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Saint Francis of Assisi in prayer

Allori Cristofano

(Florence 1577 - 1621)

The painting depicts Saint Francis of Assisi in prayer, a frequent and quite popular theme in the context of devotional painting during the Counter Reformation. Critics have debated its attribution, with some proposing the name of Ludovico Cardi, called Cigoli, and others the younger Cristofano Allori, son of the painter Alessandro. Both artists returned to the subject on several occasions; Allori in particular looked with interest at the numerous interpretations of the theme painted by the older master, whose influence he absorbed.

Object details

c. 1610
oil on canvas
cm 200 x 145

Salvator Rosa, 210 x 160 x 10 cm


Collection of Scipione Borghese, ante 1621 (Mancini 1617-1621); Inv. 1693, room  II, no. 2; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 7, no. 18; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 1985 Roma, Palazzo Venezia
  • 1986-1987 Firenze, Palazzo Strozzi
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1936 Augusto Cecconi Principi (lining)
  • 1996-1997 Carlo Ceccotti


The painting corresponds to the entry in the Borghese inventory of 1693 which reads, ‘St Francis, eight and five spans, on canvas [...] by Bronzino’. In this case the attribution refers to Cristofano Allori, who sometimes signed his works by adding the name of Bronzino to his own. In this respect Cristofano imitated the practice of his father Alessandro, who had been a student of Agnolo di Cosimo, the famous master known as Bronzino.

Paola Della Pergola (1959, II, pp. 22-23, n. 21) proposed that the canvas had previously been mentioned in the 1612 inventory of Cardinal Antonio Maria Salviati, which was compiled a few years after his death. In particular, this scholar pointed to the entry which describes a ‘St Francis praying in the desert, with a gilded frame made completely of walnut’, although the item lacks an attribution. In her opinion, the painting entered the Borghese Collection sometime between 1673, the year that Silos (p. 125) noted the work when it was still in possession of the Salviati family, and 1693, when it appeared in the Borghese inventories for the first time. On the other hand, as Claudio Pizzorusso pointed out (1986, p. 187, n. 1.70), Mancini ([c.1617-1621] 1956-1957, I, p. 111) had made reference to a Saint Francis by ‘the young Bronzino [...] at the villa of His Excellency Borghese’: if the work cited here in fact corresponds to our canvas, it would mean not only that it entered the Collection sometime between the late 1610s and early 1620s, but also that the painting listed in the 1673 Salviati inventory cannot be the one in question.

Regarding the hypothesis that Cigoli (Ludovico Cardi) painted the work, discussed by Della Pergola (1959), the first attribution to him appeared in the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario, which listed a ‘Saint Francis in penitence, by Cingoli [sic], 6 spans 6 inches wide, 9 spans high’. The painting was in fact ascribed to Cardi when it was displayed in Palazzo Venezia in Rome (Paesaggio con figura 1985, n. 25) and again more recently when it appeared in the Galleria Borghese catalogue edited by Kristina Herrmann Fiore (2006, p. 133).

As we have seen, not all critics agree with this thesis. While accepting its provenance from the Salviati collection, Anna Matteoli (1980, p. 355) ascribed it to Allori; likewise, Claudio Pizzorusso (1982, pp. 47-48, and 1986, p. 187, n. 1.70) believed that the work is the one cited by the above-mentioned Mancini, whose attribution to ‘the young Bronzino’ the scholar accepted.

The stylistic similarities between the two Tuscan painters as well as their shared interest in the figure of Saint Francis go a long way to explain the difficulty of settling the question of attribution. Roughly 20 years younger than Cigoli, Cristofano Allori looked to the production of the former, adopting his iconographic interpretations of the saint in prayer in the various versions of the theme executed by him (on this topic, see A. Nesi, Un San Francesco in preghiera giovanile di Cristofano Allori, Florence 2007). As representations of the popular saint were in great demand for devotional purposes, the subject was replicated many times by painters in those years.

The scene shows Saint Francis of Assisi kneeling, with his hands placed close to the crucifix. He rests his elbows on a rock, on which a book with red-edged pages lies open. In the background, the landscape is characterised by dark colours: streaks of light cross the gloomy sky, allowing us to glimpse a rough torrent of water on the right of the composition. While in other versions by Allori the saint’s expression reveals a mood of serene contemplation of the crucifix, here it is defined by a feeling of intense devotional pathos, which is heightened by the dramatic setting. These qualities recall Allori’s production of the years around 1610, the period to which critics date this canvas (Pizzorusso 1982, pp. 47-48, and 1986, p. 187, n. 1.70).

Pier Ludovico Puddu

  • G. Mancini, Considerazioni sulla pittura, [1617-1621 c.] ed. critica a cura di A. Marucchi e L. Salerno, Roma 1956-1957, I, p. 111. 
  • G.B. Cardi, Vita di Lodovico Cardi Cigoli 1559-1613, [1628] Firenze 1913, p. 52.
  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 104.
  • G.M. Silos, Pinacotheca, sive Romana pictura et sculptura, Roma 1673, p. 125.
  • P. Rossini, II Mercurio errante delle grandezze di Roma, tanto antiche, che moderne [1693] Roma 1725, p. 37.
  • E.Z. Platner et alii, Beschreibung der Stadt Rom, III, Stuttgart 1842, p. 277.
  • X. Barbier de Montault, Les Musées et Galeries de Rome, Rome 1870, p. 352.
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 267.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 195.
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 217.
  • A. De Rinaldis, La R. Galleria Borghese in Roma, (“Itinerari dei Musei e Monumenti d’Italia”, XLIII), Roma 1939, p. 9.
  • Cronaca dei ritrovamenti e dei restauri, in “Le Arti”, V, 1943, p. 280.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, pp. 22-23, n. 21.
  • A. Matteoli, Ludovico Cardi – Cigoli pittore e architetto, Pisa 1980, p. 355.
  • C. Pizzorusso, Ricerche su Cristofano Allori (Accademia Toscana di Scienze e Lettere La Colombaria. Studi, LX), Firenze 1982, pp. 47-48.
  • Paesaggio con figura. 57 dipinti della Galleria Borghese esposti temporaneamente a Palazzo Venezia, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Venezia, 1985), Roma 1985, n. 25.
  • C. Pizzorusso, in Il Seicento fiorentino: arte a Firenze da Ferdinando I a Cosimo III, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Palazzo Strozzi, 1986-1987), Firenze 1986, p. 187, n. 1.70.
  • 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. 13.