On inspecting this picture, Dr. Stephen Pepper and Sir Denis Mahon, for both of whose assistance we are very grateful, confirmed the attribution, and dated this work towards the mid-1620s, shortly after the death of Pope Paul V in 1621. Such a dating would make it unlikely that the picture was hung in the closet of the Pope as has traditionally been believed. Although it is not possible to know exactly when the work entered the Borghese collection, it is interesting that Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1576?-1633), the nephew of Pope Paul V, was one of Reni's most important patrons; indeed he had been a member of the Cardinal's household for some years from 1608, and it was on recommendation from Scipione that Paul V commissioned works from Reni.
The picture is probably based on the Mater Dolorosa in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Palazzo Corsini, Rome. Dr. Stephen Pepper dates that picture to 1617-18, around the time of the Crucifixion painted for the Capuchin Church outside Bologna (op. cit., 1988, no. 57).
The painting left the Borghese collection when acquired by William Young Ottley during his sojourn in Italy in the last years of the eighteenth century. In the years 1797-8, Napoleon invaded Italy, and began a rapacious programme of acquisitions of works of art that were ostensibly in the possession of the states that he conquered. At the same time, however, he levied heavy sums of money on the local aristocracies, renewing his demands as long as works of art were publicly in their possession. This forced many families to sell collections in part or in whole in order to prove that they no longer had the means to support such contributions. Ottley was able thereby to acquire several important works of art from notable collections, which he brought to England in 1800, and which were offered for sale the following year by James Christie.
Ottley was a writer, collector and amateur artist, who had studied at the Royal Academy schools under the artist, John Brown. On Brown's death, Ottley bought the contents of his studio, including 219 drawings that formed the basis of his collection, the greater part of which was acquired during his travels in Italy between 1791 and 1799. This included such works as Botticelli's Mystic Nativity (London, National Gallery). He published several art historical works, including, most importantly, his pioneering The Italian School of Design, which, in three volumes, was intended to be 'a chronological sequence of the designs of the most eminent artists of Italy', and A Series of Plates Engraved After the Paintings and Sculptures of the Most Eminent Masters of the Early Florentine School, which was instrumental in the revival of interest in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Italian painting.