Lot 28
  • 28

DIEGO RODRÍGUEZ DE SILVA Y VELÁZQUEZ | Portrait of Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj (1591–1657), half length, wearing black

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 GBP
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  • Diego Velázquez
  • Portrait of Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj (1591–1657), half length, wearing black
  • the reverse bears the cipher of the Marqués del Carpio and inventory number: DGH/429
  • oil on original canvas (strip-lined), in a rare Spanish reverse cassetta, gilded and faux-marble frame
  • 77.4 x 61 cm.; 30 ½ x 24 in.


Commissioned by or for the sitter, Donna Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj (1591 - 1657), on 11th July 1650; Thence by descent to her grandson Cardinal Camillo Massimi (1620–1677), listed in his posthumous inventory, dated Rome 11 October 1677, as hanging on the left-hand wall of his gallery, under no. 106: ‘Diego Velasco’;

Don Gaspar Méndez de Haro, 7th Marqués del Carpio, Duque de Montoro, Conde-Duque de Olivares, Marqués de Eliche (1629 – 1687), Rome and Naples, by whom purchased in 1678 from the estate of the above for ‘20 y 20 escudos’; and listed in his inventory dated Rome 7 September 1682 – 1 January 1683, under no. 429, as ‘Ritratto di Donna Olimpia Panfilia con velo nero in testa’ as by ‘Diego Velasco’ with a value of 50 scudi; and in his posthumous inventory dated Naples 1687, also under no. 429;

Don Eugenio de los Rios, Caballero de Santiago and Mayordomo Mayor to the late Marqués del Carpio, in 1688, together with Velázquez’s portrait of Camillo Massimi (as ‘dos retratos de Velazquez de 3 x 2½ palmos’), perhaps in lieu of debt from the late Marqués;

Sig. Cesare Barbaro, Naples, to whom passed on 8 June 1692 from Don Eugenio de los Rios, together with the portrait of Cardinal Massimi (as ‘dos retratros de Velazquez de 3 x 2½ palmos’);

Cardinal Pompeo Aldrovandi (1668–1752), Bologna and Rome, by 1724 (as ‘Diego Valaschi, Ritratto di D.a Olimpia Pamphili’ and ‘Ritratto di Mons.r Massimi’);

Anonymous sale, The Hague, Venduhuis der Notarissen, 22 April 1986, lot 205 (as Dutch school, c. 1650 [‘Hollandse School, ca. 1650’]);

Where purchased by a private collector;

By whom bequeathed to the present owner.


Recorded in a letter by Francesco Gualenghi, a resident of Modena living in Rome, to Francesco I d'Este, Duke of Modena (1610 - 1658), dated 13th July 1650; Inventario dei beni ereditarij della chiar. mem. dell’Em.mo Sig.re Card. Massimi, 11 October 1677, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Codice Capponiano 280, in ‘La collezione del cardinal Massimo e l’inventario del 1677’, AAVV, Camillo Massimo collezionista di antichità. Fonti e materiali, Rome 1996, pp. 91–153 and p. 100, no. 136 (as ‘Diego Velasco’, hanging on the left-hand wall in Massimi’s gallery);

Listed in the inventory dated 7 September 1682 – 1 January 1683 of works belonging to Don Gaspar Méndez de Haro, 7th Marqués del Carpio (1629–1687), drawn up in Rome, under no. 429, as ‘Ritratto di Donna Olimpia Panfilia con velo nero in testa’ as by ‘Diego Velasco’ with a value of 50 scudi, for which see M.B. Burke, Private Collections of Italian Art in Seventeenth-Century Spain, 1984, vol. I, p. 293, no. 429;

Listed in the inventory drawn up on the death of the Marqués del Carpio in 1687, under no. 429, for which see Burke 1984, vol. I, p. 343 ff.;

A. Palomino, Lives of the Eminent Spanish Painters and Sculptors Inventory, 1724, Cambridge 1987 (ed.), p. 159, listed as ‘Velazquez portrayed Cardinal Pamphili, the illustrious Donna Olimpia, Monsignor Camillo Massimi…’;

E. Harris, Velasquez, Oxford 1982, p. 146, as a lost work;

A. Delfino, ‘Alcuni documenti sui pittori del '600 tratti dall’Archivio dei Stato di Napoli’, in Ricerche sul ‘600 napoletano, 1998, pp. 17–22;

