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St. Paul

Attributed to Siciolante Girolamo

(Sermoneta 1521 - Rome 1575)

Text not translated yet

Il dipinto, assieme al suo pendant raffigurante San Pietro (inv. 46), proviene dalla raccolta di Francesco Borghese e mostra quei caratteri tipici del clima culturale romano della metà del Cinquecento. Lo sfondo dorato, la visione dal basso e la posa della figura lasciano ipotizzare che entrambe le tele - di autore diverso - possano provenire da un unico complesso, nate forse come ante di un organo oppure come modelli per alcuni mosaici.

Raffigura l’apostolo Paolo, qui ritratto con un foglio stretto nella sua mano, una chiara allusione alle sue Lettere. L'opera è stata assegnata dalla critica al pittore sermonetano Girolamo Siciolante, le cui figure, caratterizzate da una monumentalità di evidente ispirazione michelangiolesca, mostrano quella grazia e quella ricercatezza cromatica tipiche delle opere di gusto raffaellesco.

Object details

early sixth decade of the 16th century
oil on canvas
136 x 77 cm

19th-century frame with four corner palmettes (160 x 99 x 9 cm)



Rome, collection of Francesco Borghese, 1610 (Della Pergola 1959); Rome, collection of Giovanni Battista Borghese, 1610 (Della Pergola 1959); Rome, collection of Marcantonio Borghese, before 1657 (Scannelli 1657); Inv. 1693, room II, nos 15, 26; Inv. 1700, room II, no. 4; Inv. 1790, room II, nos 4, 5; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 10; purchased by Italian state, 1902.


Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1903-1905 Luigi Bartolucci (disinfestazione);
  • 1957-1958 Alvaro Esposti (rintelaiatura, fissaggio del colore, pulitura, stuccatura, riprese di colore e verniciatura finale).


Together with the St Peter attributed to Marco Pino (inv. no. 46), this canvas formed part of the collection of Francesco Borghese, brother of Paul V. Upon Francesco’s death in 1610, the work first entered into the possession of Giovanni Battista Borghese and then into that of his son Marcantonio, the first heir of the fideicommissum established by the noble family. This in fact explains why the two works, which were listed in Francesco’s 1610 inventory, were not mentioned by either Iacomo Manilli (1650) or Domenico Montelatici (1700), who gave an account of the belongings in the villa but not in the city palazzo, where the two paintings were probably held.

The first mention of the work in our sources is by Francesco Scannelli, who in 1657 noted their presence in the Campo Marzio residence, attributing both to Michelangelo Buonarroti: ‘In the rooms of the Borghese, several prophets painted in their natural size with care and great intelligence [...]’. While the compiler of the 1693 inventory ignored this attribution (‘a painting on gilded canvas of a saint sitting on a cloud, at no. 314, with a gilded frame. Uncertain’), it was taken up again in that of 1700 (‘The two apostles by Michelangelo’) and repeated in that of 1790 (‘Two apostles on a gold ground, Michelangelo Buonarroti’). Both the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario and the profiles by Giovanni Piancastelli (1891) maintained the ascription. Adolfo Venturi (1893) was the first to propose that the two canvases were by different artists, cautiously suggesting that the two apostles were the products of ‘the Bolognese school of the second half of the 16th century’. Guido Cantalamessa (1912), however, re-established the canvas’s connection to Roman circles, adding that St Peter was the superior work. Following his lead, Roberto Longhi (1928) suggested that St Paul was in the style of Daniele da Volterra, while attributing its pendant to Perin del Vaga or Girolamo Siciolante da Sermoneta.

Paola della Pergola (1959) generally agreed with Longhi: she wrote of ‘a Roman master under the influence of Michelangelo’, while noting that the work depicting Paul was ‘more noble, grandiose and free’. In the same publication, della Pergola reported the oral opinion of two colleagues: while Federico Zeri had in the meantime accepted the idea that the two works were by different painters, although he excluded the name of Siciolante, for his part Philip Pouncey suggested attributing St Paul to Santi di Tito. Since then, a number of critics have rejected both proposals and returned to the name of Siciolante (Stefani 2000; Herrmann Fiore 2006). Yet not all scholars agree: in his monograph on the artist from Sermoneta, John Hunter (1996) did not make the slightest mention of this debate.

While the question of attribution is still open, there is no doubt that the two works formed part of the same commission. This is confirmed by the many features shared by the two canvases: both are viewed from below; both are depicted against a gold ground; both figures stand on a cloud; and each saint mirrors the other. As critics have suggested, it is further likely that the two paintings were conceived as wings of a church organ (Zeri in della Pergola 1959) or as models for a mosaic (Longhi 1928; Zezza 2003): today, the latter proposal seems more credible.

Antonio Iommelli

  • F. Scannelli, II Microcosmo della Pittura, Cesena 1657, p. 141;
  • A. Manazzale, Itinerario di Roma, Roma 1794, p. 241;
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, II, p. 598;
  • E. e C. Platner, Beschreibung der Stadt Rom, III, Stuttgart 1842, p. 288;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 228;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, pp. 53, 57;
  • J. A. Rusconi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Bergamo 1906, p. 91;
  • G. Cantalamessa, Note manoscritte al Catalogo di A. Venturi del 1893, Arch. Gall. Borghese, 1911-1912, nn. 37, 46;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, pp. 180-1;
  • P. Della Pergola, Due schede di Catalogo, in “Bollettino d’Arte”, XLIII-III, 1958, pp. 283-5;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, pp. 98-100, n. 142;
  • E. Borea, Grazia e furia in Marco Pino, “Paragone”, XIII (151), 1962, pp. 24-52, pp. 24-52;
  • P. della Pergola, L’Inventario Borghese del 1693 (I), in “Arte Antica e Moderna”, XXVI, 1964, p. 223;
  • J. Hunter, Girolamo Siciolante, pittore da Sermoneta (1521-1575), Roma 1996 (assente);
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 340;
  • A. Zezza, Marco Pino. L'opera completa, Napoli 2003, pp. 280-281;
  • 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. 17.