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Monday, October 16, 2017

Alessandro Algardi

Pope Saint Leon arresting Attila, 1646-53, (St. Peter's Basilica), Alessandro Algardi--undoubted his major masterpiece.
It's not all that common an occurrence, but every generation or two there comes along a single artist who so far outshines the work of his peers that they get left behind in the dust. In the realm of the arts and sciences in general, Leonardo fits the bill. Raphael and Michelangelo competed for dominance in painting while Michelangelo stood head and shoulders over any other Renaissance sculptor. Although such masterful standing in their fields made for some incredibly powerful works of art, the "big three" also crowded into the background some very respectable competitors as evidenced by the fact that, at the moment, I find it difficult to list any from memory.
Terracotta sculpture, fired in two hollow halves, which were joined and filled with plaster to strengthen and stabilize the work. Obviously, a little more plaster in the shoulder areas would have been helpful.
During the Baroque era, Caravaggio grabbed the painting limelight while Gian Lorenzo Bernini took center stage in sculpture. Virtually the only sculptors of an note left in Rome where Francesco Borromini, Pietro da Cortona, and Alessandro Algardi. If you've drawn a blank on these unfortunate artists, you've served to prove my point. Borromini was better known as an architect of church facades than as a sculptor while Cortona was more famous for his frescoes than as a sculptor. That leaves onlys Algardi as any kind of competition for Bernini, who was both architect and sculptor.

An indication of why Bernini stands "head and shoulders" above all other Baroque sculptors.

Portrait of Alessandro Algardi,
artist and date unknown.
Alessandro Algardi was born in 1595. Algardi, was the son of a silk merchant from Bologna, one of the Papal States at the time. He was trained under Lodovico Carracci at the local art academy, where he acquired the skills of a first-rate draftsman. After a short period of activity in Mantua Algardi moved to Rome around 1625, where he designed the stucco decorations in San Silvestro al Quir-inale and gained some success as a restorer of classical sculptures. in carving the monu-ment to Cardinal Millini in Santa Maria del Popolo, the Frangipani monument in San Marcello al Corso, and the Bust of Cardinal Laudivio Zacchia (above, right). Algardi em-erged as the principal rival of Bernini in the field of portrait sculpture. Though his work lacks Bernini’s dynamic vitality (above, left) and penetrating characterization, Algardi’s portraits (above, right) were appreciated for their sober realism.

The Tomb of Leo XI, 1630-44, Alessandro Algardi.
Algardi maintained a close association with Pietro da Cortona, who helped establish his reputation in Rome and also familiarized him with the classical style in sculpture. Italian tastes in sculpture owed a great deal to their attitudes toward historical accuracy and the influence of Christian archaeology. One of Algardi's most important commission came in the 1630s for the marble tomb of Pope Leo XI in St. Peter’s. It was completed in 1644 and erected 1652 even though Pope Leo XI reigned as pontiff a mere 27 days in April of 1605. The commission came from the pope’s great-nephew, Cardinal Roberto Ubaldini. Algardi emphasized Leo’s munificence with allegorical figures of liberality and magnanimity. Unlike Bernini’s tomb for Pope Alexander VII, which combined white and colored marble with bronze, Algardi’s papal tomb was sculpted entirely from white marble.

Hercules and the Hydra,
copy of the Greek original,
Alessandro Algardi

Titan, 1659, Alessandro Algardi
After the election of Pope Innocent X in 1644, Algardi surpassed Bernini in papal favor. Between this date and his death in 1659, Algardi produced some of his most celebrated works, among them a colossal marble relief of the Meeting of Attila and Pope Leo in St. Peter’s created between 1646 and 1653 (top). Algardi's high relief was to influence strongly the development of illusionistic reliefs. Although he was generally less theatrical (less Baroque) than Bernini, in this particular work Algardi effectively created a larger than life-size narrative dramatically conveying its principal event. With his gesture of pushing away Attila, Leo points to the miraculously airborne Saints Peter and Paul, who have come to lend divine assistance. The deep shadows, emphatic gestures, and heavy drapery patterns work together to create an arresting and convincing sense of papal power.

Although Algardi was best known for his portraiture and an obsessive at-tention to details, from an artistic point of view, he was most successful in portrait-statues of 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 out-standing series of terracotta models is at the Hermitage Museum, Saint Pet-ersburg.
Head of an Angel,
Alessandro Algardi


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