Alessandro Algardi

Alessandro Algardi

Alessandro Algardi (July 31, 1598 – June 10, 1654) was an Italian high-Baroque sculptor active almost exclusively in Rome, where for the latter decades of his life, he was the major rival of Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Early years

Algardi was born in Bologna, where at a young age, he was apprenticed in the studio of Agostino Carracci. However, his aptitude for sculpture led him to work for Giulio Cesare Conventi (1577—1640), an artist of modest talents. By the age of twenty, Ferdinando I, Duke of Mantua, began commissioning works from him, and he was also employed by local jewelers for figurative designs. After a short residence in Venice, he went to Rome in 1625 with an introduction from the Duke of Mantua to the late pope's nephew, Ludovico Cardinal Ludovisi, who employed him for a time in the restoration of ancient statues. [These restored statues still form the core of the "Bonacorsi-Ludovisi collection" in Palazzo Altemps. Sculpture restoration was a common employment for even the most prominent sculptors of his day, including Bernini and Ercole Ferrata.]

Tomb of Pope Leo XI

Propelled by the Borghese and Barberini patronage, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his studio garnered most of the major Roman sculptural commissions. For nearly a decade, Algardi struggled for recognition. In Rome he was aided by friends that included Pietro da Cortona and his fellow Bolognese, Domenichino. His early Roman commissions included terracotta and some marble portrait busts, [His marble bust of Laudivio Zacchia, 1627, is in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin [ (illustrated)] ] while he supported himself with small works like crucifixes.

Algardi's first major commission came about in 1634, when Cardinal Ubaldini (Medici) contracted for a funeral monument for his great-uncle, Pope Leo XI, the third of the Medici popes, who had reigned for less than a month in 1605. The monument was started in 1640, and mostly completed by 1644. The arrangement mirrors the one designed by Bernini for the Tomb of Urban VIII (1627-8), with a central hieratic sculpture of the pope seated in full regalia and offering a hand of blessing, while at his feet, two allegorical female figures flank his sarcophagus. However, in Bernini's tomb, the vigorous upraised arm and posture of the pope is counterbalanced by an active drama below, wherein the figures of "Charity" and "Justice" are either distracted by "putti" or lost in contemplation, while skeletal "Death" actively writes the epitaph. Algardi's tomb is much less dynamic. The allegorical figures of "Magnanimity" and "Liberality" have an impassive, ethereal dignity. Some have identified the helmeted figure of "Magnanimity" with that of Athena and iconic images of "Wisdom" [Harriet F. Senie, "The Tomb of Leo XI by Alessandro Algardi", "The Art Bulletin" (1978); p 90-95.] . "Liberality" resembles Duquesnoy's famous "Santa Susanna", but rendered more elegant. The tomb is somberly monotone and lacks the polychromatic excitement that detracts from the elegiac mood of Urban VIII's tomb [Boucher p 121-2] .

In 1635-38, Pietro Boncompagni commissioned from Algardi a colossal statue of Philip Neri with kneeling angels for Santa Maria in Vallicella, completed in 1640. [Bruce Boucher, "Earth and Fire: Italian Terracotta Sculpture from Donatello to Canova" (Yale University Press) 2001:47.] Immediately after this, Algardi produced an interactive sculptural group representing the beheading of Saint Paul with two figures: a kneeling, resigned saint and the executioner poised to strike the sword-blow, for San Paolo di Bologna. These works established his reputation. Like Bernini's characteristic works, they often express the Baroque aesthetic of depicting dramatic attitudes and emotional expressions, yet Algardi's sculpture has a restraining sobriety in contrast to those of his rival.

Papal favour under Innocent X

With the accession of the Bolognese Pamphilj Pope Innocent X in 1644, both Barberini and his favorite artist, Bernini, fell into disrepute. Algardi, on the other hand, was embraced by the new Pope [Algardi's official 1645 portrait statue of Innocent X is preserved in the Palazzo dei Conservatori in the Campidoglio.] and the pope's nephew, Camillo Pamphilj. [His portrait bust of Camillo Pamphili, 1647, is at The Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg [ illustration] .] Algardi's portraits were highly prized, and their formal severity contrasts with Bernini's more vivacious images [ Compare the prior images with Bernini's Urban VIII [] ] . A large hieratic bronze of Innocent X by Algardi is now found in the Capitoline museum.

