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Madonna and Child

Luteri Giovanni called Dosso Dossi

(Tramuschio? 1487 ca - Ferrara 1542)

This painting entered the collection through the marriage of Paolo Borghese to Olimpia Aldobrandini, partial heir of Lucrezia d'Este, who acquired it in turn through her grandparents Alfonso I and Lucrezia Borgia. The unusual gestural expressiveness of the Virgin and Child – the only painting of this subject in the artist’s oeuvre – reveals Dossi’s immense skill in handling traditional themes with originality and compositional freedom. The intense colouring of this painting, embellished with bright filaments of gold, merges with the sculptural structure of the figures, expressing Dossi’s interest in contemporary Roman painting and Raphael in particular, suggesting a date for the work during the period just after his probable trip to Rome, which likely took place at the end of the 1510s.

Object details

c. 1517-1518
oil on panel
cm 32,5 x 29

Ferrara, Inventory of Lucrezia d’Este d’Urbino, 1592, p. 9, no. 15 (?) (Della Pergola 1959, pp. 343, 349); Inventory of Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, 1603, no. 44. (D’Onofrio 1964); Inventory of the art collection of Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini for Olimpia Aldobrandini-Pamphili, circa 1665, no. 44. (D’Onofrio 1964); Inventario fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 38, no. 52. Purchased by the Italian state, 1902.

  • 1933, Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti
  • 1998-1999, New York, Metropolitan - Los Angeles, P. Getty Museum
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1903-1905 Luigi Bartolucci (pest control)
  • 1937 Carlo Matteucci
  • 1992 Istituto Centrale del Restauro (pest control)
  • 1995 Emmebici (diagnostics)
  • 2021 ArsMensurae di Stefano Ridolfi (diagnostics)
  • 2021 IFAC-CNR (diagnostics)
  • 2022 Measure3D di Danilo Salzano (laser scan 3D)


Although it would be quite challenging to securely trace this small painting in the Aldobrandini inventories, it was in all likelihood in the collection of Lucrezia d’Este d’Urbino and seems to be described in one of the inventories: ‘Above the frame to the left there are two small paintings, one of the Madonna with Our Lord in her arms by Mondino Scarsella and the other of a similar Madonna by Dosso’ (Della Pergola 1959). This work was therefore displayed in the collection of the Ferrara noblewoman as a pendant to the Madonna and Child with St Joseph and the Young St John the Bapstist by Scarsellino, which is also in the Borghese collection (inv. 222) and of similar size. This provenance has not been accepted by all scholars, who either find it not especially convincing (Romani in Ballarin 1994-1995), or propose that it was commissioned by Alfonso I and Lucrezia Borgia (Humphrey 1998) or think that its path might be traceable through the Aldobrandini documents up to arrival at the Villa Borghese after Paolo Borghese married Olimpia Aldobrandini in 1638 (Herrmann Fiore 2002).

This small, invaluable painting was particularly admired by Adolfo Venturi (1893) for its luminosity and especially exuberant and intense brilliance and sparkle. The scholar was a bit perplexed by the dark background on the right, which recent X-rays (Coliva 1998) have revealed originally contained a preparatory sketch of St Joseph, which the painter then covered up with dark paint that allows us to glimpse its shape when backlit.

The clear, confident forms of the Virgin and Child, while marked by a few perspectival problems, especially in the rendering of Christ’s blessing arm, stand out against an uneasy, foggy natural backdrop, defined with just a few brushstrokes and highlights used to describe the leaves on trees, the clouds and a group of grazing sheep all in the same way. The composition, in which we find the influence of Dürer in the rendering of Mary with the small Christ Child in her arms and close observation of nature starting with Giovanni Bellini’s Feast of the Gods (Washington DC, National Gallery of Art, inv. 1942.9.1), together with the uncertain handling of foreshortening and proportion, support Vittoria Romani’s dating of the Borghese painting to around the time of the Melissa (inv. 217), which was painted in about 1517 (Romani in Ballarin 1994-1995; Humphrey 1998; Herrmann Fiore 2002). Previously proposed dates for the work include the early 1510s (Mendelsohn 1914), by 1510 (Longhi 1927; Lazareff 1941), between 1519 and 1525 (Puppi 1965), during the years 1520-1522 (Mezzetti 1965), by the early 1520s (Freedberg 1971) and in the mid 1520s (Gibbons 1968).

