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Allegory of the House of Barberini
Cortona, Pietro da (Pietro Berrettini)
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Cortona, Pietro da (Pietro Berrettini)

Cortona, Tuscany, 1596 - Rome, 1669

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Allegory of the House of Barberini

1631. Grey-brown wash, White lead, Black chalk, Pencil on white paper.
Not on display

This drawing depicts the story of the nymphs Florilla and Melissa, twin daughters of Heaven and the Earth, lovers of music (Florilla) and flowers (Melissa), the honeymaker. The young nymphs were respectively turned into flowers and a swarm of bees to punish Apollo, who had fallen in love with Melissa -shown here fainting in the act of metamorphosis- to such a degree that he was neglecting his job of towing the chariot of the Sun, thereby throwing the world into darkness. Apollo and the Muses, divinities of poetry and the arts, are seen assembled on the right with the bees and the motto HIC DOMUS (Here Our Home) carved by the god onto the trunk, in reverse for the image’s eventual transcription to print. The Roman palace of the distinguished family of Maffeo Barberini, Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644), is visible in the background of the drawing.

The composition is by Pietro da Cortona, who was soon to become a giant of the Roman Baroque and a favourite of Pope Urban VIII and his family. It was commissioned at the behest of Francesco Barberini, the young cardinal and nephew of the Pope, who was patron and financier of the De Florum Cultura, the first lavishly illustrated printed work by the Jesuit Giovan Battista Ferrari, published first in Latin in 1633 and later (1638) in an Italian edition entitled Flora, overo cultura dei fiori (Flora, or the world of flowers), which incorporated the fable of Florilla and Melissa.

The personality of Father Ferrari, the celebrated preacher, Hebraist and botanist, is now well documented. His floral treatise is an invaluable example of the short but splendid era of printmaking that formed around Pope Urban VIII, who was himself a composer of sacred and moral verses. The special illustrated section of the De Florum Cultura -eight full pages engraved with mythological or allegorical subjects- found a primary reference point in the Poemata (1631) by Pope Maffeo Barberini.

The original copperplates for the engravings (seven by Johann Friedrich Greuter, and another by Claude Mellan) survive and are held at the Fondo Calcografico Barberini, Rome. Five of the original designs were by Cortona, one by Andrea Sacchi and another by Guido Reni. In some copies of the Italian edition of the treatise the engraving with the first of Cortona’s designs, Council of the Gods, was substituted with a plate of the same subject by Giovanni Lanfranco.

Cortona must have worked on the Prado drawing in the early part of 1631, after providing Greuter with the design for Council of the Gods in the autumn of 1630. This highly finished and refined study, a prime example of the influence of the Antique and the Carracci school on the master’s style, as originally acknowledged by Anthony Blunt, displays the great effort Cortona made towards this important commission. The combined use of ink with brown and sepia washes, uniformly illuminated with brushstrokes of lead white, gives the drawing a strongly pictorial feel, an effect sought by the master to ensure a successful translation into engraving.

Two other drawings by Cortona related to De Florum Cultura are known. The study for the Council of the Gods was formerly in the de Boer collection in Amsterdam, and the Triumph of nature over art, c.1630, is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Farina, V.: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain´s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, p. 168).


Technical data

Inventory number
Cortona, Pietro da (Pietro Berrettini)
Allegory of the House of Barberini
Grey-brown wash; White lead; Black chalk; Pencil
White paper
Height: 201 mm; Width: 147 mm
Bequest of Pedro Fernández Durán y Bernaldo de Quirós, 1931

Bibliography +

Blunt, Anthony, The roman drawings of the XVII & XVIII centuries in the coll..., The Phaidon Press Ltd., Londres, 1960, pp. 26 / lám. 57.

Bean, Jacob, Drawings From New York Collections. Vol. I. The Italian Rena..., The Pierpont Morgan Library, Nueva York, 1967, pp. nº 56.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., I Grandi Disegni Italiani Nelle Collezioni Di Madrid, Silvana Editoriale D'Arte, Milán, 1978, pp. nº 34.

Mena Marqués, Manuela, Catalogo de Dibujos.Vol.VI. Dibujos Italianos del Siglo XVII, Ministerio de Cultura, Madrid, 1983, pp. 72; Fig. 104..

Farina, V, Pietro da Cortona 'The Metamorphosis of Florilla and Melissa in flowers and bees (Allegory of the House of Barberini)' En:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 168.

Other inventories +

Inv. Legado Pedro Fernández Durán, 1931. Núm. 458.

Inscriptions +

Lugt. no 1710.

Exhibitions +

Italian Masterpieces from Spain's Royal Court. Museo Nacional del Prado
16.05.2014 - 31.08.2014

El dibujo europeo en tiempos de Valazquez. A propósito del Cardenal Borja en la Academia de San Fernanado
20.12.1999 - 30.01.2000

Displayed objects +

Instruments, Musical

Update date: 04-11-2021 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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