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Portrait of Giulio Sacchetti

Berrettini Pietro called Pietro da Cortona

(Cortona 1596 - Rome 1669)

This painting depicts Giulio Sacchetti as a cardinal. It was executed by Pietro da Cortona in about 1626, on the occasion of the portrayed subject’s appointment to the College. At about the same time the artist also painted its pendant, the portrait of Marcello Sacchetti, Giulio’s brother and Pietro’s first patron. While that work entered the Borghese Collection at the beginning of the 19th century, the portrait in question long remained in the possession of the Sacchetti family; only in 2016 was it donated to the Galleria by the Giulio and Giovanna Sacchetti Foundation to reunite it with its pendant, in accordance with Cortona’s original intention.

Object details

c. 1626
oil on canvas
133 x 98 cm

Rome, Sacchetti collection, c.1626; donated by Giulio and Giovanna Sacchetti Foundation, 2016.

  • 1956 Cortona, Chiesa di Sant’Agostino
  • 1991 Roma, Palazzo Sacchetti
  • 1997-1998 Roma, Palazzo Venezia


The Portrait of Giulio Sacchetti was painted by Pietro da Cortona (Pietro Berrettini) on the occasion of Giulio’s nomination to the College of Cardinals, which occurred in 1626 during the pontificate of Urban VIII. Not by chance did Pietro choose to make this celebratory portrait, given that the Tuscan artist gravitated in the orbit of the Sacchetti family from the beginning of his stay in Rome in around 1612. In particular he was attached to Giulio’s brother Marcello, who played an important role in promoting the painter’s fortunes in the Eternal City.

Indeed the pendant of the present work, the Portrait of Marcello Sacchetti (inv. no. 364), has its origin in the same context. What is more, according to an interesting hypothesis put forth by Tomaso Montanari (2019, pp. 17-18) a third portrait by Cortona – that of Urban VIII, held today in the Pinacoteca Capitolina  in Rome – should perhaps also be connected to those depicting the two brothers. The last-named work was in fact also commissioned by the Sacchetti family, who enjoyed good relations with the Barberini pope. Montanari proposed that the three works were conceived as a sort of triptych: while the image of the seated pope would occupy the central position, those of the standing brothers, whose profiles mirror each other, would be placed on either side.

If this is indeed the case, then Cortona perhaps conceived the three portraits following a model developed by Raphael for the famous Portrait of Pope Leo X with Two Cardinals (Uffizi, Florence), which also inspired Titian’s Pope Paul III and His Grandsons (Museo di Capodimonte, Naples). In Cortona’s case, the idea of representing a pope surrounded by nephews or favourites took the form of three separate paintings rather than a single work.

While the hypothesis of a triptych is certainly suggestive, we lack concrete evidence to support it. By contrast, the connection between the portraits of the Sacchetti brothers is certain: to begin with, the dimensions of the two works correspond; secondly, both men are depicted in a three-quarter pose, looking at the viewer; finally, each holds a handkerchief in his left hand while resting his right on a table positioned next to him, visible on the edge of the respective canvases. Certain other details allude to the respective positions and personalities of the brothers. Giulio, depicted in cardinal’s dress, places his hand on an open book in front of an inkwell: both of these objects are attributes which recall his ecclesiastical role. Marcello, meanwhile, leans on a richly decorated marble table with wooden inlays, a reference to his activity as a patron of the arts (Herrmann Fiore 1992, p. 41). The motifs of the handkerchief, book and inkwell further allude to two works by Raphael, namely the Portrait of Julius II (National Gallery, London) and the above-mentioned Portrait of Leo X.

The Portrait of Giulio Sacchetti was undoubtedly painted following his appointment as cardinal, which was announced in January 1626. Yet at the time Giulio was in Spain as the nuncio to the court of Philip IV; he did not return to Rome until late October, only to leave again in April of the following year, this time as the legate of Ferrara. The execution of the painting, then, can be dated to that interval, when the neo-cardinal was in Rome between journeys. We should, therefore, also date the pendant depicting his brother to the same period. This chronology is in line with the respective ages shown by the men in the portraits, who at the time were in their forties (Briganti 1982, pp. 173-175, nos 18-19; Testa 1991, pp. 118-119, nos 19-20; Montanari 2019).

