Lavinia della Rovere (1558 – 1632)

Scipione Pulzone
(1544 - 1598)

Lavinia della Rovere (1558 – 1632)

Painted circa 1575

Oil on unlined canvas: 21 x 16 in. (53.6 x 40.6 cm.)


Mrs Boyd, Kyllachy House, Inverness, until 1975;

from whom acquired by Lady Catherine Macpherson, U.K, until 2013;

Private collection, U.K.


A. Vannugli, ‘Scipione Pulzone ritrattista: traccia per un catalogo ragionato’, in Scipione Pulzone da Gaeta a Roma alle Corti Europee, catalogue of the exhibition edited by A. Acconci – A. Zuccari, Rome 2013, p. 51.

Research report by Dr. Barbara Furlotti, The Warburg Institute, due for publication in the Italian journal Rivista d'Arte:


Since 2009, almost all art historians consulted in relation to this painting have agreed on its attribution to Scipione Pulzone;[1] only a few have also suggested the name of the Florentine Jacopo Zucchi as an alternative.[2] The dating unanimously put forward for its execution as the last quarter of the sixteenth century.


Conversely, scholars have made significantly different proposals for the identification of the sitter. On the basis of supposed errors in the Colonna inventories, Eduard Safarik has interpreted the painting as a posthumous portrait of Giovanna of Aragon (1502-1575), mother of Marco Antonio II Colonna, who might have commissioned it after her death.[3] Owing to the presence of pearls and daisies in the sitter’s headdress, Emma Braid-Taylor has hypothesized that the painting might represent Margherita Gonzaga d’Este (1564-1618).[4] Recently, Antonio Vannugli tentatively identified the sitter with Vittoria Accoramboni (1557-1585), Paolo Giordano I Orsini’s second wife, on the basis of resemblance with the so-called Portrait of Vittoria Accoramboni, ascribed to Scipione Pulzone and now at St. Petersburg, Peterhof (fig. 1).[5] None of these proposals takes into account the fact that the girl wears a red corset embellished with precious buttons in the unusual form of acorns. Resting on iconographic, stylistic and historical elements, this report offers an alternative identification to those mentioned above. It suggests that the portrait represents Lavinia Della Rovere and might have been realised by Scipione Pulzone at the end of 1575.


Similar Paintings  

The present painting can be compared with two other portraits ascribed to Scipione Pulzone: the already-mentioned Portrait of Vittoria Accoramboni at Peterhof, and a painting in the Colonna collection which is traditionally considered the Portrait of Felice Orsini Colonna (fig. 2).[6] The quality of the three paintings is uneven: while the present painting is highly detailed, the Colonna and in particular the Peterhof portraits show a lesser degree of accuracy.[7] In his expertise of 2011, Safarik has suggested that the Colonna painting might be a late copy derived from the present portrait. Also the texture of the dress, the lace of the collar and the flowers of the headdress in the so-called Portrait of Victoria Accoramboni at Peterhof, all rendered with fast strokes, differ significantly from Scipione’s almost obsessive precision for detail. This characteristic raises doubts about the autograph of the Russian painting as well, which might be one of the copies that, according to archival documents, were made in Pulzone’s workshop at the end of the sixteenth century, from a now lost original.[8] In spite of these differences in quality, it is clear that the three works belong to the same type, as they share the same overall composition - dark background, three-quarter, position of the sitter – as well as several details. Similar are the refined lace collars, the rich puff sleeves of the corset, the way in which the latter opens on the front, allowing the white, silky dress underneath to emerge; in particular, slashes and embroidered decorations are located in exactly the same position on the dresses in the present and Colonna paintings. Thus, the three paintings must have been realised following a standardised pattern devised by Pulzone in order to satisfy the high demand for this kind of female portrait.[9] Exactly because they are so similar, any element that distinguishes them from one another should be considered most carefully, as it could provide a hint for identifying the sitter.


The Acorn Buttons: a Della Rovere Emblem

In this regard, I think that the presence of the buttons in form of acorns in the present painting deserves careful consideration. In her expertise, Emma Braid-Taylor noted that acorns are associated with the Della Rovere family; however, she did not pursue this observation and stated that acorns could also be interpreted as symbols of fertility and life, as well as talismans against evil spirits, suggesting instead the name of Margherita Gonzaga d’Este for the sitter. However, the visual prominence of these buttons in the present painting, their accurate depiction and their absence in other similar, contemporary portraits suggest that they are not a mere fashion detail or a generic symbol of good luck, but rather an allusion to the identity of the sitter in the form of a heraldic reference to her family. It would have been highly improbable for a woman not belonging to the Della Rovere family to be depicted with such peculiar buttons. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, no other occurrence of buttons with a similar shape can be found in any male or female portrait of the late sixteenth century.


