A R T I S T
B I O G R A P H I E S
- Alessandro Algardi (1598-1654)
Alessandro Algardi was a Bolognese sculptor who worked in Rome and represented the classicism of the Bolognese Academy in opposition to Bernini.
He was trained in the Carracci Academy in Bologna before going to Mantua as court sculptor, but moved to Rome in 1625, where he worked as a maker of models for bronze casters for furniture, which gave him a mastery of bronze casting technique, and as a restorer of antiques. He became a friend of Domenichino, also a Bolognese Carracci pupil, and also of Pietro da Cortona, a much more Baroque figure. Early works include lifelike post-humous 'portraits' for tombs, such as the Cardinal Millini (d.1629) in S.M. del Popolo, and the Frangipane portrait busts in S. Marcello, all by 1638, showing his marked dependence on antique portrait types. His St Phillip Neri and an Angel (1635: S. Maria in Vallicella), a 'portrait' of the saint (canonized in 1622) made from a death-mask, is another example of his skill in portraying people he had never seen, but his Cardinal L. Zacchia (1626/7: Berlin) shows what he could do when working from life. A terracotta bust of Cardinal P.E. Zacchia (d.1605) dates from very late in Algardi's career (?1654): it is now in London (V&A), and the marble made from it is in a private collection in Florence. However, it is probaly by an assistant, since Algardi grew so fat in his last years that carving became very difficult. The bust of Bracciolini, also in London (V&A), formerly attributed to him and now given to Finelli, is one of several which have been attributed first to Bernini and then to Algardi. On the whole, Algardi's are graver in deportment and have greater inward characterization than Bernini's higher extrovert portraits. There can be no doubt, however, that Algardi borrowed from Bernini, whose portrait statue of Urban VIII underlies Algardi's large bronze Innocent X, begun in 1645 for the Conservation Palace in Rome as a companion to Bernini's Urban; while the tomb of Leo XI (1645-52: St Peter's) is a chastened and plain white marble version of Bernini's polychrome tomb of Urban VIII.
Algardi's leadership of the classical opposition to Bernini was recognized in 1640 by his election as Principle of the Academy of St Luke, but his real success came under Innocent X (1644-55), when Bernini was in disgrace. From this period dates his portrait of the pope's sister Donna Olimpia Maidalchini (Rome, Doria Coll.), her billowing headdress emphasizing her formidable personality. His only important relief also dates from these years: the Pope St Leo the Great repelling Attila from the Gates of Rome (1646-53: St Peter's), which is a piece of technical virtuosity, but is less a relief than a Carrucci altarpiece in marble. The full-size terracotta modello was exhibited in St Peter's in 1950: one of the few of its kind to have survived, it is now in the Biblioteca Vallicelliana, Rome.
There are other works elsewhere in Rome and in Bologna (The Beheading of St Paul, 1634: S. Paolo), Cleveland Ohio, Detroit, Hamburg, Manchester, Minneapolis, New York (Met. Mus.), Paris (Louvre), Ravenna and Yale.
- Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books)
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