01/20/2015 08:05 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Rome Journal: The Screaming Pope


The papacy had it pretty good when Cardinal Giovanni Battista Pamphilj was elected Pope Innocent X in 1644. By 1870, at the final stage of the Risorgimento, the power of the Holy See had already substantially declined. Pamphilj's nephew, Camillo, provoked his uncle's wrath by declining the important post of Nepoti (from which the term nepotism derives). But he presided over Palazzo Pamphilj which today houses a collection, Galleria Doria Pamphilj, whose signature piece is Velazquez's portrait of his uncle. Innocent hardly lived up to his name. Velasquez captures the power emanating from his gaze, embellishing it with a deep red background and gold throne. Francis Bacon must have seen more than a Henry Kissinger-like determination in those eyes when he based his Screaming Pope series on Velazquez's painting. Innocent himself didn't like the painting, which he described as "troppo vero." But he probably accorded it more credulity than Bernini's sculpture of him which stands in the same room. Bernini has been the favored sculptor of Pope Urban VIII, whom Innocent blamed for bankrupting the treasury. The sculptor himself fell into disfavor with the advent of the Innocent's reign -- though Bernini's sculpture with its sharp realistic features including what the audio tour describes as "wrinkled eyes," "misshapen nose," and "large ears" is a perfect and almost naturalist counterpoint to the Velazquez masterpiece.

Watercolor by Hallie Cohen

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}