Disguising hints in dresses, jewels or headdresses to help identify sitters in portraits was quite common during the sixteenth century, when the taste for charades was widespread, especially among aristocrats. The Portrait of Clelia Farnese by Jacopo Zucchi, a painting which was executed in Rome in the same years as the present one, constitutes an appropriate example (fig. 3). The identity of the lady is hidden under the eyes of the beholder, so to speak: the arms of the Farnese family and of Giovan Giorgio Cesarini, Clelia’s husband, intertwine in the magnificent chain that the woman wears.[10] According to Vannugli, Scipione Pulzone used to include these kinds of heraldic elements in his portraits, in particular before the 1590s.[11]

If we accept the interpretation that the buttons in the form of acorns are not fashion details, but refer to the sitter’s family, we can assume that the present painting represents a young lady belonging to the Della Rovere family, who in the sixteenth century ruled over the Duchy of Pesaro and Urbino. The presence of oak branches and acorns as heraldic emblems in portraits of various members of the Della Rovere family is widely documented. See for instance:

  • Titian, Portrait of Francesco Maria I Della Rovere, 1536-38 ca, Florence, Uffizi – oak branch on the right (fig. 4);
  • Giorgione or Sebastiano del Piombo, Portrait of a Della Rovere (possibly Francesco Maria I), 1502, Wien, Kunsthistorisches Museum – on the helmet (fig. 5);
  • Raphael, Portrait of Julius II, 1511-12, London, National Gallery – on the chair (fig. 6);
  • Alessandro Vitali, Portrait of Federico Ubaldo Della Rovere, 1605, Florence, Palazzo Pitti – on the band of the child and the cushion (fig. 7).


A Proposal: Lavinia della Rovere

During the last quarter of the sixteenth century, there were only two women of the Della Rovere family that might be considered a potential candidate for this portrait: Isabella (1552-1619)[12] and Lavinia (1558-1632),[13] both daughters of Guidobaldo Della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, and Vittoria Farnese, sister of the powerful Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. Isabella, however, appears to be an unlikely candidate as the painting’s sitter for at least two reasons. As a consequence of her wedding to Niccolò Bernardino di Sanseverino, Prince of Bisignano, in 1565, it would have been inappropriate for her to show off so openly her belonging to the Della Rovere family in the 1570s, without any reference to her marital status. Even more significantly, according to her biographer, Father Vincenzo Maggio, from the beginning of the 1570s Isabella started to suffer from a painful disease, which progressively disfigured her face and in particular her nose. It is not by chance that her only known portrait represents her as a nun in her last years, thus not allowing any reasonable comparison with the painting under discussion here.[14]


On the contrary, several elements seem to support the identification of the sitter as Lavinia Della Rovere. From an early age, the latter attracted the attention of visitors coming to Urbino with her spirit and beauty. Writing to the Senato in Venice about the daughters of Guidobaldo Della Rovere and Vittoria Farnese in 1571, the Venetian ambassador Lazzaro Mocenigo stated that Isabella ‘is a generous princess, and full of good qualities’, while Lavinia ‘is still very young, but she is already very beautiful and shows to possess wit’.[15] Thus, while Isabella was appreciated for her good inner qualities, Lavinia stood out for her pleasant appearance and liveliness. The Venetian ambassadors’ opinions are usually reliable, as they did not restrain from writing harsh comments if necessary. In 1575, for instance, Matteo Zane wrote that Lucrezia d’Este, the wife of Francesco Maria II Della Rovere, Lavinia’s brother, ‘is a woman of less than mediocre beauty, but she keeps herself up very well; she needs it also because of her age, since she is over forty’.[16] 


Lavinia’s beauty grew in the following years. During the 1570s, she was celebrated by the poet Torquato Tasso, with whom she was acquainted, in several of his poems. In one of them, the Spettacolo a le genti offrir Natura, Tasso praises Lavinia’s dark eyes, which he compared to two suns.[17] This last reference fits with the colour of the eyes of the lady portrayed in the present painting. In March 1581, Grand Duke Francesco I de’ Medici wrote to his brother Piero that Lavinia ‘is considered very beautiful and has been brought up very well by her mother’.[18]






The Occasion: a Vanished Marriage in 1575


Finding a husband for Lavinia proved a rather challenging undertaking in spite of her beauty, good education and noble origin. Attempts to marry her started when she was still very young, as was customary among aristocratic families at the time and allowed by the Canon Law.[19] In my opinion, the execution of the present painting is likely to be related to the most prestigious of these attempts, that is with the unsuccessful negotiations for the marriage between Lavinia and Giacomo Boncompagni, which took place in Rome in 1575.


