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Portrait of Marcello Provenzale

roman school

The portrait, perhaps commissioned directly by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, is mentioned in the 1833 Fidei-commissum inventory with the erroneous attribution to Caravaggio, later attributed by critics to Ottavio Leoni and Marcello Provenzale.

The work depicts a man in a three quarter pose, half-bust, whose face emerges from the dark background enhanced by a white ruff and illuminated by a pale light. The man’s identity, in the past thought to be the mosaicist from Cento, Marcello Provenzale, still remains in the shadows.

Object details

1620 circa
oil on canvas
cm 66 x 50

18th century frame decorated with lotus and acanthus leaves, 88.5 x 72 x 6.5 cm


Rome, Borghese Collection, 1833 (Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 13); purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1952 Augusto Cecconi Principi (pulitura, ritocchi);
  • 2008 Laura Cibrario, Fabiola Jatta (pulitura, rimozione stuccature, reintegrazione pittorica, verniciatura, restauro della cornice).


This painting is first mentioned as part of the Borghese Collection in the fideicommissum listing of 1833, described in the Hall of Sacred and Profane Love as “Portrait by Michel’Angelo da Caravaggio,” an attribution that was embraced by Giovanni Piancastelli (1891) in his manuscript catalogue of the Museo Borghese. In 1893 Adolfo Venturi rejected this attribution to Caravaggio and ascribed the canvas to Antonio Balestra, a name later discarded by Roberto Longhi (1928), who once again placed the painting in the Roman sphere and dated it around 1620 circa.

In 1955, after having identified the subject thanks to two works by Ottavio Leoni, Paola della Pergola published the work as Self Portrait by Marcello Provenzale da Cento (1955, p. 63, no. 108) seeing in it the same “contained, smooth” hand as the Portrait of Pope Paul V (inv. 495) produced by the mosaicist from Cento in 1621. This assessment, embraced by Bernardina Sani in 2005, was questioned by Camilla Fiore (2010) and recently rejected by Yuri Primarosa (2017), who in his monograph on Ottavio Leoni ruled out an association with the Roman portrait artist.

This is a half-length portrait of a man in three-quarter view whose face, set off by a white ruff and lit by a pale light, stands out against the dark background. As mentioned before, the man portrayed was identified by Paola della Pergola as the well-known mosaicist of the Borghese family, whose features were recognised thanks to a drawing (Florence, Biblioteca Marucelliana, vol. H.017) and an engraving (Rome, Gabinetto Nazionale della Grafica, inv. F.C. 53031) by Ottavio Leoni, to whom the scholar had at first tentatively ascribed the painting, later discarding his name in favour of the artist from Cento.   

Antonio Iommelli

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 104; 
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 81; 
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 186; 
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, p. 63, n. 108; 
  • H.W. Kruft, Ein Album mit Porträtzeichnungen Ottavio Leoni, in "Storia dell’Arte", IV, 1969, p. 451;
  • A. González-Palacios, Provenzale e Moretti: indagini su due mosaici, in “Antichità Viva”, XV, 1976, pp. 26-37;
  • A. Mezzetti, Girolamo da Ferrara detto da Carpi, Milano 1977, p. 99; 
  • P. Bagni, Artisti centesi del Cinquecento, Cittadella (Padova) 1986, p. 340, n. 186;
  • P. Bagni, Il Guercino e i suoi incisori, Roma 1988, p. 159; 
  • T. Contri, Provenzali e Rossetti, mosaicisti centesi a Roma, in Le famiglie centesi, atti del convegno di studi (cento, 2000), a cura di AA.VV., Cento 2002, p. 411;
  • B. Sani, La fatica virtuosa di Ottavio Leoni, Torino 2005, p. 188, nota 54; 
  • 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. 36; 
  • C. Fiore, Marcello Provenzale e l’arte del mosaico, Cento 2010, pp. 88-92.
  • Y. Primarosa, Ottavio Leoni (1578-1630). eccellente miniator di ritratti. Catalogo ragionato dei disegni e dei dipinti, Roma 2017, pp. 436-437, n. 307.