ALGARDI, Alessandro
(b. 1598, Bologna, d. 1654, Roma)


Italian sculptor, the son of a silk merchant from Bologna. He was trained under Lodovico Carracci at the Accademia degli Incamminati, where he acquired the skills of a first-rate draftsman. After a short period of activity in Mantua (1622), he moved to Rome (1625), where he designed the stucco decorations in San Silvestro al Quirinale and gained some success as a restorer of classical sculptures. With the monument of Cardinal Mellini (d. 1629) in Santa Maria del Popolo, the Frangipani monument in San Marcello al Corso, and the bust of Cardinal Laudivio Zacchia, Algardi emerged as the principal rival of Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the field of portrait sculpture. Lacking Bernini's dynamic vitality and penetrating characterization, Algardi's portraits were appreciated for their sobriety and surface realism.

Algardi had no major commissions for monumental works until the mid-1630s, when he received three. In July 1634 he signed the contract for the tomb of Pope Leo XI (marble, completed 1644, erected 1652; Rome, St Peter's). Leo XI reigned as pontiff a mere 27 days in April 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 as well as the relief sculpture Cardinal de' Medici's Legation to France. Unlike Bernini's tomb for Pope Alexander VII, which combined white and coloured marble with bronze, Algardi's papal tomb was sculpted entirely from white marble.

In October 1634 Algardi signed the contract for the over life-size, free-standing group, the Beheading of St Paul (marble, completed 1644; Bologna, San Paolo Maggiore). This important commission came from the Spada family and was intended to form part of the unusually lavish high altar designed by Bernini as a memorial to Paolo Spada (d 1631). It is unclear which of the two artists was responsible for the composition of the group, which is full of tension, though it has limited dramatic impact.

Algardi's third major monumental commission of the 1630s is the over life-size marble group of St Filippo Neri with an Angel (1635–38; Rome, Santa Maria in Vallicella), carved for Pietro Buoncompagni, a descendant of a Roman Jewish family who possibly had Bolognese connections. It stands above the sacristy altar and was intended to provide the focal-point of a vista from a side entrance to the church in the right transept.

After the election of Pope Innocent X (1644), Algardi superseded Bernini in papal favour. Between this date and his death in 1654, Algardi produced some of his most celebrated works, among them the seated statue of Innocent X now in the Palazzo dei Conservatori (1645) and a colossal marble relief of the Meeting of Attila and Pope Leo in St. Peter's (1646–53), which influenced the development and popularization of illusionistic reliefs. Although he was generally less theatrical than Bernini, Algardi in this work effectively created a larger than life-size narrative whose principal events are dramatically conveyed. At this time Algardi also designed the Villa Doria Pamphili and a fountain in the Cortile di San Damaso of the Vatican.

Algardi's style is less ebullient and pictorial than Bernini's, and, even in such typically Baroque works as the tomb of Pope Leo XI in St. Peter's (1634–52) and the high altar of San Paolo at Bologna (1641), the restraining influence of the antique is strongly evident.