Giacomo Boncompagni (1548-1612) was the son of the reigning Pope, Gregory XIII and thus a very attractive match. Since his birth, his father had showed him favour and by 1575 had bestowed several important offices upon him.[20] The deus ex machina of these negotiations was Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, Vittoria Farnese’s brother and Lavinia’s uncle, who considered the alliance as an effective way to consolidate his political position in anticipation of the next papal election.[21] The agreements seem to have come close to a conclusion late in 1575, when Vittoria Farnese and her daughter Lavinia went to Rome. They arrived in the Papal city on 2 November to attend the Jubilee; however, according to an anonymous account sent to Florence, ‘most of this court [of Rome] thinks that the visit of Her Excellency should produce the conclusion of the marriage between the signor castellano [Giacomo Boncompagni had been the prefect of Castel Sant’Angelo since 1572] and one of her daughters, which was promoted by the most illustrious Cardinal Farnese, as they say, who accommodates her in his rooms’.[22]


It seems very likely that on the occasion of this trip to Rome a portrait of the young woman was commissioned to Scipione Pulzone possibly by the main supporter of the marriage, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. As Lavinia was hosted with her mother in the Cardinal’s palace, it would have been easy for the painter to have her sitting for him. Alessandro might have planned to present the painting to the future husband during the negotiations, as an engagement portrait. Or he might have planned to keep it in his collection together with other paintings of beautiful women realised by Pulzone, which are documented in the Farnese inventories in the seventeenth century.[23] In this regard, it is worth noticing that Lavinia was very affectionate with her cousin Clelia Farnese, who stayed several times in Urbino at the Della Rovere court.[24] By 1575 Clelia was considered one of the most beautiful women in Rome and had possibly already been portrayed both by Scipione Pulzone (fig. 8) and Jacopo Zucchi (fig. 3).[25] In the account of his travels to Italy dated 1580-81, Montaigne recalls a visit  to the palace of her husband Giovan Giorgio Cesarini, where he admired a series of portraits of beautiful Roman women, among which the most beautiful was that of Clelia.[26] While she was in Rome, Lavinia must have had the opportunity to admire her cousin’s portraits, which possibly influenced either the composition or the choice of the painter of the present painting. Lavinia must have appreciated Clelia’s portraits, as in May 1581, after Clelia’s stayed in Pesaro for a few months, Lavinia asked for a portrait of her from Rome, the only thing that could temper her sadness at her cousin’s departure.[27]


Alternatively, Giacomo Boncompagni himself might have commissioned the portrait of his wife-to-be from Scipione Pulzone, whose skills he and his father already respected. Pulzone had painted two portraits of Gregory XIII in 1572 (fig. 9)[28] and the astonishing portrait of Giacomo in armour in 1574 (fig. 10).[29] Scipione’s decision to call his first son, born in 1574, Giacomo and to ask Boncompagni to act as his god-father confirms that by that time a strong patronage relationship existed between the two men.


Lavinia and her mother Virginia left Rome without a settled agreement at the beginning of December 1575 and, despite  Cardinal Alessandro’s efforts, eventually the marriage did not take place.[30] According to a letter sent by the Mantuan ambassador to the Duke of Mantua on 1 February 1576, Lavinia’s brother, Francesco Maria II Della Rovere was the one to be blamed for the failure of the negotiations, as he had showed himself to be ‘tight and irresolute and seemed to be forced [to accept the party] and to want to obtain better conditions’.[31] Having succeeded to the throne of the Duchy after his father Guidobaldo’s death in 1574, Francesco Maria II was responsible for arranging his sister’s marriage. This disrespectful behaviour had irritated Gregory XIII so much that he had decided to drop the agreement and made Giacomo marry Costanza Sforza di Santa Fiora instead. According to the same Mantuan ambassador, the situation had left Cardinal Alessandro Farnese highly dissatisfied and his prestige had been seriously damaged. 


