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Madonna and Child with The Infant Saint John the Baptist and Saint Elizabeth

Circle of Pippi Giulio called Giulio Romano

(Rome c. 1499 - Mantua 1546)

This panel may have entered the Borghese Collection through that of Antonio Maria Salviati. Critics have attributed it to Leonardo Grazia of Pistoia, who was active in Rome in the first half of the 16th century, executing refined compositions on panel and slate.

It depicts the Virgin and Child; Mary is shown together with her cousin Elizabeth and the little John the Baptist, who offers a goldfinch to Jesus as a way of reminding the observer of Christ’s passion. Indeed, according to tradition the bird was forever stained with the blood of Christ after attempting to remove a thorn from his forehead. Several motifs, such as the exedra behind Mary and the rigid character of the design, suggest that this work should be grouped together with those which draw heavily on the style of Giulio Romano.

Object details

mid 16th century
oil on panel
114 x 116 cm

(?) Rome, collection of Antonio Maria Salviati, 1634 (Della Pergola 1959); (?) Rome, Borghese Collection, 1794; Rome, Borghese Collection, 1833 (Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 38); purchased by Italian state, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1992 Istituto Centrale del Restauro (pest control);
  • 2012 Paola Tollo.


According to a theory put forth by Paola della Pergola (1964), this work corresponds to a painting listed in the 1693 Borghese inventory which reads ‘a work on canvas [sic!] with different figures and an amphitheatre [...] by Mecherin da Siena’: yet as the support material is given as canvas and not panel, this hypothesis cannot be accepted. By contrast, the suggestion that the work came from the 17th-century collection of Cardinal Antonio Maria Salviati (Della Pergola 1959) is more credible. In this case, the painting would have entered the collection at the Casino of Porta Pinciana in 1794 – the year that Salviati’s paintings were transferred to the Borghese family (Costamagna 2001) – and not during the first half of the 17th century, as Della Pergola mistakenly believed (1959). This second hypothesis would account for the absence of the work from 17th- and 18th-century Borghese inventories and its first documented appearance in 1833, when the Inventario Fidecommissario listed it with an attribution to Giulio Romano. This name was accepted by Giovanni Piancastelli (1891) but rejected by Adolfo Venturi in favour of that of Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta (Venturi 1893).

Examining the attribution given by the compiler of the 1833 inventory, in 1928 Roberto Longhi wrote of a vague connection to the style of Giulio Romano. For her part, Della Pergola (1959) was sympathetic to Longhi’s idea while at the same time not excluding the hand of Vincenzo Tamagni, which had been proposed by Federico Zeri (in a conversation reported in Della Pergola 1959). Della Pergola further claimed that the work derived from a print, as suggested by the architectural element behind the Virgin, which in the painting appears as the mirror image of the exedra in the former; this motif, the scholar claimed, was inspired by its presence in Giulio’s panel in the church of Santa Maria dell’Anima.

Remaining within the school proposed by his colleagues although not accepting their specific attributions, in 1959 Ferdinando Bologna was the first critic to put forth the name of Leonardo da Pistoia, also known as Leonardo Grazia, who was active in Lucca, Rome and Naples during the first half of the 16th century. In the past this artist was confused with others from Pistoia, such as Leonardo Malatesta, Leonardo di Bernardino and Bartolomeo Guelfo (Bisceglia 1996; Cannatà 2002); yet scholars have been able to more precisely identify his oeuvre (see, most recently, Leone de Castris 2019, pp. 80-82; Corso 2018). The attribution to Leonardo was supported by Anna Bisceglia (1996) and has been confirmed by all critics since (Leone de Castris 1988; Id. 1996), most recently by Michela Corso (2018), who claimed that the panel in question is an early work of his executed in Rome (see also Bisceglia 1996), which fits consistently within the course of his stylistic development. Indeed we can well imagine that the artist from Pistoia – who probably collaborated with Giulio on the Fugger commission in Santa Maria dell'Anima (Leone de Castris 1988; Id. 2019) – built on that experience in producing numerous versions of the Holy Family and the Madonna and Child, including the work in question: in addition to openly imitating Giulio’s altarpiece, Leonardo makes clear allusions to Rosso Fiorentino’s cherubs, as revealed by their chubby faces (Bisceglia 1996).

In the past, a variation of this painting attributed to Leonardo appeared on the antiques market (Foresti sale, 13-17 May 1913, no. 209; see Leone de Castris 1996, p. 86; Corso 2018).

Antonio Iommelli

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 323;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 180;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 213;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, pp. 92-93, n. 130;
  • P. della Pergola, L’Inventario Borghese del 1693 (I), in “Arte Antica e Moderna”, XXVI, 1964, p. 229;
  • F. Bologna, Rovinale Spagnolo e la pittura napoletana del Cinquecento, Napoli 1959, p. 74;
  • P. Leone de Castris, La pittura del Cinquecento nell'Italia meridionale, in La Pittura in Italia. Il Cinquecento, II, Milano 1988, pp. 443, 487;
  • A. Bisceglia, Esperienze artistiche fuori contesto: da Pistoia al Viceregno di Napoli, in Fra' Paolino e la pittura a Pistoia nel primo '500. L'età di Savonarola, catalogo della mostra (Pistoia, Palazzo Comunale, 1996), a cura di C. D'Afflitto, F. Falletti, A. Muzzi, Venezia 1996; pp. 100-101;
  • P. Leone de Castris, Pittura del Cinquecento a Napoli: 1540 – 1573: fasto e devozione, Napoli 1996, pp. 86-87;
  • R. Cannatà, Grazia, Leonardo, detto il Pistoia, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, LVIII, Roma 2002, ad vocem;
  • 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. 123;
  • M. Corso, Le opere e i giorni di Leonardo Grazia da Pistoia tra Lucca, Roma e Napoli, in "Proporzioni", I, 2018, pp. 49, 60 nota 14;
  • P. Leone de Castris, Firenze a Napoli. Echi e tracce della pittura toscana nell'arte napoletana di primo Cinquecento, in «Confronto. Studi e ricerche di storia dell'arte europea», II, 2019, p. 82.