Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




Claustrophobic Fear

Francis Bacon and the pope



I have always been very moved by the movements of the mouth and the shape of the mouth and the teeth. People say that these have all sorts of sexual implications .... I like, you may say, the glitter and colour that comes from the mouth, and I've always hoped in a sense to be able to paint the mouth like Monet painted the sunset.

David Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon: 1962-1979. 1975



Francis Bacon

Shot in the eye: A still from Sergey Eisenstein's film The battleship Potemkin, 1925


The pope setting an example: Diego
Diego Velazquez, Pope Innocent X, 1650


Pope Innocent 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 IV, Diego Velazquez (1599—1660). Nearly 300 years later, Velazquez's portrait became the fascination of a very modern artist. In 1909 Francis 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 Velazquez Pope (Innocent X), because it haunts me, and it opens up all sorts of feelings 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 Bacon 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 Bacon wanted to portray, but, unlike Velazquez, he tore off the official facade to reveal the inner man. Bacon's Pope Innocent X does not look at us ex cathedra.
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.

Head VI may 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 Head VI.


Francis Bacon
Head VI
Arts Council Collection and Hayward Gallery, London

Francis Bacon
Study after Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X


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