Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, room WS , Case R, Shelf 35, Box R

The Borgia Family

Watercolour
1863 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The Borgias were an ambitious family who were active in church and state affairs in Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries. Their name has become a byword for murder and treachery. In this painting the British artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) contrasts the innocence of the dancing children with the dangerous scheming of the adults in the background. The three adults are the villainous Pope Alexander VI, his son Cesare Borgia and his daughter Lucrezia Borgia. It is thought that this is a depiction of the apocryphal story of Lucrezia murdering her husband, Duke Alfonso, with the help of her father. There are clues to the story in the picture: on a table in the background is a flask, which may contain the poison, and there are two poppies - traditionally emblems of sleep and death - beside it.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Watercolour
Brief Description
'The Borgia Family', 1863; Rossetti, Dante Gabriel
Physical Description
A first version of this composition simply illustrated the lines from Shakespeare's Richard III: 'To caper nimbly in a lady's chamber/ to the lascivious pleasing of a lute', but Rossetti became attracted to the more 'exotic' and dangerous subject of life with the dissolute and murderous Borgia family. The innocence of the children prettily dancing in the foreground is countered, indeed threatened, by the three principal figures watching them: the villainous Pope Alexander VI, his son Cesare, and, most notorious of all, his daughter Lucrezia Borgia. It is likely they are plotting the eventual murder of the dancing children; coincidentally or not, infanticide also features in the original subject at the court of Richard III. Rossetti revels in the rich colours and textures of the clothing (he had been to Hampton Court to look at Italian Renaissance portraits), and the crowded, hermetic atmosphere, which is stressed by the small open window on the right.
Dimensions
  • Framed height: 52.2cm
  • Framed width: 54cm
Style
Subjects depicted
Summary
The Borgias were an ambitious family who were active in church and state affairs in Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries. Their name has become a byword for murder and treachery. In this painting the British artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) contrasts the innocence of the dancing children with the dangerous scheming of the adults in the background. The three adults are the villainous Pope Alexander VI, his son Cesare Borgia and his daughter Lucrezia Borgia. It is thought that this is a depiction of the apocryphal story of Lucrezia murdering her husband, Duke Alfonso, with the help of her father. There are clues to the story in the picture: on a table in the background is a flask, which may contain the poison, and there are two poppies - traditionally emblems of sleep and death - beside it.
Associated Object
Bibliographic References
  • Harrison, Colin, Newall, Christopher and Spadoni, Claudio, i Preraffaelliti. il sogno del'400 italiano da Beato Angelico a Perugino da Rossetti a Burne-Jones Milano: Silvana Editorale Spa, Cinisello Balsamo, 2010no.15
  • Evans, Mark et al. Vikutoria & Arubāto Bijutsukan-zō : eikoku romanshugi kaigaten = The Romantic tradition in British painting, 1800-1950 : masterpieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Japan : Brain Trust, 2002
  • Harrison, Colin, Newall, Christopher and Spadoni, Claudio, The Pre-Raphaelites and Italy Oxford : Ashmolean, 2010no.15
Collection
Accession Number
72-1902

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record createdDecember 15, 1999
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