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Sixtus V

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Italy (probably Rome, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1600 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Mr H. C. Wilkinson

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 7, The Sheikha Amna Bint Mohammed Al Thani Gallery, case WN

Pope Sixtus V (Felice Peretti) was born in 1521 and was pope from 1585 to 1590. This bust, together with its pair depicting Pope Pius IV (born 1499; Pope 1559-65; see A.40-1910), must have been created after the accession of Sixtus in 1585, and are probably both posthumous portraits made in the Vatican Foundry. The head of the Virgin seen on the morse (the clasp used to fasten the cope, the ceremonial cape worn by a priest or bishop) appears on numerous medals where it sometimes appears as the reverse for the head of Christ, seen on the morse of the Pius bust.

Sixtus followed Gregory XIII as Pope, who had left the papal state in disorder. When appointed, Sixtus restored order within two years, using ruthless and repressive measures. He also engaged in wide economic and financial reforms, restoring the papal treasury. His legacy lies in the restoration of the church's central administration. He was called the 'iron' pope and was a patron of building and scholarship in the spirit of the Catholic renewal. Through his reconstructions, Rome became a magnificent baroque city with a new layout connecting the seven pilgrimage churches, opening up boulevards and building aqueducts, the 'Acqua Felice'. He also finished the construction of St. Peter's dome and established the Vatican press.

Physical description

The bust of Sixtus V shows him wearing a cope with representations of St Bartholomew, St James the Greater, St Philip and St Matthias. On the morse is a bust of the Virgin.

Place of Origin

Italy (probably Rome, made)


ca. 1600 (made)



Materials and Techniques



Height: 82 cm incl. base, Width: 56.5 cm

Object history note

This bust, together with that of Pope Pius IV (A.40-1910), are probably from the same workshop production of the early 17th century, having been made most likely a short while after the accession of Sixtus to the papacy in 1585. The morse on the cope bears the head of the Virgin, while that on the bust of Pius shows the head of Christ. George Hill(op.cit.) observed that the presence of the two heads replicates those on a medal attributed to Leone Leoni found at Castel di Sangro in Abruzzo, South Italy. This could suggest that the two busts were cast as a pair and did not form part of a larger series of papal portraits.

Although Maclagan and Longhurst (1932, op.cit.) attributed both busts to Bastiano Torrigiani, they differ in style from the busts of Sixtus V by that artist (see A.40-1950). However, both busts are idealised, and are probably produced as posthumous images in the early 17th century (see Pope-Hennessy 1964, op.cit.) at the Vatican Foundry.

Bequeathed by H.C. Wilkinson, Esq.

Historical context note

Sixtus was born in 1521 and Pope from 1585-1590.
This bust together with A.40-1910 are probably from the same workshop. The head of the Virgin which is shown on the morse appears on numerous medals, sometimes as a reverse to the head of Christ.

Descriptive line

Bust, bronze, Pope Sixtus V, Italy (probably Rome), ca. 1600

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Maclagan, Eric and Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture. Text. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1932, p. 150
Pope-Hennessy, John, assisted by Lightbown, Ronald. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Volume II: Text. Sixteenth to Twentieth Century. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1964, pp. 622-23, cat. no. 655; vol.III, fig. 650.
The Rival of Nature. Renaissance painting in its context. [exh. cat., National Gallery, London, 20 June- 28 September 1975]. London: National Gallery, 1975, no.215
Hyatt Mayor, Builders and Humanists: the Renaissance Popes as Patrons of the arts. [exh. cat., University of St Thomas Art Dept., Houston, March-May 1966]. Houston: University of St Thomas, 1966, p.100, cat. no. 66
Steinmann, Ernst. 'Die Statuen der Päpste auf dem Kapitol', in Miscellanea Francesco Ehrle. Scritti di Storia e Paleografia pubblicati..., vol. II, pp.487-488.

Labels and date

Bust of Pope Sixtus V
About 1600

This posthumous portrait of Pope Sixtus V (died 1590) commemorates him as head of the Roman Catholic Church. It was probably made to match a similar bronze bust of Pope Pius IV. Sixtus reformed the church’s central administration and finances, and was also a patron of building and scholarship. Posthumous portraits ensured lasting commemoration in idealised form.

Italy (Rome)

Possibly made at the Vatican Foundry


Bequeathed by H.C. Wilkinson, Esq. [09.12.2015]
POPE SIXTUS V (Felice Peretti, b.152; pope 1585-1590)
Italian, Perhaps Rome; about 1600

This bust is paired with that of Pope Pius IV (exhibited nearby). Both must have been made after the accession of Sixtus in 1585, or possibly later. On the morse (the clasp used to fasten a cope, the ceremonial cape worn by a priest or bishop) is the head of the Virgin in profile. On the decorative bands of the cope, which were often highly embroidered, are depicted SS. Bartholomew and James the Great, and SS. Philip and Matthias in full length.
[1993 - 2011]



Subjects depicted



Christianity; Religion; Portraits; Sculpture


Sculpture Collection

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