Algardi, Bernini's greatest rival for leadership in sculpture in seventeenth-century Rome, came to the Eternal City from Bologna, capital of the province of Emilia. His Bolognese origin is significant not only because he shared it with the Carracci family, leaders in the reform of painting in Emilia and Rome beginning around 1600, but also because Emilia is a province where sculptural stone is scarce. While Algardi nevertheless became a skilled marble carver, the modeler's technique of his earliest training, with clay and stucco, always came more naturally to him. This bust exemplifies his fluid command of modeling.
The bust may have originated as one of several studies of saintly types to be used as models for sculpture when the occasion arose. Algardi gave his bearded saint a youthful face, with harmonious, classically proportioned features. Classical too are the calm expression, the blank pupils, the drapery, and the clearly rounded head bound by a fillet. Algardi's love for gently flowing curves shows in the undulating locks of hair that seem to echo the curving outlines of the saint's wide eyes.
Private collection, Florence; (Sestieri, Rome); (Heim Gallery, London); purchased 1970 by NGA.
- Wilson, Carolyn C. Renaissance Small Bronze Sculpture and Associated Decorative Arts at the National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1983: 194.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 640, no. 1006, repro., as St. Matthias.
- Montague, Jennifer. Alessandro Algardi. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1985. no. 79.B.1, repro. 209.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 299, repro.
- Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 21, repro.
- National Gallery of Art Special Issue. Connaissance des Arts. Paris, 2000:61.