Marble, bronze and silver for Alexander VII

Goldsmith and monumental sculpture from Bernini’s Rome to Siena Cathedral on display from 12 April to 3 November 2019

Siena, Tuscany (Italy) – On April 12, 2019, at 11 am, in the premises of the so-called Crypt of the Monumental Complex of the Cathedral of Siena will be inaugurated the exhibition Marble, bronze and silver for Alexander VII. Goldsmith and monumental sculpture from Bernini’s Rome to Siena Cathedral. The aim of the exhibition is to make known to a wider public a series of goldsmith’s objects of the age of Pope Alexander VII (1655-1667), the Sienese Fabio Chigi, which belong mostly to the Museum of the Work of Siena, or which are kept in the sacristy of the Cathedral, usually remaining difficult to access and visibility. One of the merits of the initiative is that it has provided for the restoration and cleaning of each of these precious artefacts, which can thus be better studied and examined on this occasion.

Among the most significant works on display are the six monumental reliquaries with busts of saints in silver, which the pope donated in 1663 to the sacristy of the Chigi Chapel or the Madonna, which the pope himself had sponsored the construction in the years immediately preceding, with the well-known intervention of Gian Lorenzo Bernini on the marble statues. Even less known to the public are perhaps the reliquaries of the four ancient protectors of Siena, preserved in the sacristy of the Duomo and sent from Rome by the Sienese Cardinal Volumnio Bandinelli in 1660, replacing the previous wooden carved by Francesco di Valdambrino. Unfortunately, these four twin urns have been tampered with and modified over time, without however their original structure being completely altered. These are joined by other reliquaries from the Museo della Metropolitana, such as the one containing the relics of San Prospero, linked to a model by Alessandro Algardi, or that of Blessed Ambrogio Sansedoni of the Monte dei Paschi Foundation, still linked to the same culture of Roman classicism in the mid-seventeenth century. The exhibition also includes three reliquaries sent personally from Rome by Fabio Chigi, still a cardinal, intended for the church of San Raimondo al Refugio and belonging to the Conservatori Riuniti. Other little-known precious objects include the small bust of San Filippo Neri from the Chigi Saracini Collection, still inspired by a model by Algardi, and the Crucifix placed on the high altar of the church of the Annunziata. This was commissioned by Prince Agostino Chigi around 1670 and cast on the model of Hercules Ferrata, as similar crucifixes arranged for the altars of St. Peter in the Vatican at the behest of Pope Chigi himself and directed by Bernini.  Precisely to underline the inseparable link between goldsmithery and monumental sculpture of the Roman seventeenth century are exhibited – at the ideal beginning and end of the exhibition – two masterpieces of the portraiture of the time as the extraordinary portrait busts of Alexander VII himself.

The first, rendered with sophisticated colour effects, is the one that Bernini sculpted in marble in 1657 for his illustrious patron, now in a private collection in Siena and exceptionally on display.

The second is ten years later, the year of the pope’s death, and was cast in bronze on the model of Melchiorre Caffà, the brilliant sculptor of Maltese origin who offered here an intensely dramatic interpretation of the subject.


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