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There are many legends and stories in Rome. We’d like to share the one relating to Guido Reni and the Pope Innocent X in the painting of San Michele Arcangelo. Do you see the resemblance? Come to Rome and take one of our tours. We’d love to show you this amazing piece of art by Guido Reni and tell you all about its story.
During the era in which Guido Reni lived, (1575 – 1642), there were two important noble families who lived in Rome: Pamphilj and Barberini. As you can imagine there was great rivalry between them, also involving the artists that worked for them. Often those who were appointed by one family were defamed by the other and viceversa. This is exactly what happened to Guido Reni. The cardinal of Sant’ Onofrio, Antonio Barberini, commissioned Guido Reni to paint St. Michael the Archangel for a chapel in the church of Santa Maria della Concezione, also built by the Barberini in 1624. The cardinal’s requests were simple. He asked the painter to portray a celestial angel: one who’s beauty was to be unmatched. Reni, however, did not merely comply with his request.
The legend of Guido Reni’s painting of San Michele Arcangelo
The legend says that since Guido Reni had been offended by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Pamphilj (future Pope Innocent X), and he decided to take advantage of the situation. It seems that on a few occasions, Cardinal Pamphilj offended the artist and Guido Reni, decided to take his revenge! He decides to portray the young archangel with almost feminine features, while he is holding a sword and crushing the devil’s head with one foot. The peculiarity concerns the devil’s face. It turned out he possessed quite a striking likeness with the future Pope Innocent X….
By comparing the portrait by Diego Velázquez depicting Pope Innocent X, I am sure you can