Lot 30
  • 30

Orazio Borgianni

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
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  • Orazio Borgianni
  • Christ amongst the doctors
  • oil on canvas


Almost certainly commissioned by the Spanish diplomat Juan de Lezcano after his move to Rome in 1609 and remained in his collection until his death in Naples in 1631. Two paintings of this subject are cited in his inventory, dated 22 January 1631, as no. 9 ("La disputa de Cristo con los doctores, quadro mediano del detto Borgian original") and no. 10 ("Un Cristo mediano que sta en acto de disputar original del dicho Borgiano");
Private collection, New York, 1956;
Julius Weitzner, New York & London;
From whom acquired by the present owner in the mid-1960s.


Cleveland, Cleveland Museum of Art, Caravaggio and His Followers, 1971, no. 6;
Mantua, Palazzo Te, Domenico Fetti 1588/89-1623, 15 September - 15 December 1996, no. 7;
Milan, Palazzo Reale, & Vienna, Liechtenstein Museum, Caravaggio e l'Europa: Il movimento caravaggesco internazionale da Caravaggio a Mattia Preti, 15 October 2005 - 6 February 2006 & 5 March - 9 July 2006, no II.12.


F. Zeri, "Orazio Borgianni: un'osservazione e un dipinto inedito", in Paragone, vol. 83, November 1956, pp. 49-53, reproduced fig. 30 and details figs. 31 and 32 (as Orazio Borgianni, and as in a New York private collection);
L. Cannizzaro, "Un pittore del primo Seicento: Orazio Borgianni", in Studi Salentini, Lecce 1962, vol. XIII, p. 31;
H.E. Wethey, "Orazio Borgianni in Italy and in Spain", in The Burlington Magazine, April 1964, vol. CVI, number 733, p. 154, footnote 42, reproduced p. 156, fig. 17;
A. Moir, The Italian Followers of Caravaggio, Cambridge (Mass.) 1967, vol. I, p. 48, reproduced vol. II, fig. 53;
R. Spear, Caravaggio and His Followers, exhibition catalogue, Cleveland, Cleveland Museum of Art, 1971 (and revised 1975 ed.), p. 52, cat. no. 6, reproduced on p. 53;
G. Papi, "Orazio Borgianni', in M. Gregori & E. Schleier eds., La pittura in Italia. Il Seicento, vol. II, Milan 1988, p. 648;
B. Nicolson, Caravaggism in Europe, Turin 1990, vol. I, p. 67, reproduced vol. II, fig. 113;
Probably G. Labrot, Collections of Paintings in Naples 1600-1780, The Provenance Index of the Getty Art History Information Program, London, New York, & Paris, 1992, p. 56, no. 9 ("La disputa de Cristo con los doctores, quadro mediano del detto Borgian original") or no. 10 ("Un Cristo mediano que sta en acto de disputar original del dicho Borgiano");
M. Gallo, "Orazio Borgianni, l'Accademia di S. Luca e l'Accademia degli Humoristi: documenti e nuove datazioni", in Storia dell'Arte, vol. LXXVI, 1992, p. 315;
G. Papi, Orazio Borgianni, Soncino 1993, pp. 117-118, cat. no. 28, reproduced in colour with details on pp. 64-66, plates XXXIV-XXXVI;
G. Papi, Antiveduto Gramatica, Soncino 1995, p. 225, fig. 106;
A.E. Pérez Sánchez, "Orazio Borgianni", in J. Turner ed., The Dictionary of Art, vol. 4, London 1996, p. 412;
E.A. Safarik, in Domenico Fetti 1588/89-1623, exhibition catalogue, Mantua, Palazzo Te, 15 September - 15 December 1996, p. 82, cat. no. 7, reproduced in colour;
M. Gallo, Orazio Borgianni pittore romano (1574-1616) e Francisco de Castro, conte di Castro, Rome 1997, pp. 98 and 116-117;
A. Vannugli, "Orazio Borgianni, Juan de Lezcano and a 'Martyrdom of St. Lawrence' at Roncesvalles", in The Burlington Magazine, January 1998, vol. CXL, no. 1138, p. 8;
G. Papi, "Lanfranco verso Borgianni", in Paragone, Anno LIV, no. 50 (641), July 2003, pp. 18 and 20-21, footnote 11, reproduced plate 24;
B. Granata, in Caravaggio e l'Europa: Il movimento caravaggesco internazionale da Caravaggio a Mattia Preti, exhibition catalogue, Milan, Palazzo Reale, 15 October 2005 - 6 February 2006; & Vienna, Liechtenstein Museum, 5 March - 9 July 2006, p. 202, cat. no II.12, reproduced in colour on p. 203;
A. Vannugli, La collezione del segretario Juan de Lezcano, Rome 2009, pp. 403-7;
M. Gallo, in A. Zuccari ed., I Caravaggeschi: Percorsi e protagonisti, Milan 2010, p. 341, reproduced in colour on p. 340, fig. 5, and a detail on p. 334;
M. Gallo, "Il testamento e la morte di Orazio Borgianni", forthcoming article, 2012.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's. This painting has a fairly recent relining, which could perhaps date from preparations for the Cleveland Exhibition in 1972, as may the stretcher. There may also have been a slight superficial restoration and revarnishing at that moment. However in general the paint surface appears not to have been disturbed and the full impasted texture and rich, unworn quality of the brushwork remains beautifully preserved. An outer band all round the edges seems to have been added by the artist to expand the size of the painting by an inch or two on all sides. Occasional old retouching along the lines of the seam can be seen in places, with one or two other fairly superficial older retouchings, for instance in a diagonal slanting up the shadow in the drapery falling from the shoulder in the backview of the figure on the right. Another small patch of retouching can be seen by the profile of the doctor above Christ at centre left. Some small patches of discoloured retouching in the neck of Christ have also recently been touched out. Frequent pentimenti are visible or felt throughout the vivid brushwork: around the bespectacled figure on the left, in the hat and hand of the figures on the right and the nose of the doctor at centre right, among many others. The contrasts of tone and chiaroscuro and strength of impasto have not been worn or crushed and remain exceptionally powerful. The overall condition is remarkably unworn, intact and undisturbed.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This extraordinary painting by the rare and phenomenally talented Caravaggesque painter Orazio Borgianni was first published by Federico Zeri in 1956, when the painting was in a New York private collection. A close friend of Carlo Saraceni and Antiveduto Gramatica, Borgianni was born in Rome on 6 April 1574, the son of a wood-painter (faberlignarius).1  After completing his early training in Rome, Borgianni travelled to Spain where he is recorded from 1598 and his presence there in the first decade of the 17th century is documented intermittently. He is recorded in Zaragoza (c.1600), Pamplona (March 1601), Valladolid (February 1603), Madrid (June 1603) and Toledo (October 1603 to March 1604). The biographer Giovanni Baglione tells us he took a wife there and set up an art academy: he is indeed listed among the founders of the Academia de San Lucas in Madrid at the end of June 1603. By June 1606 Borgianni had settled back permanently in Rome.2  Whilst in Spain he forged links with the artistocracy and found patrons among them, especially those in the inner circle of Philip III's favourite, the duque de Lerma.3  The alliance that was to prove most significant in Borgianni's artistic career was that with Francisco Ruiz de Castro Andrade y Portugal, conde de Castro and duque de Taurisano, whose own brother Pedro, 7th conde de Lemos, had married the duque de Lerma's daughter in 1598.4  Francisco Ruiz de Castro was later to become Spanish ambassador in Rome and his secretary, Juan de Lezcano, not only owned numerous paintings by Borgianni (twelve are listed in his will of 1631) but most probably commissioned the present work directly from the artist.

