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Madonna and the Child with the Infant Saint John th Baptist and an angel

Vecellio Orazio

(Venice before 1525 - 1576)

Mentioned in the Borghese inventory of 1693, this painting has been attributed to Titian’s son Orazio Vecellio, who was active in his father’s busy workshop. It represents the Virgin Mary, portrayed here in the shadow of a canopy as she holds the little Jesus on her lap, who in turn is the object of adoration of a very elegant John the Baptist and a tender cupid.

Object details

1560-1570 circa
oil on canvas
cm 78 x 72,5

19th-century frame decorated with palmette frieze, 99.5 x 94.5 x 9.5) cm


Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room II, no. 31; Della Pergola 1959); Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 16; purchased by Italian state, 1902.


The provenance of this painting is still unknown. It was first documented as forming part of the Borghese Collection in 1693, when it was mentioned by the compiler of the inventory of that year as a work by Titian. Although this attribution was repeated in the Inventario Fidecommissario of 1833, it was rightly called into question by Cavalcaselle (1877), who after comparing the work to a similar one by Orazio Vecellio – today preserved in Alnwick Castle in Northumberland – ascribed the canvas to a German or Flemish artist of the Vecellio school. Supported by both Venturi (1893) and Roberto Longhi (1928), Cavalcaselle’s theory was rejected by Bernard Berenson (1894), who curiously proposed the name of Polidoro Lanzani.

Based on a comparison with the Virgin and Child Receiving the Gifts of the Three Magi in the parish church of Calalzo – which was certainly executed by Orazio in 1566 – Paola della Pergola (1959) had no hesitations in ascribing the work in question to the Venetian artist. Her view was accepted by Kristina Hermann Fiore (2006) but rejected by Giorgio Tagliaferro (2009): according to the analysis of this scholar – and his opinion is shared by the present writer – the canvas in the Borghese Collection seems too distant and ‘summary’ next to the purity of the production of Titian and his school. In Tagliaferro’s view, the work in question was executed far from the epicentre of that workshop, both spatially and even temporally.

Two replicas of the work are conserved today in Florence (Palazzo Pitti, inv. no. 483) and in the Basilica of San Petronio of Bologna (second chapel on the left): like the Borghese painting, these probably derive from a lost prototype by Titian.

Antonio Iommelli

  • J. A. Crowe, G. B. Cavalcaselle, A History of Painting in North Italy, I, London 1877, p. 743;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 11;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 102;
  • B. Berenson, Venetian Painters of the Renaissance, New York 1894, p. 123;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 192;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, p. 135, n. 241;
  • 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. 52;
  • G. Tagliaferro, in G. Tagliaferro, B. Aikema, Le botteghe di Tiziano, Firenze 2009, pp. 99-104.