Alessandro Algardi was one of the few sculptors in baroque Rome able to step out of the pervasive shadow of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. While undeniably influenced by Bernini's dramatic flair, Algardi's style was inherently different, more delicate in form and restrained in expression. Like most Emilian artists of the seventeenth century, he was trained in the Carracci academy in Bologna, which stressed balancing classicism and naturalism. He later moved to Rome, where he established himself as a master marble carver and modeler of works to be executed in bronze and precious metals.
This silver Christ at the Column is an exquisite example of Algardi's small-scale sculpture, a part of his oeuvre that has been termed his most personal, inventive, and expressive.  Silver ropes bind Christ to a column affixed to an ebonized pearwood reliquary base decorated with silver mounts. The relic (currently unidentified) is visible through a glazed drawer set into the base. The figure, slightly slumped over, turns his head dramatically to his right as if evading the blows of his tormentors. The fine modeling and chasing of this figure result in a beautiful play of light across its well-defined muscles and the patterned folds of the loincloth. Details such as Christ's expressively bound hands and the loosely tied hair falling across his neck and back testify to Algardi's virtuosity.
This Christ belongs to Algardi's much-admired sculptures of Christ flanked by two flagellators, a design conceived by Algardi probably in the 1630s. Examples are found in respected collections around the world. The majority are bronze, but Algardi expert Jennifer Montagu believes they were originally conceived for execution in silver.  Whether the Gallery's Christ was independent or originally part of a Flagellation group is not known, for Algardi also made examples of Christ without the flagellators. The National Gallery is able to partly reconstruct one of these groups, as it also owns a silver Flagellator of the type that would have been positioned to Christ's right. The alloys of two statuettes match almost exactly, suggesting that they might have come from the same silversmith's shop.
Interesting facets of this example include a tiny punch mark in the fringe of the loincloth at Christ's left hip. This mark could provide information regarding the manufacture or provenance. If read as a monogram conflating an F and a T ,it might stand for Francesco Travani (1647 - 1682), a silversmith whom Cardinal Francesco Barberini Sr. paid for a silver Christ at the Column. Alternatively, the monogram could refer to a silversmith named Fantino Taglietti (1608 - 1650), who worked for Cardinal Antonio Barberini and who may have made a silver Christ on an ebony base with silver mounts mentioned in Anna Colonna Barberini's will.  However, this stamp also resembles a Napoleonic export mark, which would indicate that it was transported from one Italian city to another in the early nineteenth century. 
The elaborately decorated reliquary base raises other questions. Could this base be original? While no close parallel for the National Gallery example has yet been found among seicento reliquaries, other examples of ebony (or ebonized wood) reliquaries with silver mounts do survive from the seventeenth to mid-eighteenth century.  Further investigation into the silver initials attached to the sides of the base may also help elucidate the figure's history. The monogram IHS,with a cross rising out of the arm of the H and nails below it, dominates the right side. This is the symbol for the Society of Jesus, which was at the height of its influence during Algardi's lifetime. Algardi received several Jesuit commissions, including the bronze urn containing Saint Ignatius' ashes (1629, Gesù, Rome). If the base is original to the Gallery's Christ, the Jesuit symbol casts doubt on its creation as a Barberini commission, for the Barberini mentioned in the potentially relevant documents were not Jesuits.
Algardi's importance in the history of baroque art, the sensitive workmanship of this silver, and the fascinating questions involving the punch mark and base make this one of the National Gallery's most interesting sculpture acquisitions in recent years.
(Text by Melissa Beck Lemke, published in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, Art for the Nation, 2000)
1. Jennifer Montagu, Alessandro Algardi, 2 vols. (New Haven and London, 1985), 1:179.
2. Jennifer Montagu, Gold, Silver, and Bronze: Metal Sculpture of the Roman Baroque (Princeton, 1996), 5.
3. Patricia Wengraf first suggested these identifications in a letter to the National Gallery of Art sculpture department on 3 October 1998. For the Barberini references see Montagu 1985, 2:321 and 318, respectively.
4. Ugo Donati, I Marchi dell'Argenteria Italiana (Novara, 1993), 134, and Dora Liscia Bemporad, ed., Argenti Fiorentini dal xv al xix secolo: Tipologie e Marchi, vol. I (Florence, 1993), 346.
5. For example, Roman reliquary, now in Siena, Opera del Duomo (National Gallery of Art photographic archive) and later from Gorizia (Tesoro della Cattedrale, 1753 - 1756 [Giuseppe Bergamini, ed., Ori e tesori d'Europa (Milan, 1992), cat. IV.33]).
in fringe of loin cloth by left hip: F
Marks and Labels
(sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, Ltd., London, 7 July 1998, no. 138); (Alex Wengraf Ltd., London); purchased 29 October 1998 by NGA.
- Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- National Gallery of Art Special Issue. Connaissance des Arts. Paris, 2000:62.
- Wengraf, Patricia, ed. Renaissance & Baroque Bronzes from the Hill Collection. Exh. cat. The Frick Collection, New York. London, 2014: 226-233, esp. 226, 230, repro. 230, 232 n. 6 (entry by Denise Allen).