Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Diego Velázquez, painted circa 1650.
All I can think when I see this is that Velázquez must have had balls of steel – Popes back then weren’t people to be trifled with, especially not Innocent X whose mistress was rumoured to poison cardinals so she could charge their successors a hefty fee in exchange for having his holiness appoint them to the suddenly vacant position.
By this stage in his career Velázquez has yet to paint Las Meninas, but maybe he already knows what he’s capable of and is confident he’ll go down in history as one of the greatest artistic geniuses of all time, so he felt free to paint whatever he liked. Or maybe artists and paintings simply weren’t all that important back then and the Pope would have merely been amused at this clever little portraitist’s presumption. Whatever his initial reaction, Innocent X hung the painting in his visitors waiting room.
Francis Bacon thought this was the greatest portrait ever painted and used it as the inspiration for his famous screaming popes.