Saturday, November 12, 2011


Diego Velázquez 048
Source: Wiki Commons
Here's a pairing: tucked away in a small room that hangs like an appendage off the Doria Pamphilj Galllery in Rome you find (inter alia) two remarkable renderings of the same man.  The subject is Giovanni Battista Pamphilj,known to the world as Innocent X, Pope from 1644 to 1655.  On your left as you enter is a portrait by Diego Velázquez. Apparently it was a gift to the Pope, not a commission, and it is said that the Pope didn't like it--too true, he thought.

Meanwhile straight ahead is a sculpted bust, the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whose handiwork virtually defines 17C Rome--indeed, perhaps defines Rome as a whole.

Source: Hans Ollerman
Tastes will differ but for my money the Bernini is far more flattering than the  Velázquez--more dignified and austere without the undertone of cruelty and rapacity that steals into its companion.  More flattering and thus perhaps less interesting: the Bernini is no doubt a prodigy of craft, but it isn't nearly as arresting as some others in the multitudinous array of Berninis around town.

But what a curious fate it is for such an unattractive man, the Pope--a world master at the art of private enrichment--to be so memorialized by two of the greatest artists of his or any other age.

BTW just across town you can pick up the thread of another diverting synchronicity..  In the Church of Saint Louis of France, you find the one painting which I would think out of all the world to be most worth saving: Caravaggio's Calling of St. Matthew.  Meanwhile in London--I take it for granted that they lived and died without hearing each others' name--Shakespeare would have been completing the world's greatest play.

Not a bad year for the arts.  But for context, one may wish to remember that on February 17 of that same year, in Campo de' Fiori, just blocks from the Gallery and the church, the heretic (by fiat of the Roman Inquisition) Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake.

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