After this first attempt had failed, the Della Rovere family entered upon new negotiations to marry Lavinia to Piero de’ Medici in 1576. The project, which was perhaps promoted by Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici, ran into the opposition of Grand Duke Francesco de’ Medici, who considered Piero too young for a second marriage – his first wife had died in 1575.[32] The negotiations were resumed some years later, in 1579-1581, although again with no success.[33] Lavinia had to wait until May 1583 before her brother Francesco Maria II agreed on a suitable husband for her and she finally married don Alfonso Felice d’Avalos d’Aquino, Marques of Vasto and Pescara, at the age of 25. On this occasion, Cardinal Farnese was in charge of the negotiations.


In conclusion, I suggest that the present painting represents Lavinia Della Rovere at the age of 17. It might have been commissioned to Scipione Pulzone as an engagement painting during Lavinia’s sojourn in Rome in 1575 either by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese or Giacomo Boncompagni. In this context, the presence of the buttons in the form of acorns on the girl’s corset are a strong reminder of the sitter’s aristocratic origins and her features would have immediately placed her among the most beautiful and desirable Italian noblewomen of the time.


Other Portraits of Lavinia Della Rovere

In order to confirm the identification of the sitter, it would be very useful to be able to compare the present portrait with other images of Lavinia Della Rovere. Unfortunately, this is not an easy task. In the Della Rovere’s inventories of the Palace of Urbino, two portraits of Lavinia, one of large dimensions and the other with a small dog, are mentioned without attribution.[34] Neither of these can be identified with the present painting, which, on the other hand, might have been left in Rome after Vittoria’s and Lavinia’s departure, as marriage negotiations with Giacomo Boncompagni continued. It has been noted that the iconography of one of the paintings recorded in the Della Rovere inventories -  ‘A portrait of the Marchioness of Vasto when she married with the lattughe (lace collar), with the left hand over a small dog and the right holding a handkerchief’ – coincides with the Portrait of a Lady at the Hermitage, ascribed to Federico Barocci or, more likely, to his workshop and dated to the end of the sixteenth century according to the museum web site (fig. 11).[35] Another version of this painting is in the Royal Collection Trust; it is attributed to Barocci’s workshop as well and dated 1580-1600 (fig. 12).[36] Thus, both these paintings appear to be copies possibly from a lost original which Barocci might have painted in 1583, on the occasion of Lavinia’s marriage. As such, it is impossible to ascertain how accurate they are in reproducing the aspect of the bride. For sure, they derive from the original the same general composition and background - the latter characterised by a window-seat resting on one baluster, a distinctive architectural feature of the Palace of Urbino, which Barocci included in some other paintings, such as the Madonna of the Cat, London, National Gallery.


But, as a consequence of the process of copy making, there are also several differences between the two, such as the diverse kind of ruffs (plainer in the English version) and dresses (the skirt in the English version is open at the front), as well as the way in which the pearl chain is tied in a knot. For our discussion, however, the most significant difference concerns the face of the sitter: it is so differently rendered in the two paintings that the two ladies can hardly be considered to be the same person.  Since the woman in the English version is very little characterised, possibly also owing to conservation problems, we can cautiously assume that the Hermitage portrait is the most accurate copy from Barocci’s prototype. Some physiognomic similarities between the Hermitage and the present painting can be observed: although the lady at the Hermitage has a round, plump and more mature face, she shares with the present portrait the same brown-reddish hair, brown eyes and straight nose.[37] However, in absence of the original portrait by Barocci, which would more reliably attest to the ‘true’ aspect of Lavinia, these common elements cannot be considered decisive and the comparison among the three paintings reveals itself only indicative.


There are other paintings that have been proposed as portraits of Lavinia Della Rovere, but they are either from a late stage of her life - and thus of little use for a comparison with her youthful portrait - or their identification is very doubtful. Among the pictures belonging to the former group is a portrait dated at the beginning of the XVII century, which represents a lady in black and a child, now in the Palazzo Ducale in Pesaro (fig. 13).[38] Formerly identified as the wife and daughter of Giovanni Andrea Olivieri on the basis of an inscription which a recent restoration suggests to be apocryphal, it has been recently published as Portrait of Lavinia Della Rovere and her nephew Federico Ubaldo.[39]  However, this comparison is not fully convincing. The woman’s face, large and heavy for her age and weight, is too unlike both the lady of the Hermitage and the idealised beauty of the present portrait.


