Lately, I used to be about to see a portray by a favorite artist that I had by no means considered within the flesh—the Portrait of Pope Harmless X (1650) by Diego Velázquez within the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome. But amid my pleasure was a touch of trepidation. Two issues provoked it. First, the worry of disappointment. Simply earlier than my go to, the artist Mark Leckey had confided in our A brush with… podcast how he had journeyed to view Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling however discovered that he “couldn’t see it”. He mentioned: “I made this pilgrimage. After which it was denied by the crowds and every little thing else. It was simply horrible.”
There aren’t any hordes on the mercifully quiet Doria Pamphilj. However then there was a special claustrophobia surrounding the Velázquez: Francis Bacon’s interpretations of it, lots of which I had seen up shut. There are round 50 Bacon Popes, made out of the Forties to the Nineteen Sixties, which, in response to Gilles Deleuze “hystericised all the weather of Velázquez’s portray” by portraying the pontiff in numerous phases of scream. After Bacon’s shrill horror, is it attainable to innocently see Harmless X?
Bacon himself by no means noticed Velázquez’s masterpiece, regardless that he visited Rome in 1954, on the top of his engagement with it. Would confronting it have affected his capability to reinvent it? He prevented making portraits from life, as a result of, as he mentioned, “I don’t wish to observe earlier than them the damage that I do to them in my work.” No matter, as Deleuze tells us, Bacon all the time expressed “his doubt and discontent” when he mentioned them.
Now, greater than ever, I can see why. Maybe nobody described the facility of Velázquez’s work higher than Bacon when he mentioned: “In every of his portraits you discover the life and the loss of life of his characters.” What I hadn’t anticipated is the tenderness in Velázquez’s dealing with—even when it’s unflinching, it’s additionally empathetic. You additionally really feel relish within the depiction of Harmless’s ruddiness. Most powerfully, extra even than in Las Meninas (1656), I felt Velázquez’s presence within the image—whereas he observes essentially the most highly effective man on the planet, he’s being noticed, and so, too, are we.
The multitudes contained in Velázquez’s canvas make Bacon’s interpretations appear nearly “foolish”, as he himself described them. So magnificent is the Spaniard’s portray that these screams fade to whimpers.