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Madonna with Child

Follower of Raibolini Francesco called Francesco Francia

Bologna c. 1450. - 1517)

This panel is first documented with certainty as forming part of the Borghese Collection in 1833. Its compositional strategy and movement are typical of the style of the Bolognese artist Francesco Raibolini, head of a prolific workshop which according to our sources had 220 students and followers.

The painting shows the Virgin and Child; sitting on a cushion, Jesus is in the act of giving his blessing as his gaze is curiously directed outside the frame. He holds a small bird in his hand, probably a robin – a clear allusion to the passion of Christ.

Object details

c. 1520
oil on panel
48 x 39 cm

19th-frame decorated with palmettes (67.5 x 56.5 x 10 cm)


(?) Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Della Pergola 1964, p. 452, n. 204); Rome, Borghese Collection, 1833 (Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 8); purchased by Italian state, 1902



This panel is first documented as forming part of the Borghese Collection in 1833, when it was listed in the Inventario Fidecommissario as a work by the Bolognese painter Francesco Raibolini, known as Francesco Francia. This attribution was rejected by Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle (1871) but then re-proposed by Adolfo Venturi (1893), who believed that the work was executed by one of Francesco’s many students.

In 1936 Aldo de Rinaldis identified the painting as the ‘Madonna of Pietro Giulianello’ described in the Borghese inventory of 1700. Yet his idea was not accepted by Paola della Pergola (1955), who in the meantime had ascribed the series of all the works by that name to various followers of Garofalo. According to this scholar, the panel in question was likely the work of one of the many followers of Raibolini, given that the painting lacked that refinement characteristic of the productions of the Bolognese artist.

In 1964, della Pergola claimed that the painting matched the description of entry number 204 of the Borghese inventory of 1693 (‘Beneath the cornice next to the said work, a painting of roughly three spans with the Madonna and Child, at no. 104, with a smooth, engraved gilded frame, by Francia’): although most critics have ignored her suggestion, it may turn out to be valid.

For their part, Emilio Negro and Nicosetta Roio (1998) attributed the work to Francia’s school, noting that the composition represents the counterpart of the Virgin and Christ Child at the Museum of Art in Columbia, South Carolina (inv. no. 54-402/12), a painting which enjoyed great success, as is proved by the version held in the clergy house of the church of Santissima Trinità in Bozzolo and the replica that was sold on the antiquarian market in 1988 (Christie’s London, 18 February, no. 7): while the former has been ascribed to Francia’s workshop, the latter is believed to be in the style of Pietro Perugino (for both works, see Negro-Roio 1988, cat. nos. 152a; 152b).

The panel represents the Virgin with the Child, who holds a small bird in his left hand, probably a goldfinch, symbol of Christ’s Passion. According to tradition, the feathers of this bird were indelibly dyed in red when blood caused by the crown of thorns fell onto them from Jesus’s forehead.

With the exception of Roberto Longhi (1967), all critics (see, most recently, Herrmann Fiore 2006) agree that this panel came from Raibolini’s atelier, as the work makes use of those same formulas and gestures that were dear to the Bolognese painter, even though in this case certain details are somewhat rigid and coarse. In Roio’s view (1986; Negro, Roio 1998), the painting may have been the work of either Giacomo or Giulio Raibolini, Francia’s sons, who together with Boateri frequented their father’s workshop. Here they absorbed the master’s style, which in turn betrays the influence of Perugino and Raphael, among others.

Antonio Iommelli

  • J. A. Crowe, G. B. Cavalcaselle, A. History of Painting in North Italy, London 1871, ed. 1912, II, p. 271;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891., p. 166;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 50;
  • G. Morelli, Della Pittura Italiana. Studi Storici Critici: Le Gallerie Borghese e Doria Pamphili in Roma, Milano 1897, p. 196;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 179;
  • A. De Rinaldis, Documenti inediti per la Storia della R. Galleria Borghese in Roma. II. Una inedita nota settecentesca delle opere pittoriche nel Palazzo Borghese in Campo Marzio, in “Archivi”, III, 1936, p. 7;
  • W. Suida, Art of the Renaissance from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. The Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia 1954, p. 33;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, p. 38, n. 50;
  • P. della Pergola, L’Inventario Borghese del 1693 (II), in “Arte Antica e Moderna”, XXVIII, 1964, p. 452;
  • R. Longhi, Saggi e ricerche 1925-28. Precisioni nelle gallerie italiane. La Galleria Borghese, Firenze 1967, p. 334;
  • N. Roio, Giacomo e Giulio Raibolini detti i Francia, in Pittura bolognese del '500, a cura di V. Fortunati Pietrantonio, Bologna 1986, p. 36;
  • A. Ugolini, La dinastia di Francesco Francia, in "Arte Cristiana", DCCLXXIX, 1997, p. 116, n. 1;
  • E. Negro, N. Roio, Francesco Francia e la sua scuola, Modena 1998, pp. 239-240, n. 152;
  • 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. 17.