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.
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 . 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.
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. 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.
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 and the pope's nephew, Camillo Pamphilj. Algardi's portraits were highly prized, and their formal severity contrasts with Bernini's more vivacious images. 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.
Algardi's large dramatic marble high-relief panel of Pope Leo and Attila (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, 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.
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,.
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