The sternly reserved expression of this portrait bust may come as a surprise in a work of the great baroque sculptor and architect Bernini. The restrained treatment must owe something to the fact that the sculptor was working not from a living subject but from the painted portrait of a man who had died in 1600, when Bernini was two years old. Around 1623 Bernini's good friend Maffeo Barberini, the newly elected Pope Urban VIII, commissioned busts of his family, including this beloved uncle.
With the needs of his patron in mind, Bernini created a noble and dignified paternal presence in the ancient Roman tradition of ancestral portraiture. He chose a bust form that includes most of the chest, and curved the truncation to echo the arch of the spreading shoulders, producing an effect both of harmony and imposing physical bulk. Shadows play over Francesco's aged face, especially in the sunken temples, and beneath the bushy eyebrows. The sagging flesh of the cheeks appears soft and pliant. The sculptor's drill has pierced dark wells between the tufts of the silky beard. The mantle falls in broad folds that contrast with the crinkly pleats of the surplice below. These varied forms and textures show how successfully Bernini strove to compensate for marble's lack of color.