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Portrait of Pope Paul V

Provenzale Marcello

(Cento 1575 - Rome 1639)

This mosaic, dated and signed on the right shoulder, was made by Marcello Provenzale in 1621. It portrays Pope Paul V in a three-quarter view against a lapis lazuli blue background, with his coat-of-arms in the upper right corner. Mentioned in all the 17th and 18th-century guides on Rome for its minute details and the countless tiles used, this portrait garnered great fame for its artist.

Object details

cm 67 x 54

Seventeenth-century frame in gilt bronze with metal edge, 87 x 75 x 10 cm


Rome, collection of Scipione Borghese, 1621 (Della Pergola 1955); Inv. 1693, room XI, no. 70; Inv. 1700, room VIII, no. 3; Inv. 1790, room VII, no. 1; Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 12; purchased by the Italian State, 1902


  • 1930 Roma, Museo di Roma;
  • 1972 Roma, Galleria Borghese;
  • 2005-2006 Bonn, Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland;
  • 2009 Kyoto, The National Museum of Modern Art;
  • 2010 Tokyo, Metropolitan Art Museum.
  • 2012 Roma, Castel Sant'Angelo.


This work was made by the mosaicist in 1621, as indicated by the inscription along the lower edge, which clearly identifies the sitter, the coat of arms of whom is shown at upper right. The mosaic depicts Paul V, portrayed in a three-quarter pose against a lapis lazuli ground that brings out the pope’s colouring. He is dressed in the traditional mozzetta, which is closed with buttons and, like the cap, trimmed with ermine fur.

This work, praised at the time for its lifelike quality and quantity of tesserae, was reported by Giovanni Giustino Ciampini (1690) to be at Palazzo Borghese di Campo Marzio, where it was seen in 1642 by Giovanni Baglione, who considered it to be so exceptional as to ensure the artist’s eternal glory, and in 1725 by Pietro Rossini, who described it as ‘the rarest thing in existence’, pointing out that there are ‘1,700,000 stones’ in the face alone.

According to Girolamo Baruffaldi (1844-1846), Provenzale employed new methods for this work, using special glazes for rendering the complexion, including ‘the beautiful red in the body […] and every kind of beautiful flesh colour’. Whatever these methods may have been, it is clear that Provenzale was highly esteemed by the pope and the Borghese family for his exquisite works, made for the most part based on cartoons provided by important painters. He produced many works during Paul’s papacy, such as the mosaics for the Clementine Chapel at the Vatican, following a design by Cristoforo Roncalli il Pomarancio, and he restored the famous mosaic of the Navicella (Vatican City, atrium of St Peter’s Basilica), made by Giotto in 1310 for the facade facing the portico of the old Constantinian temple.

Provenzale made many other works for the Borghese cardinal, some of which are still preserved at the Galleria Borghese, including the Orpheus (inv. 492) and the Madonna and Child (inv. 498).

Antonio Iommelli