In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Alessandro Algardi

  • Introduction

Art History Alessandro Algardi
Maarten Delbeke
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0174


Already during his relatively short period of activity, Alessandro Algardi (b. 1598–d. 1654) was deemed a sculptor on par with contemporaries such as Gianlorenzo Bernini (b. 1598–d. 1680). Born in Bologna and trained at the academy of Ludovico Carracci, around 1625 Algardi arrived in Rome from Mantua, probably by way of Venice. Initially active as a restorer of ancient statues and a portraitist, Algardi obtained large-scale commissions from the mid-1630s onward, to become Rome’s most prominent sculptor under Pope Innocent X Pamphilj (r. 1644–1655). As an exceptionally gifted modeler, throughout his career he employed a variety of materials to produce statues on various scales, reliefs, and objects now classed amongst the decorative arts. Whether or how Algardi was active as an architect is subject of scholarly debate. Algardi’s afterlife was guaranteed by his teaching and studio assistants such as Ercole Ferrata and Domenico Guidi, the fame of works such as the high-relief altarpiece of Leo I Meeting Attila the Hun in St. Peter’s in the Vatican, the collecting and reproduction of his models, and written sources, chief among them the biography in Vite de’ pittori, scultori et architetti moderni published by the critic and antiquarian Gianpietro Bellori in 1672. This text helped to canonize Algardi in art history as the “classicist” alternative to Bernini, a pairing and conceptual distinction of lasting influence, first elaborated in modern scholarship by Hans Posse in 1905. Since then, few 17th-century artists have received such enduring treatment as with Jennifer Montagu’s monograph on the artist (1985), which set out to draw a more complex understanding of Algardi’s “classicism” by taking into account the full range of his artistic production. Following Montagu’s impulse, Algardi’s work has been made to intersect with themes that have received increasing attention in baroque scholarship over the last four decades, such as the practice and theory of 17th-century sculpture, types such as the portrait bust, networks of patronage in Italy and Europe, religious and political iconography, and the artist’s afterlife and reception. This bibliography privileges studies that contextualize Algardi’s oeuvre or trace its historiography over those dedicated to the publication or attribution of single works. Such research can be retrieved via specialized catalogues like Kubikat. As a whole, the rich body of scholarship on Algardi offers a different perspective on the art and culture of 17th-century Rome—and by extension Italy and Europe—than that focused on his rival Bernini: more concerned with the circumstances, processes and materials of a sculptural practice firmly embedded in networks of collaboration and patronage, less with the figure of the artist as a singular genius intimately involved in the religious and political culture of papal Rome. Algardi’s Roman baroque emerges as the work of a seasoned and versatile practitioner (like most of his contemporaries, Algardi has left few theoretical statements on art), well-connected to a network linked to his Bolognese origins, and capable of building up a studio whose activity extended his oeuvre well beyond Rome and his lifetime. At the same time, as an artist considered exemplary by Bellori, Algardi looms large in any discussion of the notion of the idea, its impact on Roman 17th-century sculpture, and its relation to what is now considered “baroque.”

General Overviews

Alessandro Algardi has been the subject of three monographs (Heimbürger Ravalli 1973, Montagu 1985, Neumann 1985) and one monographic exhibition (Montagu 1999), as well as valuable entries in reference works (Nava Cellini 1960, Preimesberger 1996). The first subsection, Monographs and Catalogues, groups these with important markers in the historiography of Algardi (for Neumann 1985, see the section Algardi and the Development of High-Relief Sculpture) and overviews of particular components of his oeuvre, in particular his drawings. The second subsection General Overviews of Roman Baroque Art and Architecture lists literature that considers Algardi’s work as part of the art and architecture of Roman and Italian baroque.

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