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Portrait of Marcello Sacchetti

Berrettini Pietro called Pietro da Cortona

(Cortona 1596 - Rome 1669)

This painting is a splendid example of the portraiture of Pietro da Cortona. It depicts Marquis Marcello Sacchetti, the artist’s first protector in Rome. It came into the Borghese Collection in the early 19th century through a purchase made by Prince Camillo from the art dealer Pietro Camuccini. The work was conceived as the pendant of the Portrait of Giulio Sacchetti, with which it shares both the physical dimensions and the compositional approach. Nonetheless, the two portraits experienced different destinies as collector’s pieces, only being reunited in the Galleria Borghese in 2016.

Object details

1626 circa
oil on canvas
cm 133 x 98

17th-century frame with buccellato motifs, 157.5 x 125 x 11 cm


Rome, Sacchetti collection, c.1626; Rome, Barberini collection, 1644; Rome, collection of Pietro Camuccini, 1813-1814; purchased by Prince Camillo Borghese from Pietro Camuccini, ante 1832; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 9, no. 25; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 1911 Firenze, Palazzo Vecchio
  • 1930 Roma, Istituto di Studi Romani
  • 1956 Cortona, Chiesa di Sant’Agostino
  • 1971 Tokyo, National Museum of Western Art
  • 1989 San Pietroburgo, Hermitage Museum
  • 1991 Roma, Palazzo Sacchetti
  • 1992 Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni
  • 1997-1998 Roma, Palazzo Venezia
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1931 Tito Venturini Papari
  • 1937 Carlo Matteucci
  • 1972 Oddo Verdinelli
  • 1996 Elena Zivieri e Guido Piervincenzi


A document dated 2 August 1630 attests to a payment made to Pietro da Cortona (Pietro Berrettini) for a series of paintings, including ‘ten portraits of the Sacchetti family’. We can assume that these included the work in question, the Portrait of Marcello Sacchetti, as well as its pendant, that of his brother Giulio (Guarino 1997a, p. 320, n. 25, and 1997b, p. 31). The latter canvas recently returned to Galleria Borghese, thanks to a donation by the Giulio and Giovanna Sacchetti Foundation. The two brothers were Roman descendants of a wealthy Florentine family and played an important role in the political and artistic life of Rome during the pontificate of Urban VIII (Maffeo Vincenzo Barberini); they further promoted the career of the young Cortona, who had moved from Florence in roughly 1612.

As collector’s pieces, the two portraits took very different paths, losing their original connection until the 20h century. Giulio’s portrait (inv. no. 608) remained in possession of the Sacchetti family until 2016, the year of the above-mentioned donation; Marcello’s, meanwhile, formed part of the Barberini collection from at least 1644 (Aronberg Lavin 1975, pp. 178, 304, 433; Herrmann Fiore 1992, p. 41); from there it entered the Borghese Collection, where it was documented beginning with the Inventario Fidecommissario of 1833. Recent discoveries inform us that its transfer to the Borghese family occurred through Camillo Borghese’s purchase of the canvas from the art dealer Pietro Camuccini, who had bought it from the Barberini in 1813-14. The painting in fact appeared in Camuccini’s business record, at entry no. 225: ‘Portrait of a man, an original by Pietro da Cortona […] on canvas, 6 spans high by P. 4 ½ […], sold to Prince Borghese for 220 scudi’ (Puddu 2018, pp. 838-839).

Following its transfer into the Borghese Collection, the Portrait of Marcello Sacchetti was enlarged to make it correspond to Andrea Sacchi’s Portrait of Monsignor Clemente Merlini (inv. no. 376), which was also purchased from Camuccini. This work was 35 cm wider and 5 cm higher than Cortona’s canvas. The 1833 inventory in fact cited the latter with its new measurements: ‘Portrait by Pietro da Cortona, 6 spans 1 inch wide, 6 spans 9 inches high’.

This extension of the dimensions of the canvas caused it to lose its vertical format in favour of one that was more or less square. A restoration operation in 1931 returned it to its original dimensions, identical to those of the Portrait of Giulio Sacchetti.

The connection between the two Sacchetti portraits is evident in their compositional similarities as well: one of the brothers is dressed in black with the neckline and wrists adorned with white lace, while the other wears the cardinal’s cape and mantle; both are depicted standing, their positions mirroring one another; they both gaze at the viewer; Marcello holds a handkerchief in his left hand as he leans his right hand on a marble table with a richly decorated, gilded wooden base displaying the Sacchetti coat of arms; Giulio’s right hand is also touching a table – or more precisely an open book next to an inkwell – while he holds a similar handkerchief in his left.

The hypothesis put forth in recent years by Tomaso Montanari (2019, pp. 17-18) is quite suggestive: he proposed that the two paintings could have formed part of a triptych completed by the Portrait of Urban VIII (Rome, Pinacoteca Capitolina), which was also commissioned to Berrettini by the Sacchetti family. If true, the three paintings would echo Raphael’s Portrait of Pope Leo X with Two Cardinals (Uffizi Gallery, Florence); later, Titian also experimented with the triple portrait in Pope Paul III and His Grandsons (Museo di Capodimonte, Naples). Cortona may then have created a variation on the theme in the form of three distinct paintings, with Marcello and Giulio appropriately portrayed standing next to the seated pope. Along these lines, other specific motifs of the two Sacchetti portraits allude to Raphael, namely the handkerchief, which also found in Julius II (National Gallery, London), and the book and inkwell, devices appearing in the already cited Leo X.

In 1859, the Portrait of Marcello Sacchetti was catalogued as a depiction of Giuseppe Ghislieri, a relative of Pope Pius V: the error was probably due to the similarities between the respective coats of arms of the two families. The misunderstanding persisted until 1937, when Ellis K. Waterhouse (p. 57) correctly identified the subject of the portrait, such that the connection with the canvas representing Marcello’s brother the cardinal was reestablished. This scholar further pointed to a study of the head only for this portrait, held by the Sacchetti family; in the view of Giuliano Briganti (1982, p. 174, n. 19), however, the drawing is not an autograph work.

Critics have dated the two portraits to roughly 1626, based on the chronology of the important nominations obtained by the two brothers: Marcello became depositario and treasurer of the Apostolic Camera in 1623, while Giulio was made cardinal three years later. The year 1626 thus represents the terminus post quem for at least the execution of the portrait of Giulio, who is depicted in cardinal’s dress; it is therefore also likely that that of Marcello can be dated to the same period, given that it was undoubtedly conceived together with the former. This chronology corresponds to the ages shown by the two brothers in the portraits, who at the time were about 40 years old (Briganti 1982, pp. 173-175, notes 18-19; Testa 1991, pp. 118-119, notes 19-20; Montanari 2019).

Pier Ludovico Puddu

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