Portrait of Pope Innocent X Pamphilj

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

This is the most important painting in the collection, and  is a masterpiece of the 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”. The Spanish artist Velázquez probably painted this canvas between the end of 1649 and January of 1650, 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, abandoning its pro-French policies. Many artists and art critics consider it the finest portrait ever created. An old English guidebook quotes Sir Joshua Reynolds’ authoritative opinion as this being “the finest picture in Rome”. In addition, the French historian Hippolyte Taine considered the portrait “the masterpiece amongst all portraits” and said that “once seen, it is impossible to forget”. The excellently preserved painting has always attracted particular attention in the Gallery. In the mid-19th century Prince Filippo Andrea V Doria Pamphilj wanted to isolate it from the rest of collection, and asked the architect Andrea Busiri Vici to build a special chamber for it at the end of the First Wing of the Gallery.