The pair of paintings may have been among the ‘ten portraits of the Sacchetti family cited together with four other works in a receipt for a payment made to Berrettini in 1630 (Guarino 1997a, no. 24, and 1997b, p. 31) following Marcello’s death. This document perhaps refers to the compensation for works which Marcello ordered from Cortona. The substantial nature of the commission attests to the esteem shown to the painter on the part of his first patron.

For nearly four centuries the portrait of Giulio in cardinal’s dress remained in possession of the Sacchetti family. In 2016, the Giulio and Giovanna Sacchetti Foundation donated it to the Galleria Borghese so as to reunite it with its pendant. The latter painting entered the Collection at the beginning of the 19th century, when Camillo Borghese purchased it from the art dealer Pietro Camuccini (P. L. Puddu, ‘The Provenance of Raphael’s “Madonna of the Pinks”, II’, in The Burlington Magazine, CLX, MCCCLXXXVII, 2018, pp. 838-39). The two paintings were in fact separated as early as 1644, the year that the Portrait of Marcello Sacchetti was first mentioned in connection with the Barberini collection (M. Aronberg Lavin, Seventeenth-Century Barberini Documents and Inventories of Art, New York 1975, pp. 178, 304, 433; Herrmann Fiore 1992), where it in fact remained until the Borghese acquired it through Camuccini.

Pier Ludovico Puddu

  • S. Von Below, Beiträge zur Kenntnis Pietro da Cartona, Dissertation, München, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Murnau am Staelsee 1932, p. 55.
  • E.K. Waterhouse, Baroque Painting in Rome. The Seventeenth Century, London 1937, p. 59.
  • Mostra di Pietro da Cortona, catalogo della mostra (Cortona, Chiesa di Sant’Agostino, 1956), a cura di A. Marabottini, L. Bianchi, L. Berti, Roma 1956, p. 29, n. 9.
  • G. Briganti, Opere inedite o poco note di Pietro da Cortona nella Pinacoteca Capitolina, in “Bollettino dei Musei Comunali di Roma”, IV, 1957, p. 9.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 110-111, n. 162.
  • G. Briganti, Pietro da Cortona o della pittura barocca, 2a edizione, Roma 1982, pp. 173-174, n. 18.
  • L. Testa, scheda in Fasto romano. Dipinti, sculture, arredi dai palazzi di Roma, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo Sacchetti, 1991), a cura di A. Gonzáles-Palacios, Roma 1991, p. 118, n. 19.
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, scheda in Invisibilia. Rivedere i capolavori. Vedere i progetti, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, 1992), a cura di M. E. Tittoni, S. Guarino, Roma 1992, p. 41.
  • S. Guarino, scheda in Pietro da Cortona (1597-1669), catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo Venezia, 1997-1998), a cura di A. Lo Bianco, Milano 1997, n. 24 [Guarino 1997a].
  • S. Guarino, Pietro da Cortona per i Sacchetti, in Pietro da Cortona, il meccanismo della forma. Ricerche sulla tecnica pittorica, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Pinacoteca Capitolina, 1997), a cura di P. Masini, Milano 1997, p. 31 [Guarino 1997b].
  • M. Fagiolo Dell’Arco, Pietro da Cortona e i “cortoneschi”. Gimignani, Romanelli, Baldi, il Borgognone, Ferri, Milano 2001, pp. 30-31.
  • S. Guarino, scheda in Il principe romano. Ritratti dell’aristocrazia pontificia nell’età barocca, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo, 2007), a cura di F. Petrucci, M.E. Tittoni, Roma 2007, p. 50, n. XI.
  • T. Montanari, in Pietro da Cortona: il ritratto di Mazzarino, a cura di T. Montanari, G. Caioni, Moretti Fine Art Ltd London, Firenze 2019, pp. 17-18.