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Portrait of Francesca Sforza di Santafiora

Del Conte Jacopino

(Florence 1510 - Rome 1598)

The work is an eloquent example of the portrait production of Jacopino Del Conte, the Florentine artist active in Rome in the service of the city’s most prominent families. Appreciated by Pope Paul III, he worked above all for the Colonna and the Orsini. The present painting is in fact connected with the latter, as the subject of the portrait was recently identified as Francesca di Bosio Sforza di Santa Fiora, widow of Girolamo Orsini and mother of Paolo Giordano. The identification was made possible thanks to comparison with a replica housed in the Palazzo Sforza Cesarini in Rome, which bears an inscription with her name.


Object details

seconda metà del XVI secolo
oil on slate
cm 106 x 78

Salvator Rosa (126 x 99 x 8,5 cm)


Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room VIII, no. 45: Della Pergola 1959); Inv. 1790, room IX, nos 7-8; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 36; purchased by Italian state, 1902.


  • 1938 - Torino, Palazzo Carignano;
  • 2003 - Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1979/80 - Carlo Matteucci, rimozione vernici ossidate e vecchi ritocchi, consolidamento del colore, stuccatura lacune, reintegrazione pittorica, velature con colori a vernice, verniciatura finale;
  • 2002/03 - Andrea Parri, restauro della cornice.


The provenance of this painting is still unknown. The first mention of its connection to the Borghese Collection dates to 1693, when it was listed in the inventory of that year as ‘a painting of 5 spans on slate stone with the portrait of a woman, at no. 704, with a gilded frame, by fra’ Bastiano del Piombo’. The attribution to Sebastiano del Piombo was repeated in the Inventario Fidecommissario of 1833 and upheld by Bernard Berenson (1904); the 1790 inventory, meanwhile, had rather ascribed it to Bronzino, a name accepted by Adolfo Venturi (1893) but rejected by Federico Zeri, who proposed that of Jacopino del Conte (Zeri 1948).

The attribution of the work in question to the Tuscan painter was embraced by both Hofmeister (1954) and Paola della Pergola, who in 1959 published it under the name of Jacopino. This view was accepted by all subsequent critics (see Longhi 1967; Vannugli 1992 and 1998; Stefani 2000; Hermann Fiore 2003 and 2006) and was not called into question for decades. Recently, however, in an essay on Leonardo Grazia, who worked in Lucca, Rome and Naples, Michela Corso (2018) proposed that the painting may actually have been by the painter from Pistoia, a view shared by the present writer (Iommelli 2022).

Once again, Paola della Pergola (1959) made the first attempts to identify the subject of this portrait. Basing her suggestion on a comparison with a work by Titian held at the National Museum of Budapest (Wethey 1971; Hochmann 1995), this scholar recognised the woman as Vittoria Farnese, wife of Guidobaldo II della Rovere, Duke of Urbino. Her theory was accepted by Kristina Hermann Fiore in 2003 and reconfirmed in 2006. By contrast, Antonio Vannugli (1992) proposed that the portrait depicts Livia Colonna, an idea which is corroborated by the similarity between this painting and a print that accompanied the work Rime di diversi ecc. autori in vita e in morte dell’ S.a Livia Colonna, an anthology of poetry published in Rome in 1555. A recent discovery, however, disproves both of these hypotheses: a replica of the portrait in question, now preserved in Palazzo Sforza Cesarini in Rome, contains a scroll with the name of the subject, namely Francesca di Bosio Sforza di Santa Fiora, mother of Paolo Giordano I, future husband of Isabella de’ Medici. As the veil that she wears shows, at the time of the portrait Francesca was a widow, her husband Girolamo Orsini having died in 1540.

Both the support material and dimensions of this work are the same as those of the lost Portrait of Giulia Gonzaga, which once belonged to the Borghese Collection (inv. no. 79). These particulars, together with the fact that the two paintings have also been associated with one another, suggest that they may have come from the same collection, perhaps forming part of a wider series of portraits of beautiful, famous women, which, as is well known, were painted by established artists and reproduced in series for the most important collections of the era. According to the present writer (Iommelli 2022), the two works may have come from the collection of Camilla Orsini, widow of Marcantonio Borghese, who retired to a Roman convent following her husband’s death. Camilla was in fact the niece of Paolo Giordano I Orsini, who in turn was the son of Francesca Sforza di Santa Fiora; she may have received the portrait of her distant relative as an inheritance, which for its genre, dimensions and support material is the pendant of the portrait of the beautiful Gonzaga: as the two women were considered models of virtue for unfortunate widows of the time, they were dear to Princess Orsini.

Regarding the period of its execution, in 1970 Cheney proposed the approximate date of 1546, while Kristina Hermann Fiore (2003) extended the timeframe to 1560, suggesting that the portrait in question was contemporary with Bronzino’s production.

Antonio Iommelli

  • E. e C. Platner, Beschreibung der Stadt Rom, III, Stuttgart-Tübingen, p. 297;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 257;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 82;
  • B. Berenson, The Florentine painters of the Renaissance with an index of their works, New York 1904;
  • G. Lafenestre, E. Richtenberger, La peinture en Europe. Rome. Les Musées, les Collections particulières, les Palais, Paris 1905, p. 14;
  • L. Venturi, Note sulla Galleria Borghese, in “L’Arte”, XII, 1909, p. 35;
  • H. Schulze, Die Werke Angelo Bronzino, Strassburg 1911, pp. XXVIII, XXXVII;
  • J. M. Clapp, Jacopo Carucci da Pontormo, His Life and Work, with a Foreword by Frank Jewett Mather Jr., New Haven 1916, pp. 85, 179;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 186;
  • A. Mc Comb, Angelo Bronzino, his Life and Works, Cambridge 1928, p. 119; Catalogo della Mostra di Tiziano a Venezia, Venezia 1935, p. 66;
  • F. Zeri, “Me Pinxit”, in “Proporzioni”, II, 1948, p. 23 nota 2;
  • I. Hofmeister, A Portrait by Jacopino del Conte in the Borghese Gallery, in “Marsyas”, VI, 1952, p. 36 nota 2;
  • F. Zeri, La Galleria Spada in Roma: catalogo dei dipinti, Firenze 1954, p. 65;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 29, n. 33;
  • I. H. Cheney, Notes on Jacopino del Conte, in “Art Bulletin”, LII, 1970, pp. 32-40;
  • H. E. Wethey, The Painting of Titian, II, The portraits, London 1971, n. X. 35;
  • A. Vannugli, Jacopino del Conte (1513-1598), tesi di dottorato (Roma, Università degli studi La Sapienza), 1992, p. 111, n. 29;
  • A. Vannugli, Del Conte, Iacopo, in Saur Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon, XX, 1998, pp. 600-602;
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 346;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, 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, F. Petrucci, Roma 2003, pp. 97-98, n. 22;
  • 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. 37;
  • M. Corso, Le opere e i giorni di Leonardo Grazia da Pistoia tra Lucca, Roma e Napoli, in "Proporzioni", I, 2018, pp. 55, 65-66 nota 88.