Scipione Pulzone

Scipione Pulzone, “Portrait of Jacopo Boncompagni”, 1574, Oil on Canvas, 121.9 x 99.3 cm, Private Collection

Born in 1544 at the coastal city of Gaeta in the Kingdom of Naples, Scipione Pulzone, also known as Il Gaetano, was a Neapolitan painter of the late Italian Renaissance. He painted many important religious works; however, he excelled in portraiture with exceptionally rendered artistic details. One of the most celebrated artists in Rome, Pulzone was also one of the most original portraitists of the Counter Reformation, that period of Catholic resurgence that was initiated in response to the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

Scipione Pulzone is believed to have been a student of Jacopino del Conte, an Italian Mannerist painter active in both Rome and Florence. His portrait style was influenced by the works of Raphael and the international style of work from the Hapsburg court in Austria, particularly the portraits done by Anthonis Mor. Mor’s formal style of court portraits, with grandiose and self-possessed ostentation, was extremely influential on court painters throughout Europe.

Many of Pulzone’s paintings, particularly his religious scenes, show the strong influence of painter Girolamo Siciolante de Sermoneta’s latter works, which were executed in the reformist naturalist style. Pulzone painted his “Mater Divinae Providentiae”, an image of Mary and the Child Jesus, around 1580. In 1664, the painting became the possession of the Barnabite Fathers who placed the art piece in a small chapel at the rear of Rome’s San Carlo ai Catinari church where it continues to draw many religious followers.

In 1593, Scipione Pulzone finished his 1588 commissioned altarpiece “The Lamentation”  for the Passion chapel on the right side of the Chiesa del Gesù, the mother church of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Intended to complement the austere interior space of the church, this painting rejected popular stylistic motifs and avoided narrative anecdotal details to create a meditative, devotional icon. Finely rendered details such as the tears of the Virgin, the crown of thorns held by Saint John, and the pallor of Christ’s body are presented to the viewer for contemplation.

Pulzone worked in both the Florentine and Neapolitan courts, as well as, in Rome, where he was commissioned to paint the portraits of two Popes, Pius V and his successor Gregory XIII known for commissioning the Gregorian calendar. While in Rome, Pulzone painted two major works: the 1585 “Our Lady of the Assumption” for Rome’s church of San Silvestro al Quirinale and “Christ on the Cross” for Rome’s Santa Maria in Vallicella. 

Scipione Pulzone died in Rome on the first of February in 1598 at the age of fifty-four. 

Notes: Scipione Pulzone’s “The Lamentation”, originally at the  Chiesa del Gesù, was anonymously gifted to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1984 (Accession Number 1984.74). It is currently listed as not on view.

At the online Artsy, there is an article on Scipione Pulzone’s 1574 “Portrait of Jacopo Boncompagni”, which includes the history of the painting and Boncompagni’s life, as well as, the two men’s close personal relationship. Pulzone named his first-born son Giacomo (Jacopo is a variant of the classical name Giacomo) and Boncompagni was selected to became Giacomo’s godfather. This article is located at:

Top Insert Image: Scipione Pulzone, Portrait of Unidentified Noblewomen, circa 1580-1589, Oil on Canvas, 119 x 91.2 cm, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland 

Second Insert Image: Scipione Pulzone, “Self Portrait”, 1564, Oil on Canvas, 43.5 x 34.5 cm, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands

Bottom Insert Image: Scipione Pulzone, “Portrait of Urban Vii”, circa 1590, Oil on Canvas, 131 x 99 cm, Private Collection

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