Alessandro Algardi (November 27, 1598 – June 10, 1654) was an Italian high-Baroque sculptor active almost exclusively in Rome, where for the latter decades of his life, he was, along with Francesco Borromini and Pietro da Cortona, one of the major rivals of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. He is now most admired for his portrait busts that have great vivacity and dignity.
Algardi was born in Bologna, where at a young age, he was apprenticed in the studio of Agostino Carracci. However, his aptitude for sculpture led him to work for Giulio Cesare Conventi (1577–1640), an artist of modest talents. His two earliest known works date back to this period: two statues of saints, made of chalk, in the Oratory of Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna. By the age of twenty, Ferdinando I, Duke of Mantua, began commissioning works from him, and he was also employed by local jewelers for figurative designs. After a short residence in Venice, he went to Rome in 1625 with an introduction from the Duke of Mantua to the late pope's nephew, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, who employed him for a time in the restoration of ancient statues.
Tomb of Pope Leo XI
Propelled by the Borghese and Barberini patronage, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his studio garnered most of the major Roman sculptural commissions. For nearly a decade, Algardi struggled for recognition. In Rome he was aided by friends that included Pietro da Cortona and his fellow Bolognese, Domenichino. His early Roman commissions included terracotta and some marble portrait busts,[b] while he supported himself with small works like crucifixes. In the 1630s he worked on the tombs of the Mellini family in the Mellini Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo.
Algardi's first major commission came about in 1634, when Cardinal Ubaldini (Medici) contracted for a funeral monument for his great-uncle, Pope Leo XI, the third of the Medici popes, who had reigned for less than a month in 1605. The monument was started in 1640, and mostly completed by 1644. The arrangement mirrors the one designed by Bernini for the Tomb of Urban VIII (1628–47), with a central hieratic sculpture of the pope seated in full regalia and offering a hand of blessing, while at his feet, two allegorical female figures flank his sarcophagus. However, in Bernini's tomb, the vigorous upraised arm and posture of the pope is counterbalanced by an active drama below, wherein the figures of Charity and Justice are either distracted by putti or lost in contemplation, while skeletal Death actively writes the epitaph. Algardi's tomb is much less dynamic. The allegorical figures of Magnanimity and Liberality have an impassive, ethereal dignity. Some have identified the helmeted figure of Magnanimity with that of Athena and iconic images of Wisdom. Liberality resembles Duquesnoy's famous Santa Susanna, but rendered more elegant. The tomb is somberly monotone and lacks the polychromatic excitement that detracts from the elegiac mood of Urban VIII's tomb.
In 1635–38, Pietro Boncompagni commissioned from Algardi a colossal statue of Philip Neri with kneeling angels for Santa Maria in Vallicella, completed in 1640. Immediately after this, Algardi produced an interactive sculptural group representing the beheading of Saint Paul with two figures: a kneeling, resigned saint and the executioner poised to strike the sword-blow, for the church of San Paolo, Bologna. These works established his reputation. Like Bernini's characteristic works, they often express the Baroque aesthetic of depicting dramatic attitudes and emotional expressions, yet Algardi's sculpture has a restraining sobriety in contrast to those of his rival.