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Portrait of a man

Veneto school

First mentioned in connections with the Borghese Collection in 1833, this portrait has been variously attributed to Bernardino Licinio, to the Bellini school and to Pordenone. In addition, some critics have put forth the name of Bartolomeo Veneto, who painted other portraits with the same Bellini-inspired compositional arrangement and the same attentiveness to the details of the dress. However, the rendering of the man’s physiognomy raises doubts about this attribution and has led critics to rather ascribe this panel to Francesco Zaganelli, an artist from Romagna.

Object details

oil on panel
cm 28 x 27

19th-century gilded polyptych, 37 x 99 x 5.4 cm


(?) Rome, Aldobrandini collection, 1603 (Inv. Aldobrandini 1603, no. 208, p. 205; K. Herrmann Fiore, in Il Museo 2002); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 20. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.


Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1903 Luigi Bartolucci (pest control).


According to a thesis put forth by Kristina Herrmann Fiore (2002, in Il Museo), the work came into the Borghese Collection via the Aldobrandini family. This scholar indeed identified it with an entry in a 1603 inventory that reads, ‘Another portrait of a duke of Ferrara by a skilled artist’ (Inv. Aldobrandini 1603). At the same time, the generic nature of this description, together with the absence of other information, compels us to treat this proposal with great caution. The same must be said of the hypothesis of Paola della Pergola (1955), who similarly associated the small panel with a vaguely described ‘portrait by Pordenone’ listed in the Inventario Fidecommissario.

The identity of the artist is likewise problematic. It has been variously ascribed to Bernardino Licinio (Piancastelli 1891), to the Bellini school (Venturi 1893), to Bartolomeo Veneto (Longhi 1928), and to the unknown painter of the Portrait of a Man in the Johnson Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and of the Head of a Woman in the Accademia di San Luca in Rome (F. Zeri in Della Pergola 1955). Only recently was the attribution made to Francesco Zaganelli (K. Herrmann Fiore, in Il Museo 2002), an artist originally from Cotignola who was highly regarded in Romagna in the 15th and 16th centuries (Zama 1994; G. Daniele in the relative entry of the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani). This thesis is supported by a comparison of the panel in question with the Portrait of a Man from a private collection (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh), which some scholars have judged to be a collaborative effort by Bernardino and Francesco Zaganelli (Benati 1985) and others as a work by Francesco only (Zama 1994). Yet as early as 1983 Shearman had put an end to the debate, arguing that the Borghese panel was a copy of the work preserved in Edinburgh. His thesis was examined by Kristina Herrmann Fiore in 2002, who contrary to Shearman claimed that the painting was by Francesco alone. In addition, she wrote, several details, such as the precise rendering of the brocade and the folds of the mantle, support the idea that the work is an original and not a copy.

The present writer deems it appropriate to maintain this attribution, pending further research.

Antonio Iommelli

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 50;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 85;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 187;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, p. 119, n. 213;
  • J. Shearman, The early Italian pictures in the collection of her Majesty the Queen, Cambridge 1983, pp. 297-298;
  • D. Benati, in Da Borso a Cesare d'Este. La scuola di Ferrara 1540-1628, ed. italiana a cura di E. Mattaliano, Ferrara 1985, p. 89, tav. XVI,
  • R. Zama, Gli Zaganelli. Catalogo generale, Rimini 1994, pp. 183-184, n. 68;
  • 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, p. 220, n. 50;
  • 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. 38.