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Cantofoli Ginevra

(Bologna 1618-1672)

The subject of the painting, once thought to be a seamstress due to the presence of scissors, was identified by Paola della Pergola as Atropos, one of the three Fates, known to sever life and decree the death of every man. Recently, this proposal was rejected in favour of Berenice, the beautiful queen of Cyrene who offered her flowing hair as a votive to Aphrodite to secure her husband's return from a military campaign: the gift was appreciated by the gods who installed it in the heavens, turning it into a constellation.

Object details

anni Sessanta del XVII secolo
oil on canvas
cm 76 x 59

Salvator Rosa, 93.5 x 74 x 6 cm


Provenance: Rome, Borghese Collection, 1833 (Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 12); purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

  • 2021, Milano, Palazzo Reale.


This canvas, of which there is no trace prior to 1833, is mentioned for the first time as part of the Borghese Collection in the fideicommissum listing and described by the compiler of the document as a portrait by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, a painter from Viterbo. Ascribed by Adolfo Venturi (1893) to Simon Vouet, the work was connected by Roberto Longhi (1928) to an unknown painter sensitive to the manner of Guido Reni and active in Rome in 1630-40 circa. As such it was included by Paola della Pergola (1955) in the catalogue of the paintings of Galleria Borghese. In 2004, Massimo Pulini definitively resolved the issue by tracing the work back to the catalogue of Ginevra Cantofoli, a Bolognese artist who studied at the drawing academy of Elisabetta Sirani. According to this scholar, in fact, this Berenice perfectly fits Cantofoli’s production, bearing many similarities with her Sea-Nymph (Milan, Luigi Koelliker Coll.), such as the elusive pose and the acute gaze (Pulini 2006, p. 61).

The subject, judged by Adolfo Venturi (1893) to be a seamstress because she is holding a pair of scissors, was identified by Paola della Pergola (1955) as Atropos, the eldest of the three Fates, who in Greek mythology was the one who cut the thread of life with her shiny shears. Rejecting this interpretation, in 2004 Pulini corrected the identification of the subject, determining that it was in fact Berenice, the queen of Cyrene who offered up her flowing mane to Aphrodite in exchange for the safe return of her spouse Ptolemy from the war against Syria. The gift, appreciated by the gods, was carried up to the heavens and turned into a constellation.

The genesis of this painting, which is hard to place in a precise time period, is close to that of the Sea-Nymph, and thus probably somewhere in the 1660s, when the painter enjoyed a fruitful relationship with Elisabetta Sirani.

Antonio Iommelli

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 347; 
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 82; 
  • 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. 65, n. 111; 
  • M. Pulini, 1656. Ritratto di Ginevra Cantofoli pittrice, in Elisabetta Sirani "pittrice eroina" 1638-1655, catalogo della mostra (Bologna, Museo Civico Archeologico, 2004), a cura di J. Bentini, V. Fortunati, Bologna 2004, pp. 139-140; 
  • 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; 
  • M. Pulini, Ginevra Cantofoli. La nuova nascita di una pittrice nella Bologna del Seicento, Bologna 2006, pp. 102-104;
  • M. Pulini, scheda in Le Signore del Barocco. Storie di donne tra ’500 e ’600, catalogo della mostra (Milano, Palazzo Reale, 2021), Milano 2021, p. 308.