Since its first publication, the Christ Amongst the Doctors has been dated to Borgianni's second Roman period, that is after his definitive return from Spain.5  More recently, scholars Gianni Papi and Marco Gallo have suggested a specific date of circa 1610, or shortly thereafter, which concords well with other works executed by the artist around this time. A key work in Borgianni's chronology is his vast fragmentary altarpiece of The Apparition of the Virgin to Saint Francis, formerly in the Cappella del Cimitaro, Sezze Romano, which is securely datable to 1608.6  This ambitious work is profoundly Emilian in character: the multitude of interlocking angels recalls Correggio whilst the central scene looks forward to Giovanni Lanfranco (to whom the altarpiece was once attributed). The influence of Caravaggio is entirely absent from the Sezze Romano painting - except for the Franciscan in the lower foreground - and this is rather characteristic of Borgianni's art in general for, despite being considered a follower or 'adherent' of Caravaggio's, many of his works are not 'Caravaggesque' in the strictest sense. Though the theatrical quality of Borgianni's paintings and his use of chiaroscuro are ultimately inspired by Caravaggio, his colour palette is quite different; influenced more by Titian and other 16th-century Venetian painters. When Zeri first published the Christ Amongst the Doctors he stressed the painting's Venetian qualities and noted that Borgianni's colour range and 'painterliness' here were indebted to 16th-century Venetian painters such as Titian, Tintoretto and the Bassano family; all of whom Borgianni could have studied in Spain as well as in Rome (though Gallo hypothesises a possible trip to Venice). A strong stylistic comparison can also be made with Borgianni's marvellous Holy Family with Saints Elizabeth and John the Baptist (Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Palazzo Barberini, Rome), also datable to around 1610.7  Here too the colour range is muted, the brushwork confident and free: a telling comparison can be made between the Madonna and Joseph's ears in the Barberini picture with that of Christ here. The Christ Amongst the Doctors is executed in subdued tones and muted colours, the brush loaded thick with paint, and the impasto on the doctors' turbans is still wonderfully preserved. Christ's halo is hinted at with three flashes of orange paint, applied swiftly at the left, right and top of His head, in a manner similar to that on the Barberini painting's Christ Child but somewhat less emphatic for the doctors crowd around Him here.

