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The Triumph of Diana (Winter)

Albani Francesco

(Bologna 1578 - 1660)

The work, the last in the series – painted by Francesco Albani and depicting the stories of Venus - was purchased by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1622 and follows the narrative of Venus at her Toilet (inv. 40), Venus in Vulcan’s Forge (inv. 35) and Venus and Adonis (inv. 44). The tondo is the epilogue to the story about the loves of the gods and depicts some sleeping putti being disarmed by Diana’s nymphs, about to remove a shield from the tree, used for target practice by the lively cupids. The chaste Diana dominates the scene from above, triumphing over the futile beauty of Venus.

It is very likely that the painting, and the entire series, was inspired by the Eikones by Philostratus of Lemnos, who describes the cupids playing games in the four seasons of the year.

A very fine copy of this canvas is preserved at the Colegio de Santamarca in Madrid.

Object details

oil on canvas
diam. cm 154

19th-century frame decorated with lotus flowers and palmettes


Rome, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, 1622 (Della Pergola 1955, p. 15); Inv. 1693, room IV, no. 191; Paris, 1803-1816; Rome, Borghese Collection, 1816; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 11; purchased by Italian state, 1902.


  • 1962 Bologna, Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio;
  • 1985 Roma, Palazzo Venezia;
  • 1986 Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale/Museo Civico Archeologico;
  • 1987 New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art;
  • 1988-1989 Roma, Palazzo Venezia;
  • 1989 San Pietroburgo, Hermitage
  • 1996-1997 Lecce, Fondazione Memmo;
  • 1992 Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1937 Carlo Matteucci (rafforzamento del colore, eliminazione degli ossidi delle vernici, fissaggio della tela, pulitura);
  • 1960-1961 Renato Massi (restauro completo della cornice);
  • 1963 Alvaro Esposti (foderatura, pulitura);
  • 1996-1997 Paola Tollo, Carlo Ceccotti (restauro completo della tela e della cornice);
  • 2006-2007 Paola Tollo (sostituzione telaio, consolidamento, rimozione ridipinture, verniciatura, reintegrazioni pittoriche).


This painting forms part of a series of four tondos by the Bolognese artist Francesco Albani, executed to enrich the prestigious collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. The work was purchased by the cardinal in 1622 through his treasurer Stefano Pignatelli, as is documented by a receipt for a payment made on 13 October 1622 to the gilder Annibale Durante for three round frames, ‘with carved, intertwining fruit motifs, to be used for three paintings by Albano’ (Della Pergola 1955, p. 15). It is still unknown why the fourth painting was not mentioned here, which in all likelihood was The Triumph of Diana (inv. no. 49): according to critics, this last-named work was to have been executed at the same time as the purchase of the other three, so as to give the cycle a new meaning. By adding The Triumph of Diana, in fact, the first three tondos – depicting stories of Venus – can be interpreted in a different light: the series would then treat not only beauty, but also the rivalry between Love and Chastity, virtues embodied by the two goddesses, and the triumph of the chaste Diana over the beautiful Venus.

In addition, critics believe that the painter was inspired by the Eikones of Philostratus of Lemnos for this cycle. This text had a significant influence on 16th- and 17th-century artists: cast in the form of a dialogue, it describes a visit to a villa near Naples, where a master and his students admire 64 works, including several which depict the doings of cherubs in the four seasons: throwing apples in spring, at the forge in summer, Venus parting from Adonis in autumn, and sleep in winter.

The cycle was mentioned for the first time by Iacomo Manilli in 1650 among the works at the Casino di Porta Pinciana. This is where it remained until 1658 when for safety reasons Giovanni Battista Borghese had it moved to his palazzo in the city, where it is documented in both the 1693 inventory and by Domenico Montelatici in 1700. When it was transferred to his residence in Campo Marzio, the  Borghese prince had copies of the four tondos made, which he intended to place in the villa. Two of these have been identified by Schaack at the Colegio de Santamarca in Madrid (the Toilette of Venus and The Triumph of Diana). In the 19th century, finally, the series was removed by Napoleon Bonaparte to be taken to Paris, where it remained until 1816, when it was definitively brought back to Rome.

The precise date of the work is still unknown. In the view of some critics, the series was executed by 1618, when the painter returned to Bologna; others, meanwhile, date it to 1621-22, as it is not mentioned in Giulio Mancini’s Considerazioni sulla pittura. According to Van Schaack, the tondos were completed by 1621, when the painter – who was then called to the court of Ferdinando Gonzaga in Mantua – executed a similar cycle in which a number of details of the Borghese cycle are repeated. In any case, stylistic analysis confirms what these studies have revealed thus far: indeed, these works recall others by Albani from the late 1610s and early 1620s, years in which the artist produced similar paintings, such as the cycle – today at the Louvre – begun for the Duke of Mantua and finished for Prince Gian Carlo de’ Medici.

This series was enormously successful, as is demonstrated by the tondos representing the four Elements, executed for Cardinal Maurice of Savoy (Turin, Galleria Sabauda), and the Dance of the Cherubs, previously in the Sampieri Collection in Bologna and today at the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan.

Antonio Iommelli



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