Several paintings attributed to Federico Barocci belong to the second group. Since a portrait of Lavinia by Barocci is documented by several seventeenth-century sources and is also celebrated in a poem by Bernardino Baldi,[40] scholars have tried to identify it, in some cases with questionable results. Barocci’s Double Portrait, London, The Matthiensen Gallery, was initially considered a Double Portrait of Lavinia and Alfonso d’Avalos and dated 1583, the year in which Lavinia got married (fig. 14).[41] This identification has been recently rejected, as the presence of the branch of oak and acorns in the man’s hands, a clear reference to the Della Rovere family, would be inconsistent with the figure of Alfonso d’Avalos. As an alternative, it has been suggested that the painting represents Francesco Maria II Della Rovere and his second wife Livia Della Rovere, but this hypothesis also is not widely accepted.[42] Similarly, Harald Holsen first interpreted the Portrait of a young girl at the Uffizi, Florence, as an image of Lavinia (fig. 15).[43] However, the girl has light eyes, possibly grey, a detail that, as we have seen, does not fit with Lavinia’s physiognomy according to Torquato Tasso.[44] Finally, it is in my opinion absolutely unconvincing to identify Lavinia as the subject of a third portrait, which has been attributed to Federico Barocci on the occasion of a recent exhibition on the Della Rovere family.[45] This painting, now in Pesaro, Private Collection (fig. 16), is rather blurred, either because it is unfinished or as a consequence of an aggressive, former restoration. In consideration of its condition, it is surprising that the girl’s features could be considered similar to those of the supposed Lavinia at the Hermitage and that such comparison can be used as a proof of the identification of the sitter.[46] Further, it is impossible to imagine that a squinted-eyed girl, such as that of the Pesaro painting, could represent the young Lavinia, who had been celebrated for her beauty by contemporary ambassadors and poets since she was a child.


This last example shows how difficult it is to be conclusive in the thorny task of identifying Renaissance portraits. Contrary to other proposals that I have commented upon in this report, however, my suggestion to identify the sitter of the present portrait with Lavinia Della Rovere appears to be consistent with the iconographic, historical and documentary evidence that we possess about her, and thus appears to further our knowledge of this fascinating painting.




[1] Julien Stock, Antonio Mazzotta, Eduard Safarik, and Mina Gregori.

[2] Lisa Goldenberg Stoppato and Claudio Strinati. Uncertain attributions of late sixteenth-century portraits either to Pulzone or Zucchi are quite common for the similarities in style and composition between the two painters. See for instance below, note 11.

[3] Expertise, 23 July 2010. There is no iconographic evidence for this identification, which is based on a personal interpretation of the Colonna inventories.

[4] Expertise, 3 October 2009. In fact, Emma Braid-Taylor’s argument could fit any other noblewoman of the time called Margherita, like for instance Margherita Farnese. In any case, the identification with Margherita Gonzaga has to be rejected, as her portrait by Pieter Paul Rubens, sold at Christie’s in 2011, shows that she had bright red hair and light blue eyes (fig. 17). A second portrait of Margherita by Domenico Tintoretto, in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (fig. 18), represents her with brown eyes; however, as Raffaella Morselli - who studied the painting in detail - told me, they have been painted over. Tintoretto’s portrait has been published in Stefania Lapenta and Raffaella Morselli, eds, Le collezioni Gonzaga. La quadreria nell’elenco dei beni del 1626-1627 (Milan: Silvana Editoriale, 2006), pp. 201-202.

[5] Antonio Vannugli, ‘Scipione Pulzone ritrattista. Traccia per un catalogo ragionato’, in Alessandra Acconci and Alessandro Zuccari, eds, Scipione Pulzone. Da Gaeta a Roma alle corti europee (Rome: Palombi, 2013), p. 51. The identification of the sitter of the Russian portrait is not based on iconographic evidence, but on the presence of an inscription in the upper part of the painting. However, it is uncertain whether this inscription is original or apocryphal and, to the best of my knowledge, no other certain portraits of Vittoria Accoramboni are known. A portrait of her by Scipione Pulzone is documented in Rome, but its iconography is different from the painting in St. Petersburg. In 1653, a ‘portrait of the Corambona who strokes a little dog’ was in the Farnese Palace; the painting appears again in the 1662-80 Farnese inventory, this time attributed to Scipione Pulzone (‘a portrait on canvas of Accoramboni, who strokes a little dog by Scipione Gaetano’); see Giuseppe Bertini, La galleria del duca di Parma: storia di una collezione (Bologna: Nuova Alfa editoriale, 1987), respectively p. 208, no. 42 and p. 228, no. 53. Vannugli, who does not seem to know this reference, mentions another copy of Vittoria Accoramboni’s portrait derived from Scipione’s original in Cardinal Granvelle’s collection.