Corpus velazqueño, Madrid, Ministerio de Cultura, 2000, II, p. 554, no. 520;

J.L. Colomer, in F.C. Cremades et al., Cortes del Barroco: de Bernini y Velázquez a Luca Giordano, exh. cat., Madrid 2003, p. 38;

E. Harris, Estudios completos sobre Velázquez, Madrid 2006, pp. 27–31, 185–194;

Velázquez, exh. cat., National Gallery, London, 2006–2007, p. 224, under no. 40 (as probably painted in July 1650 but now lost);

F. Checa, Velázquez, The Complete Paintings, 2008, p. 186, under no. 73 (as a lost work);

L. de Frutos, El Templo de la Fama. Alegoría del Marqués del Carpio, Fundación Arte Hispánico, Madrid 2009, pp. 467–68, no. 647.


Pierre Daret (1604 - 1678), in Tableaux historiques, où sont graves les illustres Francois et Etrangers de I'un et 1' autre sexe, Paris, 1653;

Guillaume Vallet (1632 - 1704), Rome, 1657;

Giovanni Battista Cecchi (c. 1748 – 1815), in Vita di Donna Olimpia Maidalchini, 1781.


The following condition report is provided by Henry Gentle who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velasquez Portrait of Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj Oil on canvas, 77.4 c 61 cm; 30.1/2" x 24", in a period faux marble and gilt frame in good condition. The original canvas is in a good preserved state, it has been strip lined with silk and strained over a Perspex support. There is a visible vertical sewn canvas join running down through the background and into the sitter's left shoulder and arm; this join has been reinforced to the reverse. It appears that there is the remains of an original tacking edge, or possibly painted canvas turned and utilised as a tacking edge, along the bottom of the canvas; minor evenly spaced restored loss is visible under UV light. The paint layer is stable and secure; there is one small raised fracture to the sitter's top lip. The painted surface is in a good preserved state. Under UV light two small repaired losses can be detected in the background upper left and one small loss just above the left finial of the chair. Restoration to mitigate minor loss down the sewn join and to blend it in to the paint layer is also visible, along with a scattering of restoration to reduce the slightly abraded background paint revealing an area of medium coarse canvas texture above the sitter's left shoulder. The speed of the application of the background paint, dark brown in nature and used sparingly, is apparent . Vigorous brushwork is evident, too, in the way the silvery grey tone of the highlights of the dress have been applied. It is not a highly finished life study but neither an unfinished portrait either, there is volume beneath the sketchy application of the paint of the dress and a naturally unresolved, but perfectly readable , state of her gloved hand. The artist has concentrated his efforts in to capturing the personality of the sitter; the head is painted with authority, a sensitive recording of what the artist saw, with a lightness of touch of pale paint over underlying bone structure. There is a natural sheen to the flesh and he has used the darker under paint as a mid tone and allowed it to come through to model the shadows, the highlights added as a top note at the end. The more subtle top glazes on the flesh tones have been slightly compromised. The naturally thinly applied paint has become thinner over the passage of time and as it has dried a myriad of pale shrinkage cracking has appeared which has had the effect of fragmenting the paint and the image, particularly to the dark shadows of the dress. In my opinion, it is this phenomenon rather than the abrasive nature of any previous injudicious cleaning that has given the impression of a painting not in pristine condition. There is a degraded and discoloured varnish in situ, visible under UV light; Its removal would improve the overall tonality and allow for a re-saturation of the paint which would bring about an improvement in the three dimensional quality of the image. The report was not carried out under laboratory conditions.
"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 highly important painting is the hitherto missing portrait of Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj (1591 - 1657), sister-in-law and reputedly lover to Pope Innocent X, painted by Diego Velázquez during the artist's second trip to Rome in 1649-50. The painting belongs to a moment of extraordinary artistic genius, during which perhaps the greatest portrait painter of all time produced some of his most celebrated masterpieces, including the Portrait of Pope Innocent X (fig.1), hailed by Sir Joshua Reynolds as 'the finest picture in Rome', as well as the outstanding portrait of his assistant Juan de Pareja, today in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.  Only recently rediscovered, the portrait of Donna Olimpia depicts one of the most powerful, formidable and ambitious women of her day who was intimately connected with the leading figures at the papal court and became known as the 'Papessa' (lady pope) on account of the enormous influence and control she exerted over Innocent X. Although the painting has not survived in the same pristine condition as many of the other great portraits by Velázquez from his second trip to Rome, it nevertheless exudes the artist's unique ability to capture and convey the personality of a sitter and to create the illusion that we are in their very presence. This remarkable portrait of one of the most fascinating and domineering women of her time, who has been described as among Rome's earliest feminists, can be counted among only a handful of works by the great Spanish master remaining in private hands. In 1649 Velázquez undertook a second trip to Italy to acquire paintings and statuary for his patron Philip IV. He sailed from Malaga to Genoa and journeyed through Milan, Venice and Modena before eventually reaching Rome in May 1649, where he would remain until his departure in November 1650 (interrupted only by visits to Naples and Gaeta in June/July 1649 and March 1650). Whereas during the artist's first trip to Rome in 1629-30 he was relatively unknown outside of Spain, by the time of his second trip some twenty years later he enjoyed an international reputation. In Rome he was official painter to the papal court and appears to have had no rival in the medium of paint, for the greatest masters in portraiture in Rome at the time were the sculptors Gianlorenzo Bernini and Alessandro Algardi. 

