Algardi was born in Bologna, where he trained under Lodovico Carracci at the Accademia degli Incamminati. He moved to Rome in 1625, where he initially obtained some success as a restorer of classical sculptures but also rapidly established himself as the principal rival of Gian Lorenzo Bernini as a portrait artist. Less pictorial and dynamic than Bernini’s, Algardi’s portraits were appreciated for their sobriety and surface realism.
Perhaps his most important commission in the 1630s was for the marble tomb of Pope Leo XI in St. Peter’s (1644-52) sculpted entirely from white marble.
After the election of Pope Innocent X (1644), Algardi replaced Bernini in papal favour. Between this date and his death in 1654, Algardi produced some of his most celebrated works, among them colossal marble relief of the Meeting of Attila and Pope Leo in St. Peter’s (1646–53)
His style, tempering the realism of the High Baroque with a strongly classicising vein was also strongly influenced by the work of the painters Pietro da Cortona and Nicolas Poussin. It was perhaps the restraint of his classical approach, constantly influenced by the study of classical antiquities, that fostered his reputation in France where some of the most flamboyant of Bernini’s compositions failed to be appreciated. A gifted draftsman, Algardi left numerous drawings for his sculptural commissions and for engravings which further expanded his renown. Copies and reductions of his most famous works were avidly collected throughout Europe from the seventeenth century onwards.