[6] Felice Orsini (153?-1596) was the wife of Marco Antonio II Colonna and the sister of Paolo Giordano I Orsini, Duke of Bracciano. For this painting, see Eduard A. Safarik, ed., Collezione dei dipinti Colonna. Inventari 1611-1795 (New Providence: Saur, 1996), ill. 16, and Idem, Palazzo Colonna (Rome: De Luca, 1999), p. 24, ill. 16. During the 1570s-1580s, Scipione Pulzone worked both for the Orsini and the Colonna family; see Barbara Furlotti, A Renaissance Baron and his Possessions. Paolo Giordano I Orsini, Duke of Bracciano (1542-1585) (Turnhout: Brepols, 2012), ad vocem ‘Pulzone Scipione’ with previous bibliography.

[7] This might be also a consequence of a different conservation. The present painting has been recently cleaned and appears in perfect condition.

[8] By 1594, Baron Leonhard von Harrach junior asked Ferdinando Vinta to help him obtain permission from the Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici to copy some of his paintings and in particular one of Vittoria Accoramboni (Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Mediceo del Principato, 4027, fol. 444, published in the Medici Archive Project database Bia, doc ID 26084). The copy in question must have been realised either by Scipione himself or by one of his pupils, since in September 1598, after the painter’s death, the original portrait was still in Scipione’s son’s hands. On 5th September 1598, the Medicean ambassador in Rome, Giovanni Niccolini, wrote to Ferdinando I de’ Medici in Florence that he had finally been able to have back the portrait of Vittoria Accoramboni, which he received from Giacomo Pulzone and that he was going to ship it with its ebony frame to Florence; see Suzanne Butters, Elena Fumagalli, and Sylvie Deswarte-Rosa, La Villa Médicis. V. Fonti documentarie (Rome: Académie de France à Rome, 1989-2010), V (2010), p. 401, doc. 964.

[9] On Scipione’s fame as a portraitist, see Vannugli 2013, pp. 25-26.

[10] This painting has been previously alternatively attributed to Scipione Pulzone or Jacopo Zucchi; see Philippe Morel, entry ‘87. Ritratto di Clelia Farnese’, in Michel Hochmann, ed., Villa Medici. Il sogno di un cardinale. Collezioni e artisti di Ferdinando de’ Medici (Rome: De Luca, 1999), pp. 304-305.

[11] Vannugli 2013, p. 51.

[12] On Isabella Della Rovere, see Maria Ann Conelli, ‘The Ecclesiastic Patronage of Isabella Feltria della Rovere. Bricks, Bones, and Brocades’, in Ian F. Verstegen, ed., Patronage and Dynasty. The Rise of the della Rovere in Renaissance Italy (Altoona: Truman State University Press, 2007), pp. 123-38; Emilio Ricciardi, ‘L’apparato funebre di Isabella Feltre della Rovere’, Ricerche sul ‘600 napoletano. Saggi e documenti (2008), pp. 101-109.

[13] On Lavinia Della Rovere, see Augusto Vernarecci, Lavinia Feltria della Rovere, marchesa del Vasto da documenti inediti (Fossombrone: Tipografia di Francesco Monacelli, 1896), and Marina Frettoni, ‘Lavinia Della Rovere’, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana, 1960-ongoing), 37 (1989), pp. 358-60, who however completely relies on Vernarecci. Leandro Castelli, Lavinia e il poeta. La vera storia di Lavinia Feltria della Rovere, marchesa del Vasto, sorella dell’ultimo Duca di Urbino – e di Torquato Tasso, poeta (Roma: Aracne, 2009) is an unreliable source.

[14] The image is published in Guido Arbizzoni, ‘Emblemi e imprese nell’apparato funebre per Isabella Della Rovere (Napoli 1619)’, in Lina Bolzoni and Silvia Volterrani, eds, Con parola brieve e con figura. Emblemi e imprese fra antico e moderno (Pisa: Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, 2008), pp. 495-527.

