(b. 1598, Bologna, d. 1654, Roma)
The Meeting of Leo I and Attila1646-53
Marble, height 750 cm
Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican
After the death of Pope Urban VIII his relatives, hopelessly in debt, fled Rome and with them were discredited all the artists who had been closely associated with them, including Bernini. Algardi's opportunity had come and his great contribution to the High Baroque, the relief of the Meeting of Leo I and Attila was commissioned by Innocent X for St Peter's in 1646. The composition of this relief is modeled on Raphael's representation of this crucial episode in the history of papacy in the Stanza Eliodoro.
The huge relief was completed in 1653, and shows a compromise between the Grand Manner as expressed by Bernini and his own classicising tendencies. The treatment of the highly dramatic subject is remarkably restrained, and this coolness is further emphasized by the smooth, evenly worked marble, which is in direct contrast to Bernini's differentiation of texture and sparkling surfaces.
The relief was the prototype for a great series of sculpted altarpieces which replaced painted altarpieces in the second half of the century whenever circumstances permitted.