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Three Sleeping Putti

Attributed to Van De Vliete Gillis detto Egidio della Riviera

(Malines - Rome 1602)

Three winged putti sculpted in white marble sleep on a base of a touchstone framed in antique yellow and yellow Siena marble. They are resting on each other in different positions: supine, crouching, lying on their side. A proposed identification is the three personifications of dreams in Greek mythology: Morpheus, Phobetor and Phantasos.

The group is probably a copy of a relief well known among contemporaries, executed in 1597 by Gillis van den Vliete for the Mattei family, possibly by the Flemish sculptor himself. The reference date for the work is 1609, the year in which its purchase by order of Giovanni Battista Borghese, younger brother of Paul V, is recorded in the Borghese household accounts.

Object details

before 1609
antique yellow marble, yellow Siena marble, white marble, touchstone
cm. 90x65

Giovanni Battista Borghese, 1609; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p. 47, no. 94; Purchased by the State, 1902.

  • 1982    Roma, Museo del Palazzo di Venezia e Museo Centrale del Risorgimento
  • 2011-2012     Roma, Galleria Borghese
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1996 - 1998 Persichelli L.


The relief depicts three winged putti sleeping deeply, their bodies lying in different positions slightly overlapping each other: one putto is crouched and rests his head on his reclining companion, who in turn rests his head on the third putto, reclining on his side, whose head touches the back of the first.

The three putti are sculpted in white marble and lie on an oval base of a touchstone, surrounded by a moulded frame in antique yellow and Siena yellow marble. The chromatic contrast of the different materials used accentuates the three figures, which stand out from the background, emphasised by the motif of the little foot of one of the three putti protruding from the frame.

The three winged putti could represent Morpheus, Phobetor and Phantasos, personifications of dreams, daughters of the Night (Faldi 1954, p. 13).

In a payment order kept in the Vatican Archives (Faldi 1954, p. 14, doc. I), the relief appears to have been purchased in 1609 for 100 scudi by Giovanni Battista Borghese. However, the name of the author is not indicated. This is a copy of the relief commissioned in 1597 by Ciriaco Mattei from Gilles Van de Vliete, as reported by Martinelli, who described them as “portraits by those that the Mattei have” (1644, p. 111). The original, now lost, was a work well known by contemporaries, as confirmed by the replicas found by Faldi in the sources and not traceable: one copy was in the Giustiniani collection from 1621 and another certainly in Palazzo Colonna. It is not possible to know whether the one currently housed in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence and the one that went on the antiques market in 2018 can be identified with the examples mentioned.

Due to stylistic similarities, the work has also been compared to the group of Putti che lottano [Putti Fighting], attributed to Stefano Maderno, conserved in the Galleria Doria Pamphili in Rome (Lavin 1968, p. 229). It has recently been proposed that its author was Gillis van den Vliete himself. His name was Italianised as Egidio della Riviera, author of the original owned by Mattei (Pierguidi 2012, p. 161).

The decorated wooden base, made by Giovanni Battista Soria in 1615 (Faldi 1954, p. 14, doc. III) on which the work had originally been placed, was replaced in the late 18th-century reorganisation with an antique circular altar decorated with bucrania and garlands, and is now missing. Exhibited in 1644 in Room 20 (Martinelli, p. 111), in 1700 the relief was in the Hermaphrodite room (Montelatici, p. 278), and in 1796 it was in today’s Room 3 (L. Lamberti, E.Q. Visconti, p. 12).

Sonja Felici