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Virgin and Child with Saint Francis of Assisi

umbrian school

Attributed in the Gallery's inventories to Pietro Perugino, this small-scale, not very high-quality work should instead be ascribed to an anonymous Umbrian painter active in the first half of the 16th century, influenced by Perugino’s style.

Object details

oil on copper
cm 10 x 8

Inv. 1790, Room VII, no. 95; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 31. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1941, Carlo Matteucci
  • 2022, Matilde Migliorini


This small-scale painting on copper first appeared in the Borghese collection in the 1790 inventory, where it is described as “Vergine col Bambino e S. Francesco, Pietro Perugino” (The Blessed Virgin with Child and St Francis, Pietro Perugino). The attribution remained in the fideicommissary document and in Piancastelli (1891), while Venturi (1893) ascribed the work to a more generic Umbrian School, a view later shared by Paola Della Pergola (1955). Longhi (1928), however, did not recognise it as an original, but rather as a 19th-century imitation.

This painting is undoubtedly the work of an artist who gravitated around Vannucci's extremely active workshop. The painter was most likely employed in the production of devotional works destined for the commercial market, a sector of great importance, given the great demand.

The three figures are placed against a naturalistic background, of which only the sky and a tree on the left can be made out. The soft, classical features of the Virgin, with her gaze tenderly lowered towards her son, lead the observer towards her hands holding the baby Jesus. He is depicted as a child who has just learnt to walk but who, looking confidently towards the onlooker, bestows a blessing with his right hand. He holds a four-sided globe surmounted by a cross, identifying him as “Salvator Mundi” (Saviour of the World). On the left, as St Francis observes the viewer/worshipper, he also watches over the tender scene. As further confirmation that this small copper painting probably belongs to the genre of devotional painting, we have the portrait of the “poor man of Assisi”, in this case modelled on the image considered the closest likeness to the original face of the saint, that of Cimabue in the Lower Basilica and of Giotto in the scenes from the life of St Francis in the Upper Basilica.

Lara Scanu

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 284
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 217
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle gallerie italiane. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 223
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, p. 92, n. 162
  • K. Hermann Fiore, Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla Pinacoteca ai depositi, un museo che non ha più segreti, Roma 2006, p. 155