Assaying the Pope: Francis Bacon’s Interrogation of Religion

Rina Arya

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The artist Francis Bacon vehemently denied that he was religious and yet in his art he employed numerous examples of Christian symbols, such as the Crucifixion and the Pope. The use of religious symbols by artists who profess either atheism or a mere lack of a religious interest is uncontroversial. However, Bacon did not use isolated examples of religious symbols: he employed them throughout his career. His use was ongoing and frequent and this raises questions about his motivation. I am not disputing his atheism but believe that his attitude towards religion was reactive and complex. Religion, with the existential issues it raises, needs to be addressed and this is what his art does. Bacon worked with and through religious ideas and symbols to express his unbelief. One indisputable and paradoxical notion is that, in order to articulate his unbelief, he was dependent on the very tradition that he denounced. Bacon spent the early part of his career, particularly the 1930s and 1940s, articulating his interpretations of the Crucifixion, before moving on to the symbol of the Pope, a subject that he concentrated on in the 1950s. For reasons of space I have limited my study to the symbol of the Pope. In his pursuit of the Pope, Bacon traps and strips him down to reveal “the scream of the abyss.”
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-349
Number of pages7
JournalImplicit Religion
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes


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