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Tobias and the Angel

Savoldo Giovanni Girolamo

(Brescia c. 1480 - Venice? after 1548)

Once ascribed to Titian, this painting was acquired by the Galleria Borghese in 1910. The director at that time, Giulio Cantalamessa, attributed it to Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo of Brescia.

The work depicts Tobias and the Angel. The story narrated in the Bible (Tobias, 4-8) is here interpreted in style greatly influenced by the approach of Titian, including the use of bright colours to create the effect of a source of light coming from the background, which highlights the figure of the angel while placing the face of Tobias in shadow. This strategy served the artist to express his great artistic talent; he indeed manages to lend the garments a luminous and at times even metallic consistency and to emphasise their colours and deep folds.

Object details

First half of 1520s
oil on canvas
cm 120 x 160

16th-century frame, 129.5 x 159 x 6 cm


(?) Perugia, collection of Filippo Durini, 1784 (hypothesised); Perugia, held at Palazzo Alfani, until 1910 (Della Pergola 1955); Tivoli, collection of Cavalier Riccardo Pompili, 1910-11 (D’Achiardi 1912). Purchased by Italian state, 1911.

  • 1930 Londra, Burlington House;
  • 1935 Parigi, Petit Palais;
  • 1939 Brescia, Palazzo della Pinacoteca Comunale Tosio-Martinengo;
  • 1955 Venezia, Palazzo Ducale;
  • 1980 Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art;
  • 1983-84 Londra, Royal Academy of Arts;
  • 1986 Leningrado, Hermitage;
  • 1990 Brescia, Complesso Monumentale di S. Giulia;
  • 1990 Francoforte, Schirn Kunsthalle;
  • 1993 Parigi, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais;
  • 2004 New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art;
  • 2006 Washington, National Gallery of Art;
  • 2006-07 Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum;
  • 2009-10 Budsapest, Szépmuvésti Muzeum;
  • 2010 Illegio, Casa delle Esposizioni;
  • 2023 Roma, Scuderie del Quirinale.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1911 Tito Venturini Papari;
  • 1983 Soprintendenza;
  • 1990 Laura Pizzi (frame);
  • 2006 Enea, Laura Ferretti (diagnostics).


This canvas entered the collection of the Casino di Porta Pinciana in 1911, when the Galleria director at that time, Giulio Cantalamessa, paid the unbelievable sum of 10,000 lire to successfully terminate a series of difficult negotiations. The purchase resulted in the Italian state obtaining ‘one the most important exemplars’ of Savoldo’s oeuvre (see D’Achiardi 1912).

The painting was formerly owned by Cavalier Riccardo Pompili of Tivoli, according to whom it came from Palazzo Alfani in Perugia, where it was erroneously ascribed to Titian (Della Pergola 1955). While scholars have not thoroughly examined the veracity of this theory, it does find a certain degree of confirmation in Baldassarre Orsini’s Guida di Perugia (1784), which mentions a canvas with a similar subject by Titian or his circle in the collection of Filippo Donnini. From here, it most likely passed into the possession of the Alfani family following the union of the two historical houses in 1835 (on the marriage of Francesco Donnini and Maria Luisa Alfani, see Ranieri di Sorbello 1969).

Regarding the artist, critics have never called the name proposed by Giulio Cantalamessa (1914) into question. The former director upheld the attribution to the painter from Brescia from the beginning of his involvement in acquiring the work for the Galleria. By contrast, the suggestion put forth by Gilbert (1945; 1955; 1986) has not persuaded his colleagues, namely that the work in question formed part of the group of ‘four pictures of Night and of Fire, which are very beautiful’, mentioned by Giorgio Vasari at the Mint of Milan (Vasari 1568, 1984). In Gilbert’s view, the pendant of the Borghese canvas is the St Matthew and the Angel held at the Metropolitan Museum di New York. While the latter work has the same dimensions as our Tobias and the Angel, certain obvious differences between the two paintings – the scales of the figures, the lighting strategies and the provenances of the works – render this hypothesis unviable.

