Galleria Borghese logo
Search results for
No results :(

Hints for your search:

  • Search engine results update instantly as soon as you change your search key.
  • If you have entered more than one word, try to simplify the search by writing only one, later you can add other words to filter the results.
  • Omit words with less than 3 characters, as well as common words like "the", "of", "from", as they will not be included in the search.
  • You don't need to enter accents or capitalization.
  • The search for words, even if partially written, will also include the different variants existing in the database.
  • If your search yields no results, try typing just the first few characters of a word to see if it exists in the database.

Mythological Allegory

Luteri Giovanni called Dosso Dossi

(Tramuschio? 1487 ca - Ferrara 1542)

This painting was probably part of the group of works sent by Enzo Bentivoglio to Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1608. The subject, at one time thought to be Diana and Callixtus, was later identified as Venus discovering the beauty of Psyche. Often considered a collaboration between Dosso and Battista Dossi, the work is now believed to have been for the most part painted by Dosso, due to the high quality of the landscape and splendid nude in the foreground, the latter clearly influenced by classical currents in Rome, traceable in Giulio Romano’s reformulation in Palazzo Te, Mantua.

Object details

1529 circa
oil on canvas
cm 112 x 141,5

Collection of Scipione Borghese, documented in Inv. 1620-1630, no. 203; Manilli 1650, p. 104; Inv. 1693, room VI, no. 339; Inv. 1790, room VI, no. 26; Inventario fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 21. Purchased by the Italian state, 1902.

  • 1980, Tokyo
  • 1985, Roma, Palazzo Venezia
  • 1992, Canberra, National Gallery of Australia - Melburne, National Gallery of Victoria
  • 1998-1999, Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti – New York, Metropolitan - Los Angeles, P. Getty Museum
  • 2004, Pesaro, Palazzo Ducale
  • 2012, Roma, Castel Sant'Angelo
  • 2014, Trento, Castello del Buon Consiglio
  • 2017, La Spezia, Museo Amedeo Lia
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1936 Augusto Cecconi Principe
  • 1972 Oddo Verdinelli
  • 1995 Emmebici (diagnostics)
  • 1998 Donatella Zari e Carlo Giantomassi
  • 2021 ArsMensurae di Stefano Ridolfi (diagnostics)
  • 2021 IFAC-CNR (diagnostics)
  • 2022 Measure3D di Danilo Salzano (laser scan 3D)


This work was almost certainly part of the first group of paintings that entered the collection of Cardinal Scipione through the mediation of Enzo Bentivoglio. It appears in the Borghese inventory from the 1630s, where it is described as ‘a painting of a Venus with two women black and gold frame, 4 high 5 1/3 wide Dossi’. This was followed by Manilli, who reports, in the Stanza del Centauro in the Casino di Porta Pinciana ‘above the door of the open loggia, a sleeping Venus with two standing nymphs, by the Dossi [brothers]’ (Manilli 1650).

Right from these early descriptions, it is clear that the subject of the painting is not easy to work out. The scene is dominated by a woman stretched out on a yellow cloth, wearing a laurel crown – two more of which are lying on the ground in front of her – and protected by an old women wearing simple, torn clothing, next to whom stands a young woman dressed in green, white and red (the colours of the Este family’s livery), who points to the sky with her right hand and holds a shiny bronze amphora in her left. This painting was a remarkable success, judging by the mirror-image copy of the work made by Garofalo, now lost (Ciammitti 1998).

Numerous scholars have tried to decipher the true subject of the painting, tracing it to Ariosto (Zwanziger 1911), the myth of Pandora (Mendelsohn 1914), the transformation of Syrinx in Ovid (Gibbons 1968), the widowhood of Canete (Calvesi 1968; Coliva 1998), the story of Semele (Kilpatrick 2004) and a rereading of the myth of Psyche based on Apuleius (Herrmann Fiore 2002) or Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Pastore 2008). It is very surprising that such an enigmatic painting was such a big success, even though all the theories about its subject probably collapse before what must be read as evidence of Dosso’s brilliance in condensing a complex literary narrative into a concise, almost emblematic, image or summarising a complicated story into a single picture (Farinella 2014).

The composition and theme of the Borghese painting liken it to the another mythological allegory by Dosso, in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles (inv. 83.PA.15). As argued by Vincenzo Farinella (2014), the two paintings, probably made for Laura Dianti, depict the emotional journey of Psyche (with whom the companion of Alfonso I would have been expected to identify), in love with a god and whose struggles are vindicated by her union with Cupid after passing a series of extremely difficult trials.

The nocturnal scene, with its ‘extremely artificial handling of light’ (Ballarin 1994-1995), reveals the mingling of the assimilation of Giulio Romano’ painting style in the Hall of Psyche in the Ducal Palace of Mantua and the modern Northern style imported by Flemish painters like Patinir and the artists who decorated the Magno Palazzo in Trento (Farinella 2014).

