(b. 1638, Vittoriosa, d. 1667, Roma)
Bust of Alexander VII1667
Bronze, height 100 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Papal portraiture followed conventions similar to those for portraits of other rulers, although a few changes from the examples of the late sixteenth century are apparent. Bernini and Algardi favoured a fuller treatment of the torso, extending down to the fringe of a short 'mozzetta', embellished by a stole in which the papal arms often figured. Movement was suggested by deep folds in the cape and was accompanied by a benevolently resolute gaze, as in the imposing mid-seventeenth century example of the bust of Alexander VII (Fabio Chigi), who reigned from 1655 to 1667.
The boldly incised signature "Melchior Cafa Melitensis," respectfully hidden behind the back, underscores the sculptor's pride in his one known portrait bust. It also bears witness to his nationality ("Melitensis" means from Malta) and to the spelling of his surname, Italianized from "Gafa," upon his arrival in Rome, possibly in 1652.
There is another cast of the bust in Siena Cathedral) coming from the same mold, with only slight differences in the finishing of the wax models and facture of the bronze cast. The bust in Siena was the first cast commissioned by the sitter, the second cast in New York was commissioned for another member of the Chigi family.