Portrait of Innocent X

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Portrait of Pope Innocent X
Retrato del Papa Inocencio X. Roma, by Diego Velázquez.jpg
Artist Diego Velázquez
Year c. 1650
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 141 cm × 119 cm (56 in × 47 in)
Location Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome

The Portrait of Pope Innocent X is an oil on canvas portrait by the Spanish painter Diego Velázquez, finished during a trip to Italy around 1650. Many artists and art critics consider it the finest portrait ever created.[1] It is housed in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj in Rome. A smaller version is housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and a study is on display at Apsley House in London.[2]

The Irish-born painter Francis Bacon painted a series of variants of this painting called the "Screaming Popes", which are now famous in their own right.


The portrait was painted during Velázquez's second voyage to Italy, between 1649 and 1651. The Pope's vestments being of light linen, it was probably painted during the summer, most likely in 1650. Velázquez included his signature on the paper the Pope is holding, but it is difficult to read the date.

Detail from the National Gallery, Washington, version

There are two versions of the story of how Velázquez came to paint the portrait. According to one of them, while visiting the Vatican City, Velázquez, already a renowned painter, was granted an audience with Pope Innocent X. He offered to paint a portrait of the Pope, but Innocent X doubted, mistrusting Velázquez's fame. Hence, he asked Veláquez to offer some proof of his painting skills. It would have been then that Velázquez painted the portrait of his servant Juan de Pareja (today at display in the Metropolitan Museum of New York). Once the Pope saw the portrait of Juan de Pareja, he allowed Velázquez to paint the portrait.[3] Legend has it that when the Pope saw the finished portrait, he exclaimed, somewhat disconcerted: "Troppo vero!" ("all too true!"), though he was not able to deny the intrinsic quality of the portrait as a masterpiece.[4] Experts doubt the veracity of this story, and argue that the Pope allowed Velázquez to paint him because he had already painted with great success other people from the inner papal court, including the Pope's own barber.

The portrait was kept at private display by Innocent's family, the Pamphilj, who would display it in the Doria-Pamphilj gallery where it remains to this day. It was a relatively secret masterpiece for much of the 17th and 18th centuries, only known to some connoisseurs who, nonetheless, would inevitably praise the work as one of the finest portraits ever produced. French historian Hippolyte Taine considered the portrait as "the masterpiece amongst all portraits" and said that "once it has been seen, it is impossible to forget".[5]

The knowledgeable art dealer René Gimpel noted in his diary (1923) "Morgan would have offered a million dollars for it. Velázquez was faced with a ruddy Italian, and the artist, accustomed to the pale complexions of his country, unhesitatingly steeped his brush in red the color of wine and brought the bon vivant devastatingly to life.... That face is a whirlpool of flesh, and blood, and life; the eyes are searching."[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vid. Ernest Gombrich, The History of Art, Phaidon Press Limited, 1995, Chapter 19
  2. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/pope-innocent-x-1650
  3. ^ Gombrich, E. "The Story of Art." London: Phaidon, 1950
  4. ^ http://www.wga.hu/tours/spain/velazqu1.html
  5. ^ Bosky, Bernadette Lynn, "Hippolyte-Adolphe Taine", Cyclopedia of World Authors
  6. ^ Gimpel, (John Roseberg, tr.)Diary of an Art Dealer 1966:190.

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