Lara Scanu

  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 104
  • G. Morelli, Kunstkritische Studien über italienische Malerei. Die Galerien zu München und Dresden, Leipzig 1890 (ed. 1892), p. 215
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 154
  • R. H. Benson, Introduction, in Exhibition of Pictures, Drawings and Photographs of Works of the School of Ferrara-Bologna, 1440-1550, also of Members of the Houses of Este and Bentivoglio, catalogo della mostra a cura di R. H. Benson, London 1894, p. 51
  • 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, p. 210
  • L. Venturi, Note sulla Galleria Borghese, «L’Arte», XII, 1909, pp. 33-34
  • W. C. Zwanzinger, Dosso Dossi mit besonderer berucksichtigung seines Künst lerischen verältnisses zu seinem bruder Battista, Leipzig 1911, pp. 64-65, 117
  • L. Venturi, Giorgione e il giorgionismo, Milano 1913, pp. 195-196
  • H. Mendelsohn, Das Werk der Dossi, München 1914, pp. 37, 137-140
  • G. Cantalamessa, Davide, Saul o Astolfo, «Bollettino d’Arte», II, 1922, pp. 42-43
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle gallerie italiane. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 205
  • A. Venturi, Storia dell’Arte Italiana. La pittura del Cinquecento, IX, 3, Milano 1928, p. 958
  • B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of Renaissance. A list of the Principal Artist and their Works with an Index of Places, Oxford 1932, p. 175
  • R. Buscaroli, La pittura di paesaggio in Italia, Bologna 1935, p. 215
  • B. Berenson, Pitture italiane del Rinascimento: catalogo dei principali artisti e delle loro opere con un indice dei luoghi, Milano 1936, p. 151
  • R. Longhi, Ampliamenti nell’Officina Ferrarese, «La Critica d’Arte», V, 1940, p. 31, 33-34 n. 41
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1948, p. 83
  • W. E. Suida, Lucrezia Borgia, «Gazzette des Beaux-Arts», VI, 35, 1949, p. 284
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, n. 37
  • P. Della Pergola, L’inventario Borghese del 1693, «Arte Antica e Moderna», 28, 1964, p. 459 n. 339
  • A. Mezzetti, Il Dosso e Battista ferraresi, Ferrara 1965, pp. 45-47, 113 n. 164
  • L. Puppi, Dosso Dossi, Milano 1965
  • B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Central Italian and North Italian Schools, I, London 1968, pp. 113, 115
  • F. Gibbons, Dosso and Battista Dossi Court Painters at Ferrara, Princeton 1968, pp. 89-92, 97, 113, 132, 247, n. 132
  • M. Calvesi, Recensione a Felton Gibbons, Dosso and Battista Dossi Court Painters at Ferrara, «Storia dell’Arte», 1-2, 1969, pp. 169-175
  • F. Negri Arnoldi, Il Cinquecento, in Storia dell’Arte Italiana, Milano 1969, p. 153
  • Paesaggio con figura. 57 dipinti della Galleria Borghese esposti temporaneamente a Palazzo Venezia, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo Venezia, 30 luglio-30 settembre 1985), Roma 1985, n. 5
  • 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, pp. 472-474
  • A. Coliva, Galleria Borghese, Roma 1994, pp. 112, 118-119
  • C. Del Bravo, L’Equicola e il Dosso, «Artibus et Historiae», 30, 1994, p. 79
  • A. Ballarin, Dosso Dossi. La pittura a Ferrara negli anni del Ducato di Alfonso I, Cittadella (PD) 1994-1995, pp. 101-107
  • V. Romani, in A. Ballarin, Dosso Dossi. La pittura a Ferrara negli anni del Ducato di Alfonso I, Cittadella (PD) 1994-1995, scheda 454, p. 349
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Guida alla Galleria Borghese, Roma 1998, p. 97
  • 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, pp. 209-212, scheda 39
  • C. Stefani, in Galleria Borghese, a cura di P. Moreno e C. Stefani, Milano 2000, p. 324
  • 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. 150-153, scheda 14
  • R. Kilpatrick, Death by Fire. Ovidian and Other inventions in Two Mythological Paintings of Dosso Dossi (1486-1534), «Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome», 49, 2004 (2005), pp. 131-135
  • E. Fumagalli, Sul collezionismo di dipinti ferraresi a Roma nel Seicento: riflessioni e aggiunte, in Dosso Dossi. La pittura a Ferrara negli anni del ducato di Alfonso I, a cura di A. Ballarin, A. Pattanaro, Cittadella (PD) 2007, p. 174
  • V. Romani, Sui disegni dei due Dossi, in Dosso Dossi. La pittura a Ferrara negli anni del ducato di Alfonso I, a cura di A. Ballarin, A. Pattanaro, Cittadella (PD) 2007, pp. 23-24
  • G. Fiorenza, Dosso Dossi. Paintings of Myth, Magic and the Antique, University Park 2008, pp. 88, 96-98
  • R. Pastore, L’ "Allegoria con Pan" di Dosso Dossi al Getty Museum: dal "furor erotico" al "purus amor" nel segno di Polifilo, «Polittico», 5, 2008, pp. 48-49
  • E. Capretti, in Il sogno nel Rinascimento, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Galleria Palatina, 2013) a cura di C. Rabbi Bernard, A. Cecchi, Y. Hersant, Livorno 2013, p. 78
  • V. Farinella, scheda 43, in Dosso Dossi: Rinascimenti eccentrici al Castello del Buonconsiglio, catalogo della mostra (Trento, Castello del Buonconsiglio, 12 luglio - 2 novembre 2014), a cura di V. Farinella, Cinisello Balsamo 2014, pp. 190-193