement – indeed allows us to attribute the Borghese Landscape to the Castrucci workshop and to propose that it was realised in Prague and then sent to the Borghese family as a gift. Alternatively, it could have been executed in Florence or Rome; it is indeed possible that the two artists visited the Eternal City on one of their continuous journeys between Tuscany and the Kingdom of Bohemia. In support of this thesis, we know that Giovanni Battista Castrucci and his sons Francesco and Silvestro, Florentine goldsmiths and master jewellers of Florentine origin who were most likely related to the two Tuscan masters, were in Rome in the early 17th century (see Bulgari 1958).

Antonio Iommelli

  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, pp. 112-114;
  • X. Barbier de Montault, Les Musées et Galeries de Rome, Rome 1870, p. 356;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 217;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 33, n. 42;
  • P. della Pergola, L’Inventario Borghese del 1693 (III), in “Arte Antica e Moderna”, XXX, 1965, p. 20;
  • S. Staccioli, in Opere in mosaico, intarsi e pietra paesina, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Borghese, 1971), a cura di S. Staccioli, Roma 1971, pp. 16-21, n. 7;
  • C. Stefani in Galleria Borghese 2000, p. 206;
  • 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. 158;
  • A. Iommelli, 'Petrae volant, scripta manent': tracce di pietre in casa Borghese nel XVII secolo, in Meraviglie senza tempo. Pittura su pietra a Roma nel Seicento, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Borghese, 2022), a cura di F. Cappelletti, P. Cavazzini.