Innocent X had been papal nuncio to Spain before he became Pope, where Velázquez, court painter since 1623, would undoubtedly have known him. Innocent was 70 when he was elected Pope, and 76 in the portrait, which was done when Velázquez was in Italy on behalf of Philip IV, buying art for the Spanish royal collection.
Today, most of these purchases are in the Prado, Madrid. In Italy, Velázquez also painted his only known nude, The Rokeby Venus, now in the National Gallery. During the English Civil War, Innocent supported independent Confederate Ireland, albeit to ‘sustain’ the king, sending arms and money to help Irish Catholics win full religious freedom.
Nonetheless, he was an often irresolute and suspicious Pope, unduly influenced by his brother’s widow, Olimpia Maidalchini, who controlled the papal purse-strings and was nicknamed the ‘Popess’ (Papessa). Gossip inevitably said she was his mistress, a crude assumption dismissed by historians. This highly charged, capable but avaricious woman has sullied the reputation of a man ‘not without noble and reforming impulses’; so avaricious was she that it was left to Innocent’s former butler to pay for his papal master’s funeral.’
* For more fine art like this every week, subscribe and save