Of greater interest is the idea of William Suida (1937), who was the first to point to similarities between the angel of the Borghese canvas and that of Titian’s Averoldi Polyptych, the masterpiece executed in 1522 for the church of Santi Nazaro e Celso in Brescia. This relationship in fact supports what Begni Redona (1990) called Savoldo’s ‘staunch Titianism’, which characterised a particularly felicitous stage of the painter’s production in the mid-1520s. This phase indeed saw him shed an initial adherence to the pictorial culture of Giorgione in favour of tendencies decidedly influenced by Titian.

The date of the work’s execution has divided critics, who have made a variety of proposals on this score: between 1527 and 1533 (Longhi 1927); before 1533 (Venturi 1928); after 1527 (Suida 1935; Ballarin 1966); around 1521 (Capelli 1951); 1540 (Della Pergola 1955); post 1522 (Boschetto 1963; Ballarin 2006; Frangi 2018); and in the early 1530s (Bossaglia 1963). For his part, Gilbert changed his mind at least once on this question, initially citing 1535 as the date of the painting (Gilbert 1945) but later moving it up by roughly five years (Gilbert 1955; 1986). In the opinion of the present writer, the most persuasive hypothesis places its execution no later than the first half of the 1520s (Ballarin 2006; Frangi 2018). During this period, Savoldo was on the way to developing his own style, although he still felt the need to allude to the Averoldi altarpiece. This influence is seen in Tobias’s pose, which seems to mimic that of the warrior standing in the panel in Brescia, and in the rendering of the landscape, made up of dark, shadowy masses which stand out powerfully against a sky full of clouds.

