Saint Gregory the Great and more art by Follower of Orazio Borgianni

Saint Gregory the Great, 1630s
102.9 x 78.4 cm (h x w)
Oil on canvas


Koelliker collection, Milan, from 2002.


Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi, Mola e il suo tempo: pittura di figura a Roma dalla collezione Koelliker, 22 January–23 April 2005
Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi, La “schola” del Caravaggio: dipinti dalla collezione Koelliker, 13 October 2006–11 February 2007


Francesco Petrucci, ed., Mola e il suo tempo: pittura di figura a Roma dalla collezione Koelliker, exh. cat. Palazzo Chigi, Ariccia, 2005, entry by Gianni Papi, pp. 102–6, no. 3.
Gianni Papi, La “schola” del Caravaggio: dipinti dalla collezione Koelliker, exh. cat. Palazzo Chigi, Ariccia, 2006–7, pp. 316–21, no. 97.

Saint Gregory (Rome ca. 540– 604 Rome), reigned as pope from 590 to 604. A champion of reform, especially of the liturgy, an excellent administrator, and a capable ruler, his epithet “the Great” also reflects his profound legacy as a scholar and writer. As the fourth and final of the traditional Latin Fathers of the Church, Gregory was the first exponent of a truly medieval, sacramental spirituality.
Together with three further paintings depicting Saints Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine, the present Saint Gregory the Great is one of a series of these famous theologians of the early church. Here he is shown seated in his study, the large book on the table in front of him and several more in the background beside his papal tiara denote his wisdom and learning. The white dove at his right shoulder and his upturned gaze suggest the divine inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
During the Catholic Counter-Reformation of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the Church Fathers became especially important. In the early centuries of Christianity, these leaders had instituted the fundamental doctrines and rituals of the Latin church; their representation in paintings like the series to which the present work belongs reasserted the precedence and time-honored traditions of the Roman Catholic church in response to Protestant reforms.
The painting of Saint Gregory, along with the others in the series, has been dated to the 1630s. Francesco Petrucci has suggested that the authorship of the series be ascribed to the young Francesco Mola, while Gianni Papi has ascribed the work to a follower of Orazio Borgianni. While this open question certainly merits further investigation, it is clear that the work, with its intense naturalism in the description of the face, and its dramatic contrasts of light and shade—the shadow cast by the dove on Gregory’s face is particularly vivid and well-observed—can be firmly situated in the ambit of the second generation of Caravaggesque painters active in Rome.

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