Valentin de Boulogne: Allegory of Italy

The monumental painting Allegory of Italy (1628–29) by Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632) will be deposited at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum during the renovation of the Villa Lante, the Finnish Institute in Rome. Valentin is one of Caravaggio’s (1571–1610) closest followers. The mini-exhibition will present to the public the unique historical context of the painting.

  • 6.9.2023–12.1.2025
2nd floor , exhibited for ca one and a half year
Tickets: free admission
Valentin de Boulogne: Allegory of Italy (1628–1629). Detail. Institutum Romanum Finlandiae. Photo: Alessandro Vasari.

Allegory of Italy

Allegory of Italy (oil on canvas, 333 x 245 cm) represents the pinnacle of Valentin’s work. It is a representative example from the golden age of Roman Baroque painting. Researchers consider the large-scale painting to be the artist’s main work, along with an altarpiece in the Vatican’s collections. Finnish art collections do not include any similar work from the Italian Baroque period.

The curator of the exhibition is Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s chief curator, PhD Ira Westergård.

A tribute to the Barberini family

The painting was commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Barberini. The workalludes to the achievements of the family and its position at the top of the Rome elite. The family’s position in Rome and Italy culminated in 1623, when Francesco Barberini’s uncle Maffeo Barberini became Pope Urban VIII. In the Barberinis’ new palace, Allegory of Italy was displayed in a place of honour.

An allegory is a metaphor or a metaphorical representation. In the painting, allegorical content is combined with the use of live models and an idiom based on naturalism. The young woman depicted in the work symbolises Italy, the figure in the foreground on the left symbolises the Tiber river in Rome, and the figure in the foreground on the right symbolises the Arno river in Florence. The details of the painting link the work to the Barberini family.

Images of the artwork

Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632)

Valentin was from France, and he was born in a village near Paris. Very little is known about his early life or education in France.

He certainly lived in Rome from 1614 onwards, and he felt most at home in the company of Flemish and Dutch artists. He immediately joined the circle of followers of Caravaggio (1571–1610) and adopted a new style based on realism.

Valentin’s art is characterised by strong contrasts of light and shadow. The works consistently tend towards realism, even naturalism. The topics are narrative, and the expressions and gestures of the figures are emphasised.

Some 60 works by the artist are known. As is generally the case with Caravaggio followers, or the Caravaggisti, as they are known, Valentin’s oeuvre also includes many genre paintings depicting tavern scenes, card players, fortune tellers, and musicians. However, most of his work consists of religious paintings, which are held in private collections. Allegory of Italy is completely unique in Valentin’s body of work.

Valentin died prematurely in 1632. As the story goes, he fell into a fountain after a long night of drinking in a tavern, fell ill with a fever, and died a few days later.