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Francis Bacon, Titian, and Influence on the ‘Screaming Popes’

November 15, 2017 by Jack Dziamba. New Post Goes Up  Weekly Every Wednesday.

Fine Art in the New Media

One of the tremendous benefits of fine art in the new media is the ability to see works of art close up, closer than you can see them in real life, and look at them for as long as you want. Another major benefit is the ability to make side by side comparisons, possibly shedding new light on the works. As an example, we have done so here with the works of Francis Bacon, Velázquez ,and Titian. Our  view is that “Art” and its “meaning” is up to you – what you see, and what you can imagine.

Bacon and Velázquez

It is axiomatic that the inspiration for Francis Bacon‘s “Screaming Pope,” above was Diego Velázquez’s “Pope Innocent X,”.  For instance,  The Truth Behind Francis Bacon’s Screaming Popes , an article by the noted art publisher, Phaidon, states,

“Bacon worked on his pope paintings, variations on Velázquez’s magnificent portrait of Pope Innocent X, for over twenty years. He was already exploring the idea while in the South of France in late 1946. The first surviving version (Head VI) dates from late 1949, and he finally stopped in the mid-1960s …* He acquired endless reproductions of the Velázquez painting from books, but famously did not see the original when he visited Rome in late 1954.”

The Phaidon article also states that,

“The art of Francis Bacon (1909–1992) epitomizes the angst at the heart of the modern human condition. His dramatic images of screaming figures and distorted anatomies are painted with a richly gestural technique, alluding to such Old Masters as Titian, Velázquez and Rembrandt. Displaying repressed and raw emotion, his body of work includes portraits of Lucian Freud and John Deakin.”

The “Meaning” of the ‘Screaming Heads’

The Phaidon article states further that,

“[Bacon’s] insertion [of the screaming head] subverts the encapsulation of power and self-assurance projected by Velázquez. The screaming mouth, isolated from other facial features and divorced from any narrative context, suggests existential agony. The pathos of human vulnerability and loss of faith or conviction are accentuated by the precisely rendered space frames in many Bacon images of popes, which make the figures register as ‘enclosed in the wretched glass capsule of the human individual’, to cite the evocative phrase used by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy (1872), one of Bacon’s favourite books.”

No matter what, Bacon’s screaming figures will go on screaming until the paint, and the pain disappear.

Titian Portrait_of_Cardinal_Filippo_Archinto_c1555

Bacon and Titian

The painting above titled, “Portrait of Archbishop Filippo Archinto” is by Titian. What is interesting is that the label for the painting above at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it is presently in an exhibition of Old Masters, and which permanently houses the painting, states,

“The unusual portrayal of this man can be explained by facts known about his life. Archinto was appointed archbishop of Milan in 1556, but political troubles prevented his taking possession of the post. The veil obscuring him from view stands for these difficulties. The episcopal ring, which the artist carefully reveals just outside the veil, symbolizes Archinto’s legal right to office.”

Is it possible to imagine that when the curtain is fully drawn across the Archbishop that he, himself, will start to scream?

Now, take a closer look at the Archbishop’s left hand isolated below. Is it possible to imagine the hand as a skull dripping blood? If so, will it make you scream?

Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 1.05.10 PM


Whether you regard the similarity of Bacon’s ‘Screaming Popes’ the Velázquez portrait of Pope Innocent X, and Titian’s “Portrait of Archbishop Filippo Archinto” as influences on Bacon’s ‘Screaming Popes’, ultimately depends on what you see. No matter what, Bacon’s screaming figures will go on screaming until the paint, and the pain disappear.






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