31 July 2017

Alessandro Algardi – sculptor

Baroque works of art were designed to illustrate papal power

Algardi's extraordinary marble relief, Fuga d'Attila, which he created for St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Algardi's extraordinary marble relief, Fuga d'Attila,
which he created for St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Alessandro Algardi, whose Baroque sculptures grace many churches in Rome, was born on this day in 1598 in Bologna.

Algardi emerged as the principal rival of Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the field of portrait sculpture and although Bernini’s creations were known for their dynamic vitality and penetrating characterisation, Algardi’s works were appreciated for their sobriety and surface realism. Many of his smaller works of arts, such as marble busts and terracotta figures are now in collections and museums all over the world.

Algardi was born in Bologna, where he was apprenticed in the studio of Agostino Carracci from a young age.

He soon showed an aptitude for sculpture and his earliest known works, two statues of saints, were created for the Oratory of Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna.

After a short stay in Venice, he went to Rome in 1625 with an introduction from the Duke of Mantua to the late pope’s nephew, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, who employed him to restore ancient statues.

This portrait by Carlo Maratta  is thought to be of Algardi
This portrait by Carlo Maratta
 is thought to be of Algardi
Although it was a time for great architectural initiatives in Rome, Algardi struggled for recognition at the start as Bernini was given most of the major sculptural commissions.

Algardi was commissioned to produce some terracotta and marble portrait busts and also worked on the tombs of the Mellini family in the Mellini Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo.

He received his first major commission in about 1634 to sculpt a funeral monument for Pope Leo XI, who had reigned for less than a month in 1605.

Then he was asked to create a colossal statue of Filippo Neri for Santa Maria in Vallicella and after this Algardi produced a sculptural group to represent the beheading of St Paul for the Church of San Paolo in Bologna. These works firmly established his reputation.

In 1644 the new pope, Innocent X, and his nephew, Camillo Pamphili, favoured Algardi over Bernini.

A large bronze of Innocent X by Algardi is now in the Capitoline Museums. In the grounds of Villa Pamphili, Algardi and members of his studio executed fountains adorned with sculptures and created other garden features.

Algardi's funeral monument for Pope Leo XI
Algardi's funeral monument for Pope Leo XI
In 1650 Algardi received commissions from Spain and there are four chimney pieces by him in the Royal Palace of Aranjuez and figures by him on the fountain of Neptune in the gardens. A tomb in the Augustinian monastery at Salamanca is also by him.

The Fuga d’Attila relief, Algardi’s large marble panel of Pope Leo XI and Attila for St Peter’s Basilica, reinvigorated the fashion for marble reliefs. It depicted the historical legend of the Pope stopping the Huns from looting Rome, illustrating papal power.

Algardi died in 1654 within a year of completing this work, which was much admired by his contemporaries.

The 17th century Villa Doria Pamphili is situated in Rome's largest landscaped public park
The 17th century Villa Doria Pamphili is situated in
Rome's largest landscaped public park
Travel tip:

The Villa Doria Pamphili is a 17th century villa in Rome with, what is today, the largest, landscaped public park in the city. The villa is situated just outside Porta San Pancrazio in the ancient walls of Rome. It began as a villa for the Pamphili family and when the line died out in the 18th century it passed to Prince Andrea IV Doria, from which time it has been known as the Villa Doria Pamphili. In 1644 Cardinal Giambattista Pamphili was elected to the papacy and took the name of Innocent X. He aspired to a grand villa and brought in Algardi to help with the design and create the sculptures in the garden.

Travel tip:

The huge marble Fuga d’Attila relief, showing Pope Leo XI restraining Attila from marching on Rome, was the largest high relief sculpture in the world when it was created by Algardi between 1646 and 1653 for St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Basilica had been completed and consecrated in 1626. It was believed to be the largest church in the world and was built to replace the original fourth century Basilica that had been constructed on what was believed to be the burial site of Saint Peter.

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