During his second stay in Rome, around 1650, Velazquez had the honor of painting portrait for Pope Innocent X. "Troppo vero!" (Too truthful!) the pontiff is said to have exclaimed on seeing the picture, in which the painter emphasized the frowning expression and severe features of a man described as surly and reserved, gloomy and mercurial. It seems that Velazquez was offered a handsome payment, which he refused as he was on a mission on behalf of the king of Spain. But he did not turn down a gold chain and the medal of the pontificate, which are even recorded on the plaque. The pope is in summer dress. He is holding a "note" from Philip IV with the painter's name written on it. The freedom of the brushwork and the triumph of reds is reminiscent of Titian, who also contributed to the tradition of the papal portrait with his Paul III Farnese and His Grandsons, in which the pontiff, seated, lets his cloth shoe protrude from his cassock for the ceremony of kissing the foot that marked the conclusion, after three bows, of the homage due to the pope. A matter of great debate in the 16th century, beards worn by churchmen posed a number of problems: on the one hand they were a mark of virility, but on the other this might seem inconsistent with the celibacy of the priesthood. The warrior pope Julius II had sworn that he would not shave until he had driven the French out of Italy. Clement VII, by contrast, had grown a beard as a sign of mourning after the Sack of Rome in 1527, and was imitated by many of the clergy. A treatise entitled In Defense of Priests' Beardseven came out in 1531, arguing that the beard is a symbol of piety, gravity and dignity, to be preferred to a smooth and effeminate face. Evidently this did not convince Cardinal Carlo Borromeo , later to be canonized as St. Charles, who at the end of the 16th century ordered the priests of his diocese to shave off their beards. Innocent X's not very luxuriant beard probably constituted a sort of compromise between the different positions. The portrait painting has been admired by artists down the centuries, culminating in the dramatic version of it painted by Francis Bacon in 1965.
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