Palazzo Altieri, Rome;
Purchased from Frida Riberi Altieri in 1943 by the father of the present owner
The high quality of the present bronze is reflected in its distinguished provenance. It descends from the Albertoni/Altieri family which commissioned Bernini to execute the life-size marble altarpiece of the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni as the crowning focus of their chapel in San Francesco a Ripa in Rome, executed between 1671 and 1674. Until now in private hands, its appearance on the market provides an opportunity to place it within the context of the various reductions of Bernini's celebrated monument and to identify its purpose. No other bronze version has previously emerged and it may well prove to be unique.
The bronze is first listed in the inventory drawn up by Prof. Federico Hermanin of Palazzo Altieri in 1913 (no.593). It left the Altieri collection in 1943, when it was purchased by the father of the present owner. A copy of the receipt, dated 3 March and signed Frida Riberi Altieri. Palazzo Altieri, accompanies the lot.
Although no specific reference to the bronze earlier than 1913 has yet come to light, it may be indirectly referred to in contemporary documents. A papal breve dated 15th February 1674 and cited by Schiavo (Palazzo Altieri, p.175) granted Cardinal Paluzzo Paluzzi Albertoni's brother Angelo (whose son Gaspare married Pope Clement X Altieri's niece and through whom the main branch of the family descends) the right to have the 'effigy of the Blessed' for his private chapels. While the term effigy does not necessarily denote a sculptural representation, the context of the breve, dating to within the timeframe when Bernini was finishing the monument (completed in October that year), probably refers to reductions of the monument made for the family such as the present bronze. In this respect it recalls other de luxe artifacts for private devotional use, notably Melchiorre Cafà's gilt and silvered bronze reclining figure of St. Rose of Lima (Sackler Foundation, New York), a reduction of a model for his highly emotive marble of 1665 and with a link to Bernini's subsequent Ludovica Albertoni that hardly needs emphasising. Post-dating the completion of the marble, Cafà's bronze is believed to have been made for one of the great papal families. Clement X Altieri, who canonized Rose of Lima in 1671, is proposed as a candidate. The present bronze was therefore probably made for use in one of the private Altieri chapels and quite possibly in Palazzo Altieri itself.
If the present bronze is notable for its exceptional quality in the chasing of its different surfaces, then it must follow that Bernini, preoccupied on such diverse projects as the tomb of Alexander VII and the equestrian statue of Louis XIV, is unlikely to have finished the bronze himself. It has already been established that Bernini rarely took part in casting and finishing his models because he could rely on the services of highly competent technicians. He did however, keep a close eye on proceedings, knowing that a bronze from his workshop would be considered as a work by his own hand. In the case of the present bronze, the status of its intended recipient suggests that Bernini took great care to ensure its perfection.
All but two of the known reductions of the Ludovica Albertoni are terracottas, of which six examples can be identified. Of these, only one is universally accepted as autograph. The version in the V&A is credited as a preliminary bozzetto for the finished marble. The ex-Farsetti cast in the Hermitage (inv.614), also finished in the round, is contested as possibly by an assistant under Bernini's direct supervision but it is agreed to be an auxiliary model he had made prior to the completion of the marble. The second ex-Farsetti cast in the Hermitage (inv.613) is thought to post-date the marble and relates quite closely to the present bronze. However at 18cm. high, it is too small to have been the model used for casting it. The dark patination of the terracotta may have been an attempt to visualise what a bronze cast might have looked like.
The only record of the existence of a marble reduction is mentioned by Wittkower as being in the Giocondi collection in Rome. Its current whereabouts are not known.
The history of the commission of the Blessed Ludovica is well documented. Her cult was sanctioned by Clement X in January 1671 and celebrated in a special mass in the Altieri chapel. Now officially a beata, the ambitious Cardinal Paluzzo Paluzzi Albertoni (1623-98) turned his attention to the glorification of his great great grandmother. Paluzzo had engineered the aged Emilio Altieri's election as Pope and was the most powerful man in the curia. In 1669 he oversaw the marriage of his nephew to Laura Caterina Altieri, the pope's niece. As Clement X had no descendants, the marriage paved the way for the Albertoni to assume the Altieri family name. Paluzzo commissioned the marble from Bernini because he agreed to work without compensation, in the hope that Clement would be lenient on his brother Luigi, who had disgraced himself in an act of misconduct inside the Vatican.
Consensus has not been reached as to whether Ludovica is portrayed in the act of dying (as Baldinucci believed) or experiencing an intense mystical vision similar to that seen in his earlier masterpiece, the Ecstasy of St. Teresa. The understated but visionary quality of the sculpture and absence of emblems of death presuppose its representation of the triumph over mortality, which is reinforced in her ecstatic expression and emotional gestures.
A.Schiavo, La donna nelle sculture del Bernini, Milan, Alfieri & Acroix, 1942; A.Schiavo, Palazzo Altieri, Rome 1963, p.175; R.Wittkower, Gianlorenzo Bernini, London 1966, pp.257-59, no.76; R.Wittkower, 'Two Bronzes by Bernini in the National Gallery', Art Bulletin of Victoria, The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1970-71, pp.11-18; S.Androsov, Alle origini di Canova: le terrecotte della collezione Farsetti , exh.cat., Palazzo Ruspoli and Ca' d'Oro, Venice 1991, pp.72-72, no.24; G.Spinola, Le sculture nel Palazzo Albertoni Spinola a Roma el le collezioni Paluzzi ed Altieri, Rome 1995;
B.Boucher (ed.), Earth and Fire: Italian Terracotta Sculpture from Donatello to Canova, exh.cat., V&A, London 2001
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