Lara Scanu

  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 126
  • G. Gruyer, L’art Ferrarais a l’époque des Princes d’Este, II, Parigi 1897, p. 286
  • B. Berenson, The North Italian Painters of the Renaissance, New York-London 1907, pp. 210-211
  • E. G. Gardner, The Painters of the School of Ferrara, London 1911, p. 232
  • W. C. Zwanzinger, Dosso Dossi mit besonderer berucksichtigung seines Künst lerischen verältnisses zu seinem bruder Battista, Leipzig 1911, pp. 80, 117
  • H. Mendelsohn, Das Werk der Dossi, München 1914, pp. 31, 41-42
  • C. Philipps, An “Adoration of the Magi” by Battista Dossi, «The Burlington Magazine», XXVII, 148, 1915, p. 133
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle gallerie italiane. I, Galleria Borghese, «Vita Artistica», II, 1927 (ed. 1967), p. 307
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle gallerie italiane. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 343
  • A. Venturi, Storia dell’Arte Italiana. La pittura del Cinquecento, IX, 3, Milano 1928, p. 971
  • B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of Renaissance. A list of the Principal Artist and their Works with an Index of Places, Oxford 1932, p. 175
  • N. Barbantini, Esposizione della pittura ferrarese del Rinascimento, catalogo della mostra (Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti, maggio-ottobre 1933), Venezia 1933, n. 191
  • R. Longhi, Officina Ferrarese, Roma 1934 (ed. 1956), pp. 81, 86
  • B. Berenson, Pitture italiane del Rinascimento: catalogo dei principali artisti e delle loro opere con un indice dei luoghi, Milano 1936, p. 151
  • V. Lazareff, A Dosso Problem, «Art in America», XXIX, 1941, pp. 133-135
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, n. 39
  • P. Della Pergola, L’ inventario del 1592 di Lucrezia d’Este, «Arte Antica e Moderna», 7, 1959, pp. 343, 349
  • L. Baldass, Zur Erforschung des "Giorgionismo" bei den Generationsgenossen Tizians, «Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien», 57, 1961, p. 82
  • P. Dreyer, Die Entiwicklung des jungen Dosso (I): ein Beitragzur Chronologie der Jungendwerke des Meisters bis zum Jahre 1522, «Pantheon», (I) XXII, 4, 1964, pp. 228-229
  • L. Baldass, G. Heinz, Giorgione, Wien-München 1964, p. 59
  • C. D’Onofrio, Inventario dei beni del cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini compilato da G. B. Agucchi nel 1603, «Palatino», VIII, 1964, pp. 15-20, 158-162, 202-211
  • A. Mezzetti, Il Dosso e Battista ferraresi, Ferrara 1965, pp. 24, 111-112, n. 158
  • L. Puppi, Dosso Dossi, Milano 1965
  • B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Central Italian and North Italian Schools, I, London 1968, p. 113
  • F. Gibbons, Dosso and Battista Dossi Court Painters at Ferrara, Princeton 1968, pp. 129-130, 198, n. 58
  • F. Negri Arnoldi, Il Cinquecento, in Storia dell’Arte Italiana, Milano 1969, p. 157 J. Freedberg, Painting in Italy 1500 to 1600, Harmondsworth 1971 (ed. 1975), p. 317
  • A. Ballarin, Osservazioni sul percorso del Dosso, conferenza per il Seminario di Storia dell’Arte Moderna, Padova, Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia, A.A. 1985-1986
  • A. Ballarin, Giovanni de Lutero dit Dosso Dossi, in Le siecle de Titien: l’âge d’or de la peinture a Venise, catalogo della mostra (Parigi, Grand Palais 9 marzo - 14 giugno 1993) a cura di G. Fage, Parigi 1993, p. 460
  • A. Coliva, Galleria Borghese, Roma 1994, p. 117
  • C. Del Bravo, L’Equicola e il Dosso, «Artibus et Historiae», 30, 1994, p. 77
  • A. Ballarin, Dosso Dossi. La pittura a Ferrara negli anni del Ducato di Alfonso I, Cittadella (PD) 1994-1995, p. 39
  • V. Romani, in A. Ballarin, Dosso Dossi. La pittura a Ferrara negli anni del Ducato di Alfonso I, Cittadella (PD) 1994-1995, scheda 361, p. 307
  • J. Yarnal, Trasformations of Circe. The history of an Enchantress, Urbana-Chicago 1994, pp. 116-118
  • G. Roberts, The Descendants of Circe. Witches and Renaissance Fictions, in Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe. Studies in Culture and Belief, a cura di J. Barry, Cambridge 1996, p. 188
  • V. Romani, Alfonso I, Dosso e la Maniera moderna, in La pittura in Emilia e in Romagna. Il Cinquecento, a cura di V. Fortunati Pietrantonio, Milano 1996, pp. 99-100
  • A. Coliva, Le opere di Dosso Dossi nella Collezione Borghese: precisazioni documentarie, iconografiche, e tecniche, in Dosso Dossi. Pittore di corte a Ferrara nel Rinascimento, catalogo della mostra (Ferrara, Civiche Gallerie d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, 26 settembre – 14 dicembre 1998; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 14 gennaio – 28 marzo 1999; Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum 27 aprile – 11 luglio 1999) a cura di P. Humphrey e M. Lucco, Ferrara 1998, p. 74
  • P. Humfrey, in Dosso Dossi. Pittore di corte a Ferrara nel Rinascimento, catalogo della mostra (Ferrara, Civiche Gallerie d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, 26 settembre – 14 dicembre 1998; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 14 gennaio – 28 marzo 1999; Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum 27 aprile – 11 luglio 1999) a cura di P. Humphrey e M. Lucco, Ferrara 1998, p. 128, scheda 18
  • C. Stefani, in Galleria Borghese, a cura di P. Moreno e C. Stefani, Milano 2000, p. 327
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, in Il museo senza confini. Dipinti ferraresi del Rinascimento nelle raccolte romane, a cura di J. Bentini e S. Guarino, Milano 2002, pp. 136-137, scheda 9