Some half a dozen portraits by Velázquez survive from his second Roman period, namely the celebrated Portrait of Innocent X, today in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome (fig. 1), a half-length version of which is in the collection of the Duke of Wellington, Apsley House, London; the Portrait of Juan de Pareja, the artist’s assistant, who travelled with him to Rome, today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Portrait of Ferdinando Brandini, at the Museo del Prado, Madrid; the Portrait of Camillo Massimi in the ownership of the National Trust, The Bankes Collection, Kingston Lacy (fig. 3); the Portrait of Cardinal Camillo Astalli, at the Hispanic Society, New York (fig. 4); the Portrait of a Gentleman, at the Musei Capitolini, Rome; the Portrait of a Young Girl with a Headscarf, in a private collection, New York; and the Portrait of Monsignor Segni, Maggiordomo to Pope Innocent X, painted in collaboration with the Cremonese Master Pietro Martire Neri, today in a private collection, England.

The precise date for the execution of Velázquez’s portrait of Donna Olimpia is recorded in a letter by Francesco Gualenghi, a resident of Modena living in Rome, to Francesco I d’Este, Duke of Modena (1610–1658):

‘Lunedi la Sra. Donna Olimpia si trattenni tutto il giorno con diverse Donne…; anzi intendo che lunedi doppo il pranzo si compiacque di lasciarsi ritrare da un pittore spagnnolo assai valente, che dicono esser valletto di Camera del Re di Spagna.’1
Given the letter is dated 13th July 1650, which was a Wednesday, we can deduce that Donna Olimpia sat to Velázquez on Monday 11th July 1650, after lunch. This would place the date of the picture to shortly after the Portrait of Pope Innocent X, which dates to around the start of the Pontiff’s Jubilee on 25 December 1649 and is believed to have brought about Velázquez’s admission to the Academy of Saint Luke in January 1650.

The painting passed by descent, perhaps after Donna Olimpia's death in 1657, to her grandson Cardinal Camillo Massimi (1620–1677), in whose gallery it is recorded as hanging alongside his own celebrated portrait by Velázquez (fig. 3). Massimi was a famous connoisseur, art patron and collector, future Nuncio at the Spanish court and Cardinal. He was Camariere d’honore, or private chamberlain, to Pope Innocent X and in Velázquez’s portrait is seen wearing the peacock coloured robes associated with that office. In October 1650 he was made Canon of Saint Peter’s, very likely the appointment which lead to the commissioning of his portrait by Velázquez, and as attested by the only two surviving letters by the artist's hand, the two men clearly enjoyed a close friendship.

Following the death of Cardinal Massimi in 1677 the portrait of Donna Olimpia was acquired, together with many works of art, antiquities and paintings, directly from his estate by Don Gaspar Méndez de Haro y Guzmán, 7th Marqués del Carpio, (1629–1687), whose original inventory number and cipher can still be seen on the reverse of the painting's original canvas to this day and is critical in identifying the present work as Velazquez's hitherto lost original (fig. 9). Don Gaspar had arrived in Rome in March 1677 as Spanish Ambassador for Charles II, King of Spain, where he became a great patron and protector of the arts, acquiring no fewer than six paintings by Velázquez (including the present work), the largest number ever belonging to one single private collector. In 1682/83 he relocated to Naples to take up his appointment as Spanish Viceroy and during the course of his lifetime would become the most celebrated art collector of the day within Italy, amassing a collection of over 1,800 paintings by the time of his death.

