Alessandro Algardi

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Alessandro Algardi (31 July 1598 – 10 June 1654) was an Italian high-Baroque sculptor active almost exclusively in Rome, where for the latter decades of his life, he was the major rival of Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

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Early years

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. 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.[1]

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,[2] while he supported himself with small works like crucifixes.

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 (1627-8), 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.[3] 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.[4]

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