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Madonna (da Scipione Pulzone)

Venusti Marcello

(Como c. 1515 - Rome 1579)

This canvas comes from the sizable legacy of Olimpia Aldobrandini. In 1682, a year before her death, she left part of her property to her son Giovanni Battista Borghese. The work, believed to be a copy of a painting by Scipione Pulzone, made by Marcello Venusti around the second half of the 1570s, represents Mary, portrayed with a covered head and looking down at the body of little Jesus.

Object details

oil on canvas
cm 56 x 44

Salvator Rosa, 68.7 x 58.8 x 4 cm


Rome, Aldobrandini Collection, 1612 (Parrilla, 2013, p. 385); Meldola (Forlì-Cesena), Aldobrandini Collection, 1612-33; Casale di Torrenova (Rome), Olimpia Aldobrandini Collection, 1633; Casale di Torrenova (Rome), Olimpia Aldobrandini Collection, 1682; Casale di Torrenova (Rome), Giovanni Battista Borghese Collection, 1683; Rome, Borghese Collection, 1790 (Inv. 1790, room I, no. 11); Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 22; purchased by the Italian state, 1902.

  • 2013 Gaeta, Museo Diocesano-Castello Angioino
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1995-1996 ICR (indagini diagnostiche; rimozione vernici e vecchie ridipinture, reintegrazioni pittoriche; verniciatura)


This painting is mentioned for the first time in 1790 as part of the Borghese Collection by the inventory’s compiler as “Madonna, Scipione Gaetano.” This attribution, repeated in the fideicommissum listing of 1833, was accepted without question by most critics (Piancastelli 1891; A. Venturi 1893; Id. 1934; Longhi 1928), with the exception of Federico Zeri (1957) who believed the canvas to be a derivative work. Paola della Pergola (1959) listed the painting as an original work in the catalogue of the Galleria Borghese, deeming it to be one of the least successful endeavours of the painter from Gaeta. This traditional ascription to Pulzone, reiterated in 1996 by Augusto Donò, was questioned by Alexandra Dern (2003).

In 2013, thanks to very detailed documentation, Francesca Parrilla permanently expunged the work from the catalogue of the Gaetan artist and attributed it to Marcello Venusti, who in the second half of the 1570s had copied this Blessed Virgin from an original painting by Scipione Pulzone. Towards the end of the 1600s, the second painting was reported as part of the collection of Gabriele Dal Pozzo and is now included in a private collection (Tempesta, 2000). Parrilla was further able to reconstruct the Venusti painting’s vicissitudes before it entered the Borghese Collection having found it in a 1612 inventory compiled by the Aldobrandini family (“Portrait of the Blessed Virgin by Marcillo”; Parrilla 2013, p. 385) when several works were sent to Meldola, an Emilian domain acquired by Clement VIII as part of the Convention of Faenza. It was later returned to Rome, precisely to the estate of Torrenova on the Via Casilina, bequeathed in 1600 by Francesco Cenci to the Aldobrandini who then passed it on to Olimpia junior and Camillo Pamphili. According to a document from 1633, the painting was exhibited in the antechamber of the first apartment, embellished by precious ornaments. Finally, in 1682, one year prior to Princess Olimpia’s death, the canvas was listed in an inventory of her possessions with a specific reference to Marcello Venusti and destined, along with the Torrenova estate, to her son Giovanni Battista Borghese. It thus permanently entered the rich collection of the Borghese family.

The painting shows the Virgin Mary with her head covered and her eyes cast downwards, probably gazing upon baby Jesus lying on her knees or in his traditional crib, as he had been depicted for centuries in a number of similar works. In fact, critics believe this to be a partial rendition of a larger painting, identified by Parrilla as Our Lady of Divine Providence painted by Scipione for the Barnabite Fathers (Rome, San Carlo ai Catinari, Cappella dei Padri) and with the Virgin who appears in the Holy Family found at Galleria Borghese (inv. 313). Mary’s visage also bears a clear resemblance to the Madonna “of the Rose” painted by Pulzone in 1592 (Rome, Galleria Borghese, inv. 381), from which derive two smaller canvases by an unknown painter preserved in the convent of Santa Teresa in Caprarola and in the cathedral of Priverno (and formerly in the church of San Francesco Vecchio).

The abundance of copies that still exist, produced as icons for private worship, is proof of the huge success enjoyed by this image, the circulation of which is attested by the canvas we have described here.             

Antonio Iommelli

  • A. Manazzale, Itinerario, I, Roma 1817, p. 240. 
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 356. 
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 113. 
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 195. 
  • A. Venturi, Storia dell’Arte Italiana, IX, Milano 1834, IX, 7, p. 781. 
  • F. Zeri, Pittura e Controriforma. L’Arte senza tempo di Scipione da Gaeta, Torino 1957, p. 105. 
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 112, n. 165. 
  • F. Zeri, Pittura e Controriforma. L’Arte senza tempo di Scipione da Gaeta, Torino 1957, p. 101. 
  • A. Donò, Scipione Pulzone da Gaeta (1545 - 1598): il pittore della “Madonna della Divina Provvidenza”, in “Barnabiti studi”, XIII, 1996, p. 80, n. 41. 
  • C. Tempesta, in I segreti di un collezionista. Le straordinarie raccolte di Cassiano dal Pozzo 1588-1657, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Nazionale di Arte Antica, 2000), a cura di F. Solinas, Roma 2000, p. 73, n. 22.
  • A. Dern, Scipione Pulzone (ca. 1546 - 1598), Weimar 2003, p. 183. 
  • 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. 63. 
  • F. Parrilla, scheda in Scipione Pulzone. Da Gaeta a Roma alle Corti europee, catalogo della mostra (Gaeta, Museo Diocesano, 2013), a cura di A. Acconci, A. Zuccari, Roma 2013, pp. 385-386, n. 41.