The portrait of Donna Olimpia is recorded in two key inventories of possessions belonging to the Marqués del Carpio in 1682 and 1687. The inventory number still clearly visible on the back of the painting today (fig. 9) corresponds directly to the first of these, drawn up in Rome and dated 7 September 1682 – 1 January 1683. The portrait is listed under no. 429, as ‘Ritratto di Donna Olimpia Panfilia con velo nero in testa’, as by ‘Diego Velasco’. In addition to the identification of the artist and sitter (described as wearing a black veil on her head), the inventory also lists the painting’s dimensions as 3 by 2 ½ Roman palmi (a palmo being approximately 0.21 m.) and records that it was formerly in the collection of the sitter’s grandson, Monsignor Camillo Massimi, under inventory number 106.

The subsequent entry in the 1682/83 inventory, no. 430, relates to Velázquez’s Portrait of Camillo Massimi (oil on canvas, 75.9 x 61 cm. - fig. 3). Of particular significance is that the painting is recorded as the same size as the portrait of Donna Olimpia (3 by 2½ palmi) and is assigned an equal value of 50 scudi. The identical measurements of the two portraits is important as it indicates that in 1682/83, a little over 30 years after they were painted by Velázquez, both canvases were broadly of the same dimensions and format that they are today.

The portrait of Donna Olimpia is subsequently recorded in the inventory of possessions drawn up on the death of the Marqués del Carpio in Naples in 1687, where it is still listed together with the portrait of Camillo Massimi. Yet while many of the late Marqués' possessions were sent back to Spain after his death, these two portraits by Velázquez are not listed among them. Instead they appear to have been sold in Italy to help pay off the Viceroy’s considerable debts. In 1688 the two works, described as ‘dos retratos de Velazquez de 3 x 2½ palmos’, passed into the possession of Don Eugenio de los Rios, Caballero de Santiago and Mayordomo Mayor to the late Marqués, who seems to have received them in lieu of debt. They subsequently passed into the collection of Sig. Cesare Barbaro of Naples on 8th June 1692. By 1724 both paintings are recorded in the collection of Cardinal Pompeo Aldrovandi (1668–1752) of Bologna and Rome, listed as ‘Diego Valaschi, Ritratto di D.a Olimpia Pamphili’ and ‘Ritratto di Mons.r Massimi’.

The Portrait of Camillo Massimi ended up in the collection of Count Ferdinando Marescalchi (1754–1816) in Bologna and it was from that collection that it was acquired by William John Bankes in around 1819–20 and brought to Kingston Lacy, Dorset, where it remains to this day. The fate of the portrait of Donna Olimpia is less certain. According to old customs stamps on the reverse of the former stretcher, the painting appears to have left Italy in 1911, but it was not until recently that it emerged from obscurity and was correctly identified as Velázquez’s missing portrait.

Velazquez's portrait of Donna Olimpia clearly enjoyed a considerable degree of fame following its creation in 1650. The painting was engraved on at least three occasions, the earliest being by the French engraver Pierre Daret, which was printed in Paris in 1653, just three years after the painting's execution. In 1659 it was engraved by the Frenchman Guillaume Vallet (fig. 7), who was based between Rome and Paris, and the portrait was also copied in a squared drawing by the Roman artist Giovanni Battista Salvi, called Il Sassoferrato, which is today in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York (fig. 8). Each of the aforementioned images depict the sitter without the hand as seen in the portrait today, raising the question as to whether this may have been added at a later date. Opinion is divided among scholars as to whether Velázquez painted all of Donna Olimpia's body or whether he sketched an outline more in keeping with the study for Pope Innocent X today in the Collection of the Duke of Wellington at Apsley House, but it seems plausible that there may have been some intervention at an early date. 

