Maffeo Barberini, Pope Urban VIIIEnlarge image

Maffeo Barberini, Pope Urban VIII, c. 1632

Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Italian, 1598 - 1680
94.7 x 68.8 x 34.3 cm with base
Purchased 1974
National Gallery of Canada (no. 18086)

… Our glorious Pope Urban, by virtue of his patronage can take pride that you are a subject and protégé who makes miracles making marbles speak. But why should I speak for His Holiness when you, having by your hand changed a marble into His Holiness himself, makes his marble self say all this, and more. The effigy is marvellous, of great beauty and similitude; more marvellous yet the manner in which it was done, with facility and speed - and without seeing the model, since after having portrayed him in Rome, you made it while he was away at Castel Gandolfo [Urban’s summer retreat]. Astounding is the variety of things and of feelings, diverse in themselves, that are shown therein in sweet consonance. What is stunning is that in His Holiness’ face you have brought to life and expressed many emotions and many aspects which, mutually repugnant by nature, you, by your art, have harmoniously reconciled. For ten years you have attentively observed the face of this most urbane Prince, who opens to you not only the joy of his countenance, but also the intimacy of his feelings. And with your bold imagination you have seen only the living inward harmony. You have succeeded in expressing those airs and attitudes, which … you found to be most noble in that face. Thus one sees the portrait pensive with light-heartedness, gentle with majesty, spirited with gravity; it is benign and it is venerable. This image of His Holiness has no arms; yet by a faint movement of the right shoulder and a lifting of the "mozzetta", together with a turn of the head and also an inclination of the brow, it clearly shows the action of gesturing with the arm to someone to rise to his feet. Lelio Guidiccioni, letter to Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1633. (translated from the Italian by Irving Lavin)


– still in 1964
Castelbarco Albani family, Rome, Italy [1]

Anonymous collection, Zurich, Switzerland [2]

by 1969 – 1973
“Etablissement pour la Culture et Arts”, Vaduz, Liechtenstein (Robert Leclerc, Geneva, Switzerland) [3]

12/1973 – 07/1974
Eugene V. Thaw (b.1927), New York, NY, USA, and David Carritt (b.1927), London, England, UK (owned jointly), purchased from Robert Leclerc, Geneva, Switzerland [4]

1974 –
National Gallery of Canada, purchased from Eugene V. Thaw, New York [5]


[1] It is not known how the bust of Urban VIII came into the possession of the Castelbarco Albanis, a distinguished Italian family of Albanian descent. It is known that many family members had ties to the papacy: e.g. Carlo Albani was Maestro di Camera to Cardinal Francesco Barberini, the nephew of Pope Urban VIII. In the 18th century, a Castelbarco Albani became Clement XI. Whereas the principal Roman line of the Albanis died out, a collateral line leads to the Castelbarco Albani family, which considers itself direct heirs.

According to a statement by Carlo Castelbarco Albani (1926–2005), Casciago, Italy, dated October 5, 1974, the bust of Pope Urban VIII was owned by his family until the late 1960s [NGC curatorial files]. For several years his father Prince Cesare Castelbarco Albani (d. 1972) unsuccessfully attempted to sell the bust through his brother Count Francesco Castelbarco Albani, an antique dealer in Milan. It remained with Francesco Castelbarco Albani until 1964, when Prince Cesare reassumed possession. This was the last time Carlo Castelbarco Albani saw the marble. In 1969, Prince Cesare showed him Rudolf Wittkower's article in the Burlington Magazine, attributing the bust to Bernini [Wittkower, Rudolf. “A New Bust of Pope Urban VIII by Bernini.” Burlington Magazine, vol. 111, no. 791 (February 1969) p. 60]. On this occasion, his father told him, that he had sold the bust to an art dealer from Geneva without realizing to whom it was attributed [NGC curatorial file].

[2] See note [4].

[3] See note [4].

[4] In a statement rendered by David Carritt, London, on October 11, 1974, he claimed that he had purchased the bust of Urban VIII after Christmas 1973 in joint ownership with Eugene V. Thaw, New York, from Robert Leclerc, Geneva. Leclerc, a Swiss banker and art dealer, presumably acquired the work in the late 1960s. According to Carritt, Leclerc indicated that he had acquired it from a bank in Zurich. Leclerc was associated with the Etablissement pour la Culture et Arts, Vaduz, Liechtenstein [dealer's invoice dated July 11, 1974, NGC curatorial file].

[5] National Gallery acquisition form dated July 12, 1974 [NGC curatorial file].

Provenance completed



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