Though Algardi was not renowned for architecture, he did help design the facade of Villa Doria Pamphili outside the Porta San Pancrazio, a project in which he depended on the professional aid of the architect/engineer Girolamo Rainaldi, while Algardi and his studio executed the sculpture-encrusted fountains and other garden features, where much of his free-standing sculpture and bas-reliefs also remain. In 1650 Algardi met Diego Velázquez, who obtained commissions for Spain. As a consequence there are four chimney-pieces by Algardi in the palace of Aranjuez, where the figures on the fountain of Neptune are also by him. The Augustine monastery at Salamanca contains the tomb of the count and countess de Monterey, another work by Algardi.

The "Fuga d'Attila" relief

Algardi's large dramatic marble high-relief panel of Pope Leo and Attila [ [ "Pope Leo and Atilla" relief] ] (1646–53) for St Peter's Basilica was widely admired in his day, and reinvigorated the use of such marble reliefs. There had been large marble reliefs used previously in Roman churches [For example, Gian Lorenzo's father, Pietro Bernini's crowded "Assumption of the Virgin" for Santa Maria Maggiore(1606)] , but for most patrons, sculpted marble altarpieces were far to costly. In this relief, the two principal figures, the stern and courageous pope and the dismayed and frightened Attila, surge forward from the center into three dimensions. Only they two see the descending angelic warriors rallying to the pope's defense, while all others in the background reliefs, persist in performing their respective earthly duties.

The subject was apt for a papal state seeking clout, since it depicts the historical legend when the greatest of the popes Leo, with supernatural aid, deterred the Huns from looting Rome. From a baroque standpoint it is a moment of divine intervention in the affairs of man. No doubt part of his patron's message would be that all viewers would be sternly reminded of the papal capacity to invoke divine retribution against enemies. Algardi died in Rome within a year of completing his famous relief, which was admired by contemporaries.

In his later years Algardi controlled a large studio and amassed a great fortune. Algardi's classicizing manner was carried on by pupils (including Ercole Ferrata and Domenico Guidi). Antonio Raggi initially trained with him. The latter two completed his design for an altarpiece of the "Vision of Saint Nicholas" (San Nicola de Tolentino, Rome) using two separate marble pieces linked together in one event and place, yet successfully separating the divine and earthly spheres. Other lesser known assistants from his studio include Francesco Barrata, Girolamo Lucenti, and Giuseppe Peroni.

Critical assessment and legacy

Algardi was also known for his portraiture which shows an obsessive attention to details of psychologically revealing physiognomy in a sober but immediate naturalism, and minute attention to costume and draperies, such as in the busts of Laudivio Zacchia, Camillo Pamphilj, and of Muzio Frangipane and his two sons Lello and Roberto [ [|Busts of Algardi's children] ] .

In temperament, his style was more akin to the classicized and restrained baroque of Duquesnoy than to the emotive works of other baroque artists. From an artistic point of view, he was most successful in portrait-statues and groups of children, where he was obliged to follow nature most closely. His terracotta models, some of them finished works of art, were prized by collectors, [An outstanding series of terracotta models is at the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg] .


*cite book | author= Jennifer Montagu| year=1985| title= Alessandro Algardi| chapter= | editor= Yale University Press | others= | pages= | publisher= | id= ISBN 0-300-03173-4 | url= | authorlink=
*cite book | author= Bruce Boucher| year=1998| title= Italian Baroque Sculpture| chapter= | editor= Thames & Hudson, World of Art| others= | pages= | publisher= | id= | url= | authorlink=
* [ Alessandro Algardi in the "History of Art"]
* [ Artnet Resource Library:] Alessandro Algardi
* [ "Encyclopaedia Britannica" 1911:] Alessandro Algardi
* [ Web Gallery of Art:] Algardi, sculptures
* [ Roderick Conway-Morris, "Casting light on a Baroque sculptor"] , "International Herald Tribune", March 20, 1999: Review of exhibition "Algardi: The Other Face of the Baroque,", 1999
* [ A landscape pen-and-ink drawing by Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi, c 1650, to which Algardi has added figures of the Holy Family (Getty Museum)]
* [ Images of nearly all works]
* [ Roberto Piperno, "Three busts by Alessandro Algardi"] Busts of members of the Frangipane family in S. Marcello al Corso


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