That Donna Olimpia should have been chosen as one of the select few (and the only lady) to have been painted by Velázquez during the artist's busy second trip to Rome should come as no surprise. She was one of the most influential figures at the papal court during the tenure of her brother-in-law Pope Innocent X and had striven tirelessly throughout her life to obtain a position of such power and influence. Born in 1591 in Viterbo, one of the Papal States, to Sforza Maidalchini and Vittoria Gualterio, a noble of Viterbo whose grandfather had been Papal Nuncio to France and the Council of Trent, she was married in 1608 to Paolo Nini, one of the wealthiest men in Viterbo, who died three years later. She married a second time to Pamphilio Pamphilj, elder brother of Cardinal Giambattistta Pamphilj, who in 1644 was elected Pope Innocent X. Her second husband Pamphilio died in 1639 and soon after his election, Innocent elevated his late brother’s son Camillo to the office of Cardinal-nephew although he subsequently renounced the cardinalate to marry Olimpia Aldobrandini, the grand-niece of Pope Clement VIII. Donna Olimpia’s nephew Francesco was then elevated to Cardinal-nephew, however due to his ineptitude in the role he was replaced by Cardinal Astalli, whose portrait by Velázquez (also painted in Rome in around 1649–50) is today in the collection of The Hispanic Society of America (fig. 4), resulting in an ongoing feud between Donna Olimpia and Astalli.

Donna Olimpia’s influence with her brother-in-law Pope Innocent X was well known. In 1645 the Venetian ambassador reported:

‘She is a lady of great prudence and worth; she understands the position she holds as sister-in-law to the pope; she enjoys the esteem of his holiness; and has great influence with him.’

She effectively controlled appointments at the papal court, with candidates for vacant episcopal roles applying directly to her, the office typically going to the highest bidder. In 1645 she received from her brother-in-law the title Princess of San Martino and she used her position at court to bring considerable wealth to the house of Pamphilj. Her influence subsided somewhat following the recalling by Innocent X of Fabrio Chigi from Germany, who subsequently became Pope Alexander VII, however during the last year of Innocent’s life, she guarded access to him and used her position for her own financial gain. Her influence over Innocent was such that she was sometimes referred to in sources as the ‘Papessa’ (lady pope) and she is even reputed to have been his lover. Her domineering personality is captured in a portrait marble bust by Alessandro Algardi, today in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, for which she sat to prior to Velázquez’s arrival in Rome in 1649 (fig. 5). 

Donna Olimpia has also been identified as one of Italy's earliest feminists. Her concern for the plight of women during her lifetime is attested to by contemporary accounts of money that she is said to have given to young girls threatened with being locked up in convents by their fathers to avoid the need to pay for expensive dowries, something that had repeatedly haunted her as a young woman. She is also reputed to have allowed prostitutes in Rome to ride in carriages bearing her coats of arms, further demonstrating her empathy for the condition of her own sex in what was a heavily male dominated society. She was a truly remarkable individual, whose ambition, determination and sheer strength of character propelled her vertiginous rise to the highest level at the papal court, for a period of time ruling in all but name as the de facto Pope. The story of her remarkable life has been recounted in many articles and biographies, including Eleanor Herman's 2008 'Mistress of the Vatican: The Secret Female Pope'. The re-discovery of Velázquez's portrait of Donna Olimpia, until now lost for nearly two centuries, is an incredibly exciting event and a unique opportunity to be confronted with the likeness and unbridled character of one of the most remarkable women that ever lived.

Following first hand inspection, the identification of the present work as Velázquez’s hitherto lost original has been unanimously confirmed by leading scholars on the artist, including the late Dr William B. Jordan (written communication, 12 June 2016), Dr. Benito Navarrete Prieto and Guillaume Kientz, to whom we are grateful. The painting will be included in The Spanish Golden Age due for publication in October 2019 and written by Guillaume Kientz. We are also grateful to Dr. Fernando Marías for his kind help in elucidating the provenance.

 'On Monday Sra Donna Olimpia was occupied all day with various ladies...in fact I mean that after lunch on Monday she allowed for her portrait to be painted by a very talented Spanish painter, who is said to be chamberlain to the King of Spain.', Modena, State Archive, Cancelleria Ducale, Ambasciate in Italia, Roma, busta 252, a66, dated 13 July 1650, Rome, for which see S. Salort, Velázquez in Italia, Madrid 2002, p. 452.