Old Fragment Found

December 12, 2011 / Art & Archaeology
Rome, Lazio

Vasari, our 16th century proto-Art Historian, writes that Pinturicchio:

“…painted, above the door to the private rooms, Ms.Giulia Farnese in the likeness of Our Lady Mary; and within the same painting the figure of Pope Alexander prone in adoration.”

So far so good… weren’t it for the fact that the private rooms in question were Pope Alexander’s Vatican sleeping quarters, and that Ms.Farnese was this infamous Borgia pope’s mistress, as well as one of his daughter’s best friends.

Not surprisingly, future popes would have all signs of this most “Renaissance” of princes (but least pious of spiritual leaders) removed. And in case you were wondering, yes. Macchiavelli based much of his political treatise The Prince on Pope Alexander and his equally charismatic and dictatorial son Cesare Borgia.

Fortunately however the painting was copied (1st photo) in the 17th century before being cut into smaller pieces and torn out of the niche. Thanks to this copy we are close to certain that the recently found fragment of a Renaissance masterpiece is probably one of the original pieces of Pinturicchio’s (scandalous) adoration scene.

The fragment is called “Il Bambin GesĂș delle Mani” due to the number of hands in the small piece; two are obviously Mary’s, two belong to the Christ Child, and the fifth, a man’s hand…

Tenderly cradling His tiny foot? Or his son’s? We’ll leave that to better historians than us to answer, and appreciate instead how incredibly touching the painting is no matter what.



by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

17 Responses to “Old Fragment Found”

  1. Penny Ewles-Bergeron
    Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    A fascinating piece of art history – we are very fortunate to have the 17th century copy. Though a fragment, the composition with the hands reaching into the new (unplanned) frame is very graceful. Thanks GB.

  2. lewis murray

    as a long time notebook cllent, i wonder where and how and when this most interesting fragment was located, and by whom. thanks, and merry christmas to all. lewis

  3. Can you tell us when/where this fragment was found and where it is now? Thanks, Irene

  4. hebegb

    Seems it was in a private collection. The owners didn’t know its history. Only after a Pinturicchio scholar was able to view it once it had been acquired by a foundation (Fondazione Giordano), that they have been able to tie the loose ends together, so to speak.
    You can learn all about it here:

  5. giuseppe spano (jojo)
    giuseppe spano (jojo)

    Ah at the risk of being less pious,it seems some popes had their hands in many things…..

  6. Peggy and Bob Corrao

    Always the best, GB, you are witty and wise and we loved reading this! As well you have wonderful contributors. Auguri! Buon Natale!

  7. Anne Robichaud

    THanks, GB..and WHEN are you coming to see our 4 Pinturicchio (“the little painter ” – yes, seems that Bernardino di Betto – from Perugia- was a shorty) here in Umbria in Spello? His self/portrait is one of the frescoes – (quite a handsome young man)

  8. Nice story but I don’t understand the “or his son’s” implication. Isn’t the image Christ?

  9. hebegb

    @ Tommaso:
    Yes, it represents the Christ Child, but the whole reason it created such a scandal and eventually got torn out of the walls by successive popes was because it *could* have represented Pope Alexander’s child, given that the Mary in the image was a portrait of Giulia Farnese, Pope Alexander’s mistress, with whom he had a child (a girl, Laura). Btw, we know that he also had *at least* five other children with his other mistresses.

  10. m. b. katz

    You offer a strange description in quotation: the text reads “In detto palazzo ritrasse, sopra la porta d’una camera, la signora Giulia Farnese nel volto d’una Nostra Donna; e nel medesimo quadro, la testa d’esso papa Alessandro che l’adora.” Vasari, Milanese, III:499.) That is, with the head of Alexander in adoration (which is what we have in the copy), nothing about Alexander prone. Where did you get your text?

  11. Always interested in anything that pertains to the great masters. I do know about the imposter Pope Alexander and the damage he caused the church. Why not mention who he realy was and why print this now just before Christmas?


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