Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez

Portrait of Pope Innocent X (Pamphilj)

141 x 119 cm; oil on canvas (FC 289)

This is the most important work in the collection, and is a masterpiece of 17th century portraiture. It portrays Giovanni Battista Pamphilj, Pope from 1644 to 1655, without attempting to hide his ugliness, “that satirical saturnine, coarse and hideous aspect”, which made his contemporaries and above all his enemies suspect that he had a “contumacious spirit”. Velázquez probably painted this between the end of 1649 and January of 1650. It was painted during a moment of great change in international politics: after the peace of Westphalia (1648) the papacy moved its alliances once more towards Habsburg Spain, dropping the pro-French line. An old English guidebook gives it as
Reynold’s authoritative opinion that this is “the finest picture in Rome.” The excellently preserved painting has always attracted particular attention in the gallery. In the mid-19th century Filippo Andrea Doria Pamphilj V wanted to isolate it from the rest, and had a special chamber built for it by the architect Andrea Busiri Vici at the far end of the wing running along the Via del Corso.

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