LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) – An early marble bust of Pope Paul V by the Baroque artist Bernini will go on display Thursday at the J. Paul Getty Museum’s East Pavilion.

Commissioned in 1621 by the nephew of the pope a few months after his death, the life-size bust was the 23-year-old artist’s first papal portrait.

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Until now, art historians have only known the piece through a photograph taken for a 1893 auction catalog and bronze version cast by Sebastiano Sebastiani, which is part of the collection of the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen, as well as original records of its commission.

“Bernini was the towering genius of his age, acknowledged in his lifetime and ever since as the most versatile, inventive and talented sculptor since Michelangelo,” said Timothy Potts, director of the Getty.

“That such a famous and important work by his hand should be rediscovered and become acquirable by a museum today is an extremely rare and remarkable event,” he said. “This portrait of Pope Paul V takes its place at the Getty Museum as one of our most important and beautiful sculptures of any period or genre.”

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The nearly 400-year-old bust was acquired by the Getty in a private sale through Sotheby’s, according to the museum. The purchase price was not disclosed.

It belonged for hundreds of years to the family of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, until it was sold at auction in 1893 to a private Viennese collector. The piece disappeared from public view for more than a century, and the most recent owner of the sculpture acquired it last year, according to the museum.

Bernini’s portrait of Paul V depicts the pope almost bareheaded, his hair cut to signify the renunciation of worldly fashion, and dressed in traditional pontifical vestments.

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