Antonio Iommelli

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  • B. Orsini, Guida al forestiere per l'augusta città di Perugia, Perugia 1784, p. 104;
  • P. D’Achiardi, Nuovi acquisti della R. Galleria Borghese, “Bollettino d’Arte”, VI, 1912, pp. 92-93;
  • L. Venturi, Giorgione e il Giorgionismo, Milano 1913, pp. 220-21;
  • G. Cantalamessa, Cronaca delle Belle Arti, in “Bollettino d’Arte”, VIII, 1914, p. 91;
  • M. Biancale, Giovanni Battista Moroni e i pittori bresciani, in “L’Arte”, XVII, 1914, p. 298;
  • D. von Hadeln, Notes on Savoldo, in “Art in America”, XIII, 1925, p. 78;
  • R. Longhi, La Notte del Rubens a Fermo, in “Vita Artistica”, II, 1927, pp. 72, 75;
  • A. Venturi, Storia dell'Arte Italiana, IX, 1928, pp. 771-73;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 225;
  • R. Longhi, Quesiti Caravaggeschi. I. Registro dei tempi – II. I Precedenti, in “Pinacotheca”, I, 1928-1929, pp. 291, 296;
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  • J. Wilde, Die Probleme um Domenico Mancini, in “Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien”, VII, 1933, pp. 129-30;
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  • B. Berenson, Pitture Italiane del Rinascimento, Milano 1936, p. 139;
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  • G. Nicco Fasola, Lineamenti del Savoldo, in “L’Arte”, XLIII, pp. 61-67;
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  • P. Della Pergola, Contributi per la Galleria Borghese, in “Bollettino d’Arte”, XXXIX, 1954, p. 32;
  • P. Zampetti, Giorgione e i Giorgioneschi, catalogo della mostra (Venezia, Palazzo Ducale, 1955), Venezia 1955, cat. n. 114;
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  • B. Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Venetian School, I, London 1957, p. 158;
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  • E. Hüttinger, La peinture vénetienne, Lausanne 1959, p. 27;
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  • L. Baldass, Zur Erforschung des “Giogionismo” bei den Generationsgenossen Tizians, in “Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien”, XXI, 1961, p. 88;
  • A. Boschetto, Giovan Gerolamo Savoldo, Milano 1963, s.p., tav. 35;
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  • A. Ballarin, Girolamo Savoldo, Milano 1966, tav. VI-VII;
  • U. Ranieri di Sorbello, Perugia della bell'epoca, Perugia 1969, I, 44; II, 624, III; 202;
  • C. Pirovano, La Pittura in Lombardia, Milano 1973, p. 123;
  • G. De Logu, M. Abis, Venezianische Malerei, Budapest 1976, tav. 19;
  • C. E. Gilbert, in The Genius of Venice 1500-1600, catalogo della mostra (Londra, Royal Academy of Arts, 1983-84), a cura di J. Martineau, C. Hope, London 1983, p. 204 cat. n. 86;
  • C. E. Gilbert, The works of Gerolamo Savoldo. The 1955 dissertation with a review of research, 1955-1985, New York-London 1986, pp. 184-185 cat. n. 34, 370-371, 376-377, 440-444, 520 cat. n. 34; 548-551;
  • Pittura veneta del '500, catalogo della mostra (Leningrad, Hermitage, 1986), a cura di F. Valcanover, Leningrad-Moskwa 1986, cat. n. 20;
  • P. V. Begni Redona, in Giovanni Gerolamo Salvoldo tra Foppa, Giorgione e Caravaggio, catalogo della mostra (Brescia, Monastero di Santa Giulia, 1990; Francoforte, Schirn Kunsthalle, 1990), a cura di AA. VV, Milano 1990, pp. 160-161 (con ulteriore bibliografia);
  • S. Papetti, Il ruolo di Giulio Cantalamessa nell'incremento delle raccolte veneziane e romane: l'acquisto del 'Tobiolo e l'angelo' del Savoldo per la Galleria Borghese, in "Paragone.Arte", XLII, 1991, pp. 140-146;
  • F. Frangi, in Le Siècle de Titien. L'age d'or de la peinture à Venise, catalogo della mostra (Parigi, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, 1993), a cura di M. Laclotte, G. Nepi Scirè, pp. 449-450 n. 72;
  • A. Coliva, a cura di, La Galleria Borghese, Roma 1994, pp. 96-99, n. 46;
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  • A. Ballarin, Profilo di Savoldo, in La "Salomè" del Romanino ed altri studi sulla pittura bresciana del Cinquecento, a cura di B.M. Savy, I, Cittadella 2006, pp. 197-205;
  • M. Lucco in Bellini, Giorgione, Tiziano und die Renaissance der venezianischen Malerei, a cura di
  • D. A. Brown e S. Ferino-Padgen, Wien 2006, pp. 140-141;
  • 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. 175;
  • M. Papetti, Ancora sulle note manoscritte di Giulio Cantalamessa al catalogo della galleria Borghese: le postille ai pittori veneti, lombardi e stranieri dei secoli XV e XVI, in “Studia picena”, 72, 2007, pp. 274 n. 34, 340-341;
  • P. Moioli, C. Seccaroni, Analisi di fluorescenza X sulla pala di Pesaro e su altri due dipinti del Savoldo, in Brera. Giovan Gerolamo Savoldo. La pala di Pesaro, a cura di M. Olivari, Milano 2008, pp. 103-104;
  • M. Lucco in Botticelli to Titian: two centuries of Italian masterpieces, catalogo della mostra (Budapest, Szépmüvészeti 2009-2010), a cura di D. Sallay, V. Tátrai, A. Vécsey, Budapest 2009, pp. 332-333, n. 94;
  • F. Trastulli, in Angeli. Volti dell’invisibile, catalogo della mostra (Illegio, Casa delle Esposizioni, 2010), a cura di A. Geretti, S. Castri, Torino 2010, p. 185, n. 7;
  • F. Frangi, Savoldo, Giovanni Girolamo, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, XCI, 2018, ad vocem.