The work, which was recently acquired by the Italian State, was found in a niche in the library of Palazzo Altieri by Martinelli in 1955. Documentary sources give us the history of the bust, but some aspects concerning the existence of other copies and about where they were destined still remain no more than hypotheses.
The principal sources which referred to the sculpture are a handwritten record by Carlo Cartari, the librarian of the Altieri family, and the catalogue of works by Bernini drafted in 1682 by Baldinucci, two years after the sculptor’s death. Baldinucci mentions a bust of Pope Clement X, without indicating its location and, in his biography, he states that Bernini left it in his will to the Pope’s nephew, the powerful Cardinal Paluzzo Altieri. Domenico Bernini (1713) only recalled that his father left “the portrait of Clement X to Cardinal Altieri”. Cartari described a visit to Gian Lorenzo’s studio on 5 May 1676, where he saw the sculptor making a bust of the pontiff for Cardinal Paluzzo “to keep in his room”. The scholar also mentioned two replicas of the portrait which Bernini was to make: one, rough hewn, for the refectory of the Trinità dei Pellegrini, and another, still to be made, for the library in Palazzo Altieri. In the opinion of Wittkower and other scholars, only the bust for the Pellegrini hospital was probably made, but never fully terminated: they suggest that, due to the sudden death of the Pope in July 1676, the copy for the library was not even started. The bust for the Trinità dei Pellegrini remained in the sculptor’s studio until 1680, when he left it to the hospital. The sculpture was placed in the refectory in 1685 and all trace of it was lost in the 19th century. The version for the Cardinal probably remained unfinished, even though it was at a fairly advanced stage: in October 1681, Giovan Battista Giorgi, the sculptor, received a payment of 10 scudi to finish the alb, the tippet and the scroll (Villa 1996). The bust was certainly placed in the niche in the library after 1688, when N. Tessin saw that the niche was empty and that the sculpture was in another room in the same building (Sirén 1914), presumably after the death of Cardinal Altieri in 1698.