I love art that packs an emotional punch, and one of my favorite artists, Francis Bacon from Ireland, creates powerful and emotional artworks that make my breath catch in my chest. An as an art history nerd, I also love artworks that refer to art history, so this artwork of Pope Innocent X inspired by the painting of the same guy by Spanish Baroque painter Diego Velázquez in the 17th century.
This is another work not in the public domain, so you have to click over to this site to see. Take a look at this site and compare with the original from Velázquez.
Amazing, isn’t it? Bacon reworked this portrait of Pope Innocent X over 45 times over the span of over 20 years. It’s a bit of a mystery why he obsessively worked in this same topic. He says he has nothing against popes, and that it was an excuse to use those colors. This article goes over several theories if you are really interested.
I love how Bacon takes this image of confidence and power of the Velázquez painting and turns that on its head. He transforms the pope into a man who is flickering in and out of existence in the agony of a potential existential crisis. It could be about a loss of belief or a crisis of self or a commentary about contemporary politics. Bacon started his work on his series of Pope pictures just after the end of World War II. “In later works in the series, Bacon inserted references to photographs of the then pontiff, Pope Pius XII, a controversial figure who was thought by some to have appeased the Nazis.” (source: Phaidon)
Here is an orchestra written in response to Bacon’s screaming popes. See if you can compare the music to the paintings.
Francis Bacon also produced many self-portraits that are also infused with emotion. He distorts his face, uses emotional colors, and places himself in dark, enclosed spaces. Here’s a picture I took this summer on my trip to NYC of some of Bacon’s self-portraits.
Art Discussion Questions
- How does this painting make you feel? How did the artist feel? How does the pope feel?
- What choices did the artist make to convey this emotion?
- What is the meaning or message of this painting? What do you see that makes you say that?
Francis Bacon Art Project
I have a couple of ideas for art projects related to this artwork.
- Print on a large piece of paper a picture of a famous painting/portrait. Paint over the top of it to enhance the emotion or change the portrait in some way. To make a large portrait, you could divide the painting into 4 and print each full size on a regular sheet of paper and tape them together.
- Make an emotional or expressive self-portrait.
- Look at a photograph or painting and paint a new version of it, intensifying the emotion or changing it in some way, adding your own interpretation.
More Resources and Citations
The truth behind Francis Bacon’s ‘screaming’ popes – This article is what I used as my primary source for this post.
Francis Bacon: Phaidon Focus — If you are really interested in this artist, check out this book about him.
That’s it! Thanks for reading. We are now halfway through the series! I’d love to hear your thoughts about the artwork in the comments.
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