[15] Eugenio Albèri, ed., Relazioni degli ambasciatori veneti al Senato (Florence: Tipografia and calcografia all’insegna del clio, 1841), II, p.104.

[16] Eugenio Albèri, ed., Relazioni degli ambasciatori veneti al Senato (Florence: Tipografia and calcografia all’insegna del clio, 1841), II, p. 335.

[17] Torquato Tasso, Delle rime et prose del signor Torquato Tasso (Venice: Manuzio, 1583), II, p. 8: ‘Spettacolo à le genti offrir Natura/Volle in angusto spatio il Paradiso,/E nel seren di pargoletto viso/Formò due Soli ardenti oltra misura./Ma vide, che quel lume, e quell’arsura/Senso d’humane tempre havrian conquiso,/Onde, perché ci sia chi miri, e fiso/Vagheggi di sua mano l’alta fattura./Di dolce negro avvolse il lume loro,/E temprò il foco; e il bello, e il dolce ai rai/Accrebbe, e come il fece, essa l’intende./O nuovo de’ duo Soli almo lavoro,/Tanto più bel del Sol, quanto egli rende/Cieco chi’l mira, e tu cerviero il fai’. For the relationship between Tasso and Lavinia, see Verneracci 1896.

[18] Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Mediceo del Principato, 321, c. 120, published on the Medici Archive Project database Bia, doc ID 13896.

[19] The minimum age established by the Canon Law for females was 12. Isabella, Lavinia’s sister, married for instance at 13. According to Fragnito 2013, p. 57, the first marriage arrangements for Lavinia dated back to 1572, when she was 14.

[20] Umberto Coldagelli, ‘Boncompagni Giacomo’, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana, 1960-ongoing), 11 (1969), pp. 689-92.

[21] Bibliography on Cardinal Alessandro Farnese is extensive. For reference, see Stefano Andreatta and Claire Robertson, ‘Farnese Alessandro’, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana, 1960-ongoing), 45 (1995), pp. 52-70. For Alessandro shrewd use of marriages as a political tool to reinforce his prestige and power within the Roman court, both concerning his daughter Clelia Farnese and his niece Lavinia Della Rovere, see Gigliola Fragnito, Storia di Clelia Farnese. Amori, potere, violenza nella Roma della Controriforma (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2013), in particular pp. 94-95 for Lavinia.

[22] Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Mediceo del Principato, 4026, fol. 481, published in The Medici Archive Project database Bia, document ID 26280. In Cardinal Farnese’s palace in Rome Lavinia met her cousin Clelia Farnese and her sister Isabella, who was convalescing from a disease. According to Vernarecci 1896, Vittoria and Lavinia arrived in Rome already in March 1575, but I did not find any evidence for this piece of information.

[23] Bertrand Jestaz, ed., L’Inventaire du Palais et des propriétés Farnèse à Rome en 1644 (Rome: École française de Rome, 1994), p.137, no. 3324 (‘Eight paintings … with portraits of different ladies, seven by Scipione Pulzone and one by Domenichino’). For the identification of some of these portraits, see Bertini 1987 and Vannugli 2013.

[24] Fragnito 2013, in particular pp. 22, 83, and 114.

[25] Pulzone’s portrait is in a private collection and has been published by Fragnito 2013, ill. 2. For Zucchi’s portrait, see note 11. The problem of identification, dating and attribution of Clelia’s portraits is too complicated to be summarised here.

[26] Michel de Montaigne, Journal de voyage en Italie par la Suisse et l'Allemagne en 1580 et 1581 (Paris: Les belles lettres, 1946), p. 486. The series did not appear in the Cesarini inventories of the late seventeenth century; see Carla Benocci, ‘La magnificenza di due casati uniti. L’inventario del 1687 dei quadri di Federico Sforza e di Livia Cesarini’, Rassegna degli archivi di stato, 61 (2001), pp. 101-128.

[27] Fragnito 2013, p. 83.

[28] Vannugli 2013, p. 34.

[29] The painting is signed and dated 1574. Antonio Vannugli, ‘Giacomo Boncompagni duca di Sora e il suo ritratto dipinto da Scipione Pulzone’, Prospettiva, 61 (1991), pp. 54-66; Vannugli 2013, p. 35; and Jeongho Park, Men in Armor: El Greco and Pulzone Face to Face (New York, NY: The Frick Collection, 2014).

