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Portrait of an old lady (Vincenza Danesi?)

Attributed to Ottoni Lorenzo

(Rome 1648 - Rome 1736)

The portrait, which is characterised by the highly naturalistic rendering of facial features and signs of ageing, provides the powerful image of a stern, strong-willed elderly woman with a lively, attentive gaze, emphasised by the deeply incised irises.

Purchased in 1907 by Corrado Ricci from a Roman antiques dealer, the bust was placed in the Sala della Paolina of the Villa Pinciana on a base in breccia di Seravezza made by Gaetano Andreoli.

A long and complex attribution story to determine the subject of the work, which has been variously attributed (Domenico Guidi, Cosimo Fancelli, Giuliano Finelli and Lorenzo Ottoni) identifies her as either Vincenza Danesi or Felice Zacchia.

Object details

Before 1683
height 60 cm

Purchased by the State, 1907.

  • 2003   Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1997 M.G. Patrizi


The bust portrays an elderly woman with wavy hair, divided into clearly defined locks and gathered softly behind the head, under the veil covering the forehead and inflated by the breeze; the face, with its hollowed cheeks and a conspicuous mole on the right, is marked by creases caused by the tightness of the mouth, with the lower lip protruding in relation to the upper one, which seems to have lost the support of teeth. Beneath the bodice with its half sleeves trimmed with small overlapping folds, she wears a soft blouse, which protrudes tightly over the bust and ends with wide sleeves. The face is extraordinary in its rendering of the austere gaze, accentuated by the deeply incised irises, and the strong-willed expression, which mercilessly registers the signs of age.

It was purchased for 6,000 lire in 1907 from the Roman antiquarian Attilio Simonetti by Corrado Ricci, then Director General of Antiquities and Fine Arts of the Ministry of Public Education. The bust was placed in the Sala della Paolina of the Villa Pinciana on a breccia di Seravezza base made by Gaetano Andreoli (Giometti 2019 pp. 66-67). The story of the attribution of the work and the identification of the woman is long and complex. In 1908, Modigliani had identified the elderly noblewoman as Vincenza Danesi, who died in 1682. The work would have been made for her funeral monument, erected by her son Bernardino Petrillocchi in 1683 on the interior façade of the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. Supporting his supposition was the fact that the bust is not finished at the back. There is a metal ring attached there, and its dimensions correspond perfectly to those of the monument’s niche, inside of which is a supporting nail (Modigliani 1908, pp. 70-73).

Mezzana rejected the identification of the woman as Vincenza Danesi and attributed the bust to Cosimo Fancelli on the basis of a comparison with a bas-relief he had made in the church of Santa Maria della Misericordia in Savona (Mezzana, 1942, p. 542). The bust was subsequently dated to the 18th century and attributed to the sculptor Pietro Bracci da Riccoboni, who did not give a name to the woman depicted (Riccoboni, 1942, p. 299). An unknown sculptor from the Algardi sphere was its author according to De Rinaldis (1935, p. 34), while della Pergola named Algardi himself (1951, p. 52). Faldi instead considered it to be the work of Giuliano Finelli (1954, p. 16).

U. Schlegel in 1977, comparing the bust with a portrait painted in a private collection, identified the woman as Felice Zacchia, Alessandro Rondanini’s wife, and attributed the execution of the portrait to Domenico Guidi. Widely accepted by later critics (Di Gioia 2003, pp. 143-145, cat. 62), this stance was questioned by Dombroski (1997, p. 336) who instead attributed the work to the circle of Giuliano Finelli, dating it to 1635. Recently, Giometti proposed that the artist might be Lorenzo Ottoni, who would have sculpted the bust in the 1680s. The scholar identifies the woman as Vincenza Danesi, and the work’s destination as the funerary monument in Santa Maria del Popolo (Giometti 2019, pp. 69-70).

Sonja Felici

  • E. Modigliani, I busti del cardinale Scipione e una scultura berninesca alla galleria Borghese, in “Bollettino d’Arte”, 2, 1908, pp. 66-73.
  • A. De Rinaldis, La R. Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1935, p. 34.
  • C. Mezzana, L’altare berniniano della Visitazione nel santuario di Savona, in Atti del V congresso studi romani, Roma 1942, III, pp. 541-543.
  • A. Riccoboni, Roma nell’arte: la scultura nell’evo moderno dal Quattrocento ad oggi, Roma 1942, p.299.
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1948, p. 86.
  • P. Della Pergola, La galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1951, p. 52.
  • I. Faldi, Galleria Borghese. Le sculture dal sec. XVI al XIX, Roma 1954, pp. 15-16, cat. 10.
  • U. Schlegel, Il ritratto di Felice Zacchia Rondinini di Domenico Guidi, in “Antologia di belle arti”, 1, 1977, 1, pp. 26-28.
  • D. Dombrowski, Giuliano Finelli: BildhauerzwischenNeapel und Rom, Frankfurt am Main 1997, p. 336, n. F.44.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 378, fig. 3.
  • E.B. Di Gioia, in Donne di Roma dall’Impero Romano al 1860; ritrattistica romana al femminile, catalogo della mostra (Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi, 2003) a cura di M. Natoli, Roma 2003, pp. 143-145, cat. 62.
  • V. Beyer, Un portrait de la donna Felice Zacchia-Rondanini au musée desBeaux-Arts de Strasbourg, in La sculpture en Occident. Etudesoffertes à Jean-René Gaborit, a cura di G. Bresc-Bautier, Dijon2007, pp. 176-181.
  • C. Giometti, Il triplice ritratto dei cardinali Zacchia e Rondinini. Storia di un monumento negato, in Tre cardinali e un monumento. Viaggio nella Roma del Seicento tra devozione e arte, a cura di M.G. Barberini, C. Giometti, Roma 2013, pp. 15-28, in part. p. 26, 52 n, fig. 10.
  • C. Giometti, l. Lorizzo, Per diletto e per profitto: i Rondinini le arti e l’Europa, Milano 2019, pp. 66-70, fig. 24.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/01008686; Pellizzari S., 1983; Felici S., 2020.