X was a magnanimous prince of the Church and a
discerning lover of the arts but was said to have less influence over the
Vatican Curia than his brother's widow, whose intercession was sought out
by cardinals and ambassadors. Yet Innocent X was thought to be a good Pope
— especially in Spain. He had taken the Spanish side in some royal quarrels
and his portrait was painted in 1650 by the court painter of King Philip
Diego Velazquez (1599—1660). Nearly 300 years later,
portrait became the fascination of a very modern artist. In 1909
Bacon was born to English parents living in Dublin, but his fascination
for this portrait did not develop until 1949: "I think it is one of the
greatest portraits that has ever been made, and I became obsessed by it. I
buy book after book with this illustration in it of the
(Innocent X), because it haunts me, and it opens up all sorts of
Bacon executed over twenty-five variations on
Velazquez's work, among
them Head VI.
Bacon said that he had intended to work over the
picture plane to make it look like "the skin of a hippopotamus", though in
other respects the picture was painted to be "like Velazquez". Yet
had never seen Velazquez's original portrait, which hangs in the Galleria Doria Pamphih in Rome.
Bacon claimed that for nearly two or
three years he was so entranced by this portrait, that he attempted to
paint a work equal to it.
Bacon speculated that it was partly due to the magnificent handling of colour which intrigued him. Or the high office of
Innocent X, who surveyed the world from a sovereign's throne. Pope
Innocent X had the appearance of a tragic hero. This is what
to portray, but, unlike Velazquez, he tore off the official facade to
reveal the inner man.
does not look at us
He is a private person, a solitary being whose sufferings, brought on
by loneliness, are wrenched from him in a scream - as if his isolation had
induced claustrophobic fear.
remind us of Albert Camus's The Stranger,
Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit or perhaps even Sergey Eisenstein's
Battleship Potemkin. Eisenstein's film of the 1925 Russian revolution
contains a brutal close-up: a screaming woman is being hit in the eye by a
bullet, losing control of the pram she has been pushing. The scene is a
distillation of existential fear; a still photo of it was hanging in
Bacon's studio when he painted