Painting the Pope: An analysis of Francis Bacon's study after Velázquez's Portrait of Innocent X

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In many discussions of his work Bacon is disparaging about religion, and more specifically, Christianity. And yet, in spite of his unequivocal stance, throughout his oeuvre he was relentlessly drawn towards the symbols of the Christian tradition, especially the motif of the Crucifixion and the Pope. In this article I want to compare Velázquez's painting of Pope Innocent X (1650) and Bacon's Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Innocent X (1953) in order to assess the reasons that explain Bacon's obsession with the image of the Pope. His descriptor 'study after' in the title qualifies his aims, which entailed deconstructing the Velázquez painting and reappropriating it for his own ends. I think it fitting to describe Bacon's version as being a mirror-image or photographic negative of Velázquez's. And although Bacon virulently critiques the institutions of the Church, he is dependent upon the wealth of theological sources for his imagery as well as the position of theism, which alone gives credence to his practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-50
Number of pages18
JournalLiterature and Theology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes


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