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Landscape with Saint John the Baptist preaching

Grimaldi Giovan Francesco

(Bologna 1606 - Rome 1680)

This work on copper – belonging to a series of four paintings – was commissioned by Prince Giovan Battista Borghese who in 1678 bought the entire series from the Bolognese Gian Francesco Grimaldi. The true protagonist of the whole series is the landscape. Here it hosts – on the right – a group of people listening to the words of John the Baptist, whose stories are narrated in the New Testament.

The classical composition, the waterfall on the left and the tree trunks chronologically confirm that the painting was made in 1678. Its subject is modelled on a composition with a similar theme by Annibale Carracci.

Object details

oil on copper
cm 45 x 67

Nineteenth-century frame decorated with palmettes, 67 x 89 x 10 cm


Rome, collection of Giovan Battista Borghese, 1678 (Della Pergola 1955, p. 49); Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, pp. 17 (27, 28), 23 (7, 13); purchased by the Italian State, 1902


  • 1922 Firenze, Palazzo delle Esposizioni;
  • 1985 Roma, Palazzo Venezia.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1913-1914 Tito Venturini Papari (pulitura e verniciatura);
  • 1960-1961 Renato Massi (restauro della cornice).


In 1678, Giovan Battista Borghese issued a payment to the Bolognese painter Gian Francesco Grimaldi ‘for various paintings made as recorded in note no. 718 filed in Ledger A 926 scudi’ (Della Pergola 1955, p. 49). According to Paola della Pergola, who was the first to discover this note among the Borghese papers in the Vatican Apostolic Archives, the payment concerned other more important works, including, however, the present painting on copper and three other landscapes (inv. nos 38, 47, 296), noted shortly after at the Casino di Porta Pinciana by Domenico Montelatici (1700, p. 302): ‘And the four similar paintings, which portray landscapes with small figures, painted on copper, are by Gio. Francesco Bolognese’. In reality, the artist must have made the four paintings while work as being done at Palazzo Borghese (1672–1678), probably having been commissioned for the apartments on the ground floor. As suggested by Batorska (2012, p. 202, no. 145), the subject of this painting was chosen by the patron, who was unconcerned with the iconographic coherence of the series. This explains why the theme, the preaching of John the Baptist, is unrelated to the other three paintings on copper.

The composition of this painting is similar to that of the fresco of the same subject painted by Grimaldi on the upper floor of the Roman palazzo of the Nunez family (currently known as Palazzo Nunez-Torlonia), which was modelled on a painting by Annibale Carracci depicting the same theme, now in the collection of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Grenoble. But, in contrast to Annibale, Grimaldi gave greater importance to the figures, breaking up the sky with the tall trees.

The presence of a few Romantic elements, like the waterfall on the left and the cut trees in the foreground, place the painting in the artist’s late period.

Antonio Iommelli

  • D. Montelatici, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana con l’ornamenti che si osservano nel di lei Palazzo, Roma 1700, p. 302;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, pp. 53, 58, 153;
  • Mostra della pittura italiana del Seicento e del Settecento, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Palazzo Pitti, 1922), Roma 1922, p. 103;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 180;
  • A. De Rinaldis, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1939, p. 30;
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1948, p. 69;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, pp. 48-49, n. 78;
  • L. Salerno, Pittori di Paesaggio del Seicento a Roma, Roma 1976, p. 578;
  • Paesaggio con figura: 57 dipinti della Galleria Borghese esposti temporaneamente a Palazzo Venezia, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Museo di Palazzo Venezia, 1985), Roma 1985, p. X, cat. 47;
  • C. Stefani in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 298;
  • A.M. Matteucci, R. Ariuli, Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi, Bologna 2002, p. 262;
  • 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. 18;
  • D. Batorska, Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi 1605/6-1680, Roma 2012, p. 202, n. 144.