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Young Woman with Boy and Dog

Cordier Nicolas

(Saint-Mihiel, Meuse 1567 - Rome 1612)

The sculpture depicts a young woman whose hair is gathered on the top of her head and who wears a white dress. In her kneeling position she holds a small dog on her lap while caressing the hair of a small boy on her left. The group was created using the incastro technique in which separate pieces of different types of marble are joined together. Often this involved incorporating ancient pieces into modern sculptures: indeed, we cannot exclude the possibility that this was the case in the work in question. The elegant polychrome and compositional refinement lend this sculpture its undeniable charm. The skilful incorporation of different coloured inlays suggest dating the work to the late 16th and early 17th centuries, when the taste for polychrome sculptures, shared by Scipione Borghese, was at its height.

Purchased by the Cardinal in 1607, the Young Woman came from the collection of Lelio Ceoli. While our documentation does not provide certain indications as to the name of the artist, critics have generally supported an attribution to Nicolas Cordier, who is also considered the sculptor of the Gypsy Girl displayed in Room X.

Object details

Late 16th - early 17th century
height 70 cm

Lelio Ceoli ante 1607; Cardinale Scipione Borghese, 1607 (De Lachenal 1982, p. 86); Inventario fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, p. 47, no. 88; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 2003-2004 Roma, Galleria Borghese
  • 2011-2012 Roma, Galleria Borghese
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1996-1997 M.G. Patrizi


When it was purchased in 1607, the Young Woman was among the first works to enter the Collection, before the Palazzo even existed. It formed part of a collection of ancient statues acquired from Lelio Ceoli by Scipione Borghese (Vatican Secret Archive, Borghese Archive, 348, envelope III, no. 32; in De Lachenal 1982, p. 86).

The sculpture depicts a young woman. Her hair is gathered in rolled braids on the top of her head, with well-defined curls falling over her forehead. She wears a white dress, tightened around her hips by a polychrome belt and with rolled-up sleeves over her forearms. The woman is kneeling, with a small white dog in her lap. Her gaze is directed at the boy, who is wrapped in a white garment. The boy leans on the woman’s left leg while she gently caresses his hair. Their gestures and gazes create a tender, intimate bond between them, while their intersecting positions lend the composition its refinement, which is enriched by the elegance of the chromatic contrasts.

The sculptor employed the incastro technique for this group, which involves using different coloured marbles held together by pins and brackets. The technique dates to ancient times, as shown in numerous Roman sculptures. It was revived between the late 16th and early 17th centuries, to which period the Young Woman in fact dates. Collectors of this era favoured polychrome works: indeed, from the beginning of his career as a patron, Scipione Borghese paid much attention to the selection of materials for his commissions and in the arrangement of the family collection. We cannot exclude the possibility that the materials used for the work in question – statuary and nero antico or bigio morato marbles – may have been reprocessed ancient pieces. The yellow pedestal on which the sculpture was placed in 1607 has gone missing.

The question of the attribution of the work is complex and still not settled. While Nibby (1832, p. 85) ascribed it to Alessandro Algardi, De Rinaldis (Catalogo, 1948, p. 85) was the first scholar to suggest the name of Nicolas Cordier, who restored pieces of ancient art. Cordier was also the sculptor of the Gypsy Girl (inv. CCLXIII), which was also made from different materials and which is on display today in Room 10. While De Rinaldis’s proposal has been generally accepted by subsequent critics, other names have been put forth: pointing to the strong chromatic contrast and the stylised rendering of the woman’s garment, Pressouyre (1984, pp. 463-4) hypothesised that the work may be a product of the workshop of Giovanni Battista della Porta, which was active in the trade and production of coloured ancient marbles. More recently, however, Ioele reconfirmed the attribution to Cordier (Marmi colorati, 2016, pp. 96-7).

While Manilli (1650, p. 108) observed the work in Room 9, it had been moved to Room 19 by 1716 (Brigenti 1716, p. 80). During the redecoration work on the first floor of the Villa, it was placed in Room 6 on a large wooden pedestal which has since gone lost (Lamberti, Visconti 1796, II, p. 55). Nibby saw the sculpture in Room 3 in 1832 (1832, p. 85) and in Room 10 in 1841 (1841, p. 932). It was moved again, to Room 14, between the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Barbier de Montault 1870, p. 499; De Rinaldis 1935, p. 8); today it is displayed in Room 10.

Sonja Felici


Geraldine Leardi - Giovane mora con una fanciulla e un cane by Cordier Nicolas