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Venus and Cupid

Manner of Naldini Giovan Battista

(Fiesole 1537 - Florence 1591)

This canvas of classical inspiration was first mentioned as forming part of the Borghese Collection in the late 17th century. It depicts Venus lying on a soft bed as she offers a piece of fruit to Cupid; his wings harmonise chromatically with his cheeks, the apple and the cloak on which the goddess lies. By varying the density of the colours and skilfully playing with the light and the diagonals, the unknown artist – stylistically close to Giovambattista Naldini – infuses the scene with order and a sense of ease, lending the work an unusual refinement.

Object details

1590 ca.
oil on canvas
cm 55 x 46

Late 19th- / early 20th-century, 55.3 x 65 x 4.5 cm


Rome, Borghese Collection1693 (Inv. 1693, room VI, no. 26; Della Pergola 1959); Inv. 1790, room VI, no. 15; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 26; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1953 - Mauro Manca (cleaning);
  • 2000 - Enea (diagnostics)


The provenance of this painting is still unknown. It was first mentioned as forming part of the Borghese Collection in 1693, when it appears in the inventory of that year with the number ‘545’, still visible in the bottom right hand corner of the work. On that occasion it was described as ‘an oblong painting roughly two spans on canvas with a nude woman lying on a yellow cloth as she offers an apple to a cupid [...] with a small gilded frame, by Cavalier d’Arpino’ (Inv. 1693).

The generous attribution to Giuseppe Cesari was changed in favour of Scarsellino in the 1790 inventory; it was also rejected by both the compiler of the 1833 Inventario Fidecommissario and Giovanni Piancastelli (1891), who ascribed it to Pomarancio, in spite of the fact that Ernst Z. Platner had revived the name of Cesari in 1842.

Stylistic evidence notwithstanding, Adolfo Venturi re-proposed the attribution to Scarsellino, a hypothesis which received the support of Giulio Cantalamessa. Roberto Longhi (1928), however, was not persuaded and suggested instead ‘a Florentine Mannerist, close to Morandini and Naldini’. His theory was upheld by Paola della Pergola (1959) and more recently by Kristina Herrmann Fiore (2006); at present it represents the most feasible response to the question of attribution.

Antonio Iommelli

  • E. Z. Platner, Beschreibung der Stadt Rom, III-1, Stuttgart-Tübingen 1842, p. 292;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 248;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 125;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 197;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 41, n. 56;
  • 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. 71.