Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650) by Velazquez
Interpretation of Spanish Baroque Portrait

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Portrait of Pope Innocent X
By Velazquez.
Regarded as one of the
Greatest Paintings Ever.

Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650)


Pope Innocent X
Analysis of The Portrait of Pope Innocent X
Interpretation of Other Baroque Paintings


Name: The Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650)
Artist: Diego Velazquez (1599-1660)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Portrait art
Movement: Baroque painting
Location: Doria Pamphilj Gallery, Rome

For the meaning of other celebrated masterpieces,
please see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).


Diego Velazquez was the leading contributor to Spanish Baroque art during the first half of the 17th century, and the leading painter in the court of Philip IV of Spain (reigned 1621-40). In contrast to the idealist Baroque art of contemporaries like Rubens and Poussin, Velazquez is noted above all for the naturalism of his work. Note in particular, his Baroque portrait paintings such as (Pope Innocent X and Las Meninas), his still life bodegones (Waterseller of Seville), his rare surviving history painting entitled (Surrender of Breda and Christ Crucified) and female nude (The Rokeby Venus). Although not as controversial in his realism as Caravaggio, Velazquez painted the world as he saw it, rather than producing elaborate allegorical images. Thus his portraiture is famous for its attention to the sitter's unromanticized appearance.

Pope Innocent X

Giambattista Pamphilj (1574-1655), born to one of the most powerful families in Europe, was first a Cardinal (1629) before becoming Pope Innocent X (1644-55). A remarkably vigorous and hard-working man for his age (he was 75 when Velazquez painted him), he was widely regarded as an austere, ugly, hot-tempered, suspicious and cunning individual. His papal reign was marked by scandal and violence, although he managed to increase the power of the Holy See within Italy and abroad.

Analysis of The Portrait of Pope Innocent X

Undoubtedly the best-known of all papal portraits, Velazquez' picture of Pope Innocent X is a fascinating study of the personality and psychology of the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church. The portrait was done during Velazquez's second visit to Italy (1649-51), most likely during the summer of 1650, and has secured his reputation as one of the best portrait artists of the 17th century. It seems that Velazquez made the offer to paint the portrait during an audience with the Pontiff in 1650, probably in order to gain admission into the prestigious Academy of Art in Rome (the Accademia di San Luca), and the Pontifical Academy of Fine Arts (Congregazione dei Virtuosi al Pantheon). According to legend, when the pope saw the finished portrait he exclaimed nervously "Troppo vero!" (too real!). In any event, the pontiff rewarded the Spanish painter with a valuable gold chain as well as membership of the Academies in question. Perhaps a better indicator of the pope's reaction to the portrait lies in the fact that it was not exhibited in public during the 17th or 18th centuries, but was kept in the Doria-Pamphilj gallery, where it was known only to a few connoisseurs. This did not however prevent Velazquez from making copies of it, which were greatly admired by his colleagues. The portrait remains in the Doria Pamphilj collection in the Vatican City, while other smaller versions hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.



Captured in a three quarter pose, the pope is shown wearing his red biretta and red silk cape over the usual white liturgical vestment known as an alb. He is seated in an ornate red velvet armchair, whose gilded outline distinguishes it from the opulent red of the background curtain. The dominant reds and crimsons of the painting - probably derived from Titian's and El Greco's religious portraits - represent a significant change from the browns and blacks of the artist's usual colour palette. Innocent's red flesh tones add further to the overall chromatic unity of the picture.

Like the Dutch realist painter Jan Vermeer (1632-75), Velazquez renders surface textures with great virtuosity. Notice his reproduction of the silky sheen of the papal cape, the soft velvet of the chair and curtain, the metallic gold of the chair, and the crisp linen folds of the alb.

But the key feature of this extraordinary example of Spanish painting must be Pope Innocent's eyes, that closely observe the viewer, revealing the shrewd intelligence and watchfulness of the sitter - a man who is also keenly aware of his power as pontiff. Some art critics claim that Velazquez depicted Pope Innocent as a wary old man ready to snap, but this belies his proud bearing, and obvious confidence. He knows his worth as Pope even if he does not understand art.

NOTE: For an explanation of other famous religious portraiture, see: Pope Leo X with two Cardinals (1518) by the Renaissance artist Raphael; Pope Paul III with his Grandsons (1546) by Titian; as well as Portrait of a Cardinal (1600) and Portrait of Felix Hortensio Paravicino (c.1605) by El Greco.

This remarkably modern portrait with its wonderful handling of colour and its relatively loose brushwork, inspired a number 19th-century painters, including Edouard Manet (1832-83) and the Impressionists. Later it was the basis for the famous series of "Screaming Popes" by Irish-born painter Francis Bacon (1909-92).

Interpretation of Other Baroque Paintings

The Entombment of Christ (1601-3) by Caravaggio.
Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome.

Samson and Delilah (1609-10) by Rubens.
National Gallery, London.

Judith Beheading Holofernes (1620) Artemisia Gentileschi.
Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Allegory of Divine Providence (1633-39) by Pietro da Cortona
Palazzo Barberini, Rome.

Abduction of the Sabine Women (1634-5) by Nicolas Poussin.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Et in Arcadia Ego (1637) by Nicolas Poussin.
Louvre, Paris.


• For more portraits by Spanish Baroque painters, see: Homepage.

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