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Portrait of Marcello Malpighi

Attributed to Carbone Giovanni Bernardo

(Genoa 1614 - 1683)

The painting, documented in the Borghese collection from 1833, depicts Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694), a Bolognese physician and biologist, known at the time for his discoveries in the field of pulmonary compliance. The scientist is portrayed with a drawing in his hand, recognised by critics as the one published in Dissertatio epistolica de bombyce, a very important scientific text printed in London in 1669, probably the year this portrait was made.

Object details

oil on canvas
cm 85 x 72

Rome, Borghese Collection, 1833 (Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 34; Della Pergola, 1955); purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

  • 1929 Firenze, Palazzo delle Esposizioni;
  • 1930 Roma, Biblioteca Casanatense;
  • 2000-2001 Bologna, Museo di Palazzo Poggi;
  • 2001 Tokio, Museo Nazionale della Scienza;
  • 2004 Helsinki, Museo di Sinebrychoff;
  • 2004 Bologna, Museo di Palazzo Poggi.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1976-1977 Gianluigi Colalucci (foderatura, fissaggio del colore, pulitura e verniciatura finale);
  • 2000 Laura Ferretti (saldatura sollevamenti pellicola pittorica, pulitura, eliminazione vernice alterata, eliminazione vecchie stuccature, verniciatura, nuove stuccature, reintegrazione pittorica).


Paola della Pergola (1955) identified this work as a portrait listed in the fideicommissum inventory of 1833 and in reports by Giovanni Piancastelli (1891) as “unknown, by unknown.” Attributed by Adolfo Venturi to Fra Cosimo da Castelfranco (1893), in 1928 the painting was returned to its anonymity when Roberto Longhi described it as a work by an unknown artist very close to the manner of Tintoretto, an opinion partially embraced by Paola della Pergola. In fact, in 1955 she attributed the canvas to a “Venetian master,” dating it in 1690 circa because of the apparent age of the subject, who had been identified by Pietro Capparoni (1928) as the Bolognese scientist Marcello Malpighi. The latter was well known at the time for his medical and scientific accomplishments, as he had carried out important studies on the conformation of the lungs and published several treatises, among which the Dissertatio epistolica de bombyce, a text quoted implicitly in this canvas. In fact, according to Vincenzo Busacchi (1965), the tablet depicting pulmonary alveoli held up by the man in the painting complemented the volume published in London in 1669.

In 2004, Kristina Herrmann Fiore (see Herrmann Fiore, 2006) advocated for the ascription of the canvas to the Genoese painter Giovanni Bernardo Carbone, a suggestion firmly rejected by Daniele Sanguineti (2020).

Antonio Iommelli

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 463; 
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 76; 
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 185; 
  • P. Capparoni, Un ritratto di Marcello Malpighi fino ad ora sconosciuto con aggiunta di una iconografia malpighiana, in “Bollettino dell’Istituto d’Arte sanitaria”, I, 1928, pp. ; 
  • P. Capparoni, Malpighi Marcello, in Enciclopedia Italiana, XXII, 1934, p. 32; 
  • P. Davide da Portogruaro, Paolo Piazza, ossia Padre Cosimo da Castelfranco pittore cappuccino, Venezia 1936; 
  • P. Davide da Portogruaro, A proposito di un ritratto di Marcello Malpighi, in "Atti Memorie dell’Accademia di Storia dell’Arte Sanitaria", III, 1937, pp. 153-156; 
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, pp. 119-120; 
  • V. Busacchi, Iconografia Malpighiana, in “L’Archiginnasio”, LX, 1965, p. 45; 
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, in From magic to medicine. Science and belief in 16th to 18th century art, catalogo della mostra (Helsinki, Museo di Sinebrychoff, 2004), a cura di K. Eskelinen, S. Rossi, Helsinki 2004, pp. 149-151;
  • 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. 33;
  • D. Sanguineti, Giovanni Bernardo Carbone 1616-1683, Genova 2020, p. 296, n. F43.