[30]  See Archivio di Stato di Mantova, Archivio Gonzaga, 915, fol. 455 (‘Madama most excellent of Urbino is going to leave on Monday to Pesaro and the Princess of Bisignano [Isabella Della Rovere] to Calabria’).

[31] Archivio di Stato di Mantova, Archivio Gonzaga, 917, fols 69r-72v.

[32] Suzanne Butters, Elena Fumagalli, and Sylvie Deswarte-Rosa, eds, La Villa Médicis. V. Fonti documentarie (Rome: Académie de France à Rome, 1989-2010), V (2010), p. 198, doc. 458.

[33] Fragnito 2013, p. 95. See above note 19.

[34] Fert Sangiorgi, ed., Documenti Urbinati. Inventari del Palazzo Ducale (1582-1631) (Urbino: Accademia Raffaello, 1976), pp. 206, 231.

[35]$MLP675MSE2C%2B409M&comeFrom=quick. Emiliani 2008, II, p. 395 considers the work not autograph by Barocci; it also suggests that it is possibly a portrait of a noblewoman of the Malatesta family on the basis of unclear reasons.

[37] This latter is a detail which can be observed also in the English version.

[38] The painting has been moved to Palazzo Ducale from the Prefettura di Pesaro in May 2014; see

[39] Benedetta Montevecchi, ‘Lavinia della Rovere col nipote Federico Ubaldo’, in Paolo del Poggetto and Benedetta Montevecchi, eds, Gli ultimi Della Rovere. Il crepuscolo del Ducato di Urbino (in occasione di due importanti acquisti) (Urbino: Quattroventi, 2000), pp. 46-48 (attributed to an anonymous painter from the Marche); Eadem, ‘Immagini di un piccolo duca: Federico Ubaldo Della Rovere nella pittura del primo ventennio del Seicento’, in Bonita Cleri and alia, eds, I Della Rovere nell’Italia delle corti. Luoghi e opera d’arte (Urbino: Quattroventi, 2002), pp. 227-28 (attributed to an anonymous painter from the Marche), where she however points out that documentary evidence is missing for this identification; Eadem, ‘Lavinia della Rovere col nipote Federico Ubaldo’, in Paolo Dal Poggetto, ed., I Della Rovere. Piero della Francesca, Raffaello, Tiziano (Milan: Electa 2004), pp. 362-63. In this last contribution, Montevecchi unconvincingly ascribes the painting to Lavinia Fontana and confirms the validity of the identification of the two sitters.

[40] Baldi compared rather obviously Lavinia to a sun which is so bright that can irradiate its light also when it is painted (Ardì, Lavinia, il gran Barocci, molto/Quando osò di spiegarne il vostro volto/Chè se dipinger l’arte il sol presume/Dipinge il sol, ma non dipinge il lume/E’ ver, ma del sol vostro è tal la luce/Che dipinto anco al par del sol riluce).

[41] Benedetta Montevecchi, ‘Doppio ritratto di Francesco Maria II e Livia Della Rovere’, in Paolo del Poggetto and Benedetta Montevecchi, eds, Gli ultimi Della Rovere. Il crepuscolo del Ducato di Urbino (in occasione di due importanti acquisti) (Urbino: Quattroventi, 2000), pp. 36-38.

[42] See

[43] Harald Olsen, Federico Barocci. A Critical Study in Italian Cinquecento Painting (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1955), p. 125.

[44] For her likeness with the woman in Barocci’s Double Portrait, it has also been proposed that she is instead Livia Della Rovere; see Novella Barbolani di Montauto, ‘Ritratto di fanciulla’, in Federico Barocci 1535-1612. L’incanto del colore. Una lezione per due secoli (Milan: Silvana, 2009), p. 374.

[45] Grazia Calegari, ‘Ritratto di Lavinia Della Rovere’, in Paolo Dal Poggetto, ed., I Della Rovere. Piero della Francesca, Raffaello, Tiziano (Milan: Electa, 2004), p. 349. The identification has been tentatively accepted by Andrea Emiliani, Federico Barocci (Urbino, 1535-1612) (Ancona: Ars Book, 2008), I, pp. 246-47.

[46] In particular, it is groundless to assert that the Russian woman is squinted-eyed as the Pesaro girl. In fact, there are no traces of strabismus in the Hermitage portrait and, in any case, it would be a strabismus slightly diverging, not converging as in the Pesaro painting.

Click on image to zoom

Related works

Search for all works by Scipione Pulzone

Contact us about this work

Contact us for further information about this work

Share this work