The raw but sophisticated application of paint and the dry brushwork led both Nicolson and Spear to point out a similarity with Giovanni Serodine, though this can only be argued on technical grounds for Borgianni and Serodine's works only resemble each other superficially.8  Serodine's painting of the same subject in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, for example, lacks the dynamism of Borgianni's design and has a 'frozen' quality that is entirely absent in the present work.9  Borgianni has arranged his composition across diagonals, at the centre of which the young Christ is shown gesticulating right and left, thus directing our attention across the entire picture. The doctors are arranged in an arc encircling Christ, their seemingly haphazard arrangement reflecting the confusion in which they find themselves. Borgianni has painted a complex group of figures but each protagonist firmly occupies his space. Christ represents an oasis of calm in the centre of the composition and the result is extremely theatrical: one can feel the turmoil amongst the doctors, their shock and surprise at the young Christ engaging in such a heated debate.

The painting's early provenance is remarkable since it is thought to have been commissioned directly from the artist by the Spanish diplomat Juan de Lezcano. Lezcano was secretary to Francisco Ruiz de Castro during the latter's tenure as Spanish ambassador in Rome from 1609 to 1616. It seems likely that Borgianni had met Lezcano before the latter's move to Italy, however, and in all likelihood this happened in Zaragoza, in or before 1600, as the painter Jusepe Martínez reports that the artist stopped there on his way to Madrid. In March 1616, just two months after Borgianni's death, Lezcano followed Ruiz de Castro to Naples and then Sicily. By this date Ruiz de Castro, Lezcano and Borgianni had evidently become very close: in his will dated 30 November 1615, the artist names Lezcano as executor of his estate and bequeaths him a small painting of a Crucifixion and a sword.10  Ruiz de Castro was also named as a beneficiary in Borgianni's will, receiving a pair of portraits of the artist's parents, a portrait of Guarino and a Head of a Medusa painted on a roundel.11  Furthermore Borgianni dedicated two engravings to his Spanish patrons: his Saint Christopher to Juan de Lezcano, who owned the painting upon which the etching is based; and his Lamentation over the Dead Christ to Francisco Ruiz de Castro, who also possessed a painted version of this composition.12

When Ruiz de Castro left Italy for Spain in 1622, Lezcano moved to Naples and purchased a house with a garden on the seafront in the Borgo di Chiaia. In January 1631 Lezcano's will was drawn up, listing his collection of pictures, silver and furniture.13 The inventory is compiled with great thoroughness, carefully distinguishing between originals and copies, and no fewer than twelve paintings by Borgianni are listed. Among the 'Relation de las Pinturas del segretario Juan de Lescano' two different paintings of Christ Amongst the Doctors are listed: no. 9 ('La disputa de Cristo con los doctores, quadro mediano del detto Borgian original') and no. 10 ('Un Cristo mediano que sta en acto de disputar original del detto Borgiano').14  Although no dimensions are given, the description of both paintings and the fact that they are each described as 'original' and 'mediano' would argue for the present work being identifiable with one or other of the paintings listed. In fact, two autograph versions of this composition exist: the second, published for the first time by Gallo (1997) and subsequently by Vannugli (1998), is in the collection of Count Guglielmo Pandolfi Elmi in Foligno and is of slightly larger dimensions (100 by 128 cm.).15  The present painting, with its characteristically tight composition and more spontaneous handling of paint, should be considered Borgianni's prime version and is therefore more likely to be a contender for Leczano's picture. The presence of numerous pentimenti further support the hypothesis that this painting was executed before the Pandolfi Elmi version and the changes are particularly evident in raking light: for example, the arm, drapery and hood of the leftmost doctor have all been noticeably changed, as has the hand and sleeve of the rightmost doctor holding the book and the blue cap of the doctor behind him, and the position of one of the two spiralled columns in the right background also seem to have been changed at quite a late stage in the painting's execution. The Christ among the Doctors was almost certainly commissioned by Lezcano in Rome, shortly after the Spanish diplomat's arrival there in 1609, and this fits comfortably with the painting's generally accepted date of execution of circa 1610 or shortly thereafter.

