Cast from Alessandro Algardi - Beheading of St Paul

The Beheading of St Paul is an important item of Roman Baroque sculpture which was taken from a cast which was produced by Alessandro Algardi (1598-1654). This Italian high-Baroque sculptor was active almost exclusively in Rome and was a major rival to Gianlorenzo Bernini. This roundel was originally found on the altar frontal of the small rock-cut chapel of St Paul which is found to the side of St Paul’s grotto. At present, a copy of this can be seen there. This gilt bronze roundel was taken from a cast which was produced by Algardi in 1648 for the altar frontal of the Spada Chapel in San Paolo Maggiore in Bologna. For this same Chapel in Bologna, Algardi also produced a marvellous marble group also representing the Beheading of St Paul. 

This roundel arrived in Malta in the early 1680’s and several other copies are known to exist. Many of these copies may have been produced by Ercole Ferrata who was in possession of a mould of this relief. It is not known whether it was the latter that produced this Maltese cast, even though the statue of St Paul above its original location was in fact completed by Ferrata himself. 

In this representation, Algardi chose to show the moment following the beheading of St Paul, where his severed head is seen bouncing and miraculously producing springs of water when hitting the ground. This roundel shows off Algardi’s virtuosity, as a lot of depth is created in such a shallow surface. Depth is created by showing the main figures in the foreground at a slightly higher relief. The figures which are the furthest away into the background are merely scratched in. Here viewers can also appreciate the wonderful play of light and shade which gives dimension to this almost flat surface.