Wethey, whilst calling it 'the most stirring of all Borgianni's creations', put forward an identification with the painting in the Smith-Barry collection at Marbury Hall near Northwich, Cheshire, described by Waagen as a putative Caravaggio: 'MICHAEL ANGELO DA CARAVAGGIO(?). - Christ and the Doctors in the Temple. The Christ is of too elevated a character, and the painting too tame, for him. The picture is, however, by an excellent master'.16  This provenance was later put into question by Spear (1971) but cited by numerous scholars thereafter (as recently as 2006). The 'Caravaggio' to which Waagen refers was in fact sold in the first of two Marbury Hall sales, on 21 June 1933, lot 53: its dimensions are too large and of the wrong proportions to be identifiable with the present work.17


1.  Borgianni was born of Giovanni and Camilla de Ruberti (o Roberti) who, from a previous marriage, had borne a son; Giulio Lassi called 'lo Scalzo', a sculptor of considerable success in Sicily.
2.  A document dated 22 June 1606 records Borgianni's participation in a fight near Santa Maria in Via in Rome (published by G.L. Masetti Zannini, Pittori della seconda metà del Cinquecento in Roma, Rome 1974, p. 15).
3.  Borgianni was employed, with an assistant, by Juan de Zúñiga Avellaneda y Bazán (1541-1608), conde de Miranda, presidente del Consejo de Italia and presidente del Consejo de Castilla from 1600 to 1608.
4.  Francisco Ruiz de Castro owned a version of Borgianni's Lamentation over the Dead Christ which Borgianni himself engraved in 1615, adding a dedication to the ambassador. Ruiz de Castro also commissioned a Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus from the artist in 1610 (private collection; see Gallo, under Literature, p. 224, fig. 10).
5.  Zeri (1956) and Cannizzaro (1962) both dated the work to Borgianni's second Roman sojourn; Wethey (1964) suggested 1605-10; Moir (1967) circa 1609-10; Spear (1971) argued for a similar date of 1608-10; Papi and Gallo believe the painting to date from 1610 or shortly thereafter.
6.  This painting, partially destroyed (only the central section survived a theft in 1976 and can be seen today at the Antiquarium of Sezze Romano), once measured 380 by 250 cm. It was painted for Benedetto Melchiorre in 1608 and was probably intended to hang at the main altar of San Francesco a Ripa but ended up in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, o degli Zoccolanti, in Sezze Romano (published by Papi, under Literature, 1993, pp. 109-110, cat. no. 16, reproduced fig. 9 (before the theft, in its entirety) and fig. 10 (detail) as well as in colour plates XII and XIII).
7.  Papi, op. cit., pp. 111-12, cat. no. 18, reproduced in colour plate XVI and details XVII-XIX.
8.  Nicolson also pointed out a link between Borgianni's Christ among the Doctors and Hendrick Terbrugghen for the leftmost doctor wearing glasses reappears in an anonymous drawing, presumably after a lost Terbrugghen painting, in the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris. The drawing, Saint John the Baptist Preaching (red chalk on paper; 207 by 315 mm.), is published in B. Nicolson, Hendrick Terbrugghen, London 1958, cat. no. D93, reproduced fig. 105a.
9.  R. Chiappini, Serodine. L'opera completa, Milan 1987, p. 112, cat. no. 8, reproduced in colour.
10.  See Vannugli, under Literature, p. 5.
11.  Ibid.
12.  Reproduced by Vannugli, ibid., p. 6, figs. 3 and 4.
13.  The will and two attached inventories are in the Archivio di Stato, Naples, Notary Giovanni Domenico Cotignola, scheda 100, prot.47, fols. 263-75v and 278-85 respectively. The will was signed on 14 January 1631, the inventories are dated 22 January and that of the paintings is signed; an earlier will had been made in July 1629, before the same notary. See Labrot, under Literature, p. 56 ff..
14.  Ibid., p. 56, nos. 9 and 10.
15.  Gallo, under Literature, 1997, was the first to publish the Pandolfi Elmi variant on pp. 116-7 and 145, reproduced plate II. Vannugli, who published the painting a  year later (op. cit., p. 8, fig. 6) stated that 'there can be little doubt that the composition of these two versions corresponds to that of Lezcano's picture, but it is impossible to be sure which of the two, if either, belonged to him'.
16.  G.Waagen, Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain, London 1857, vol. IV, p. 410, as hanging in the Dining-room at Marbury Hall.
17.  Marbury Hall sale (Sold by Order of the Trustees of the Late Rt. Hon. Lord Barrymore), London, Sotheby's, 21 June 1933, lot 53: 'Caravaggio. Christ and the Doctors at the Temple. 42½ by 47 in.'. The Borgianni measures 30¾ by 42½ in.. The second Marbury Hall sale took place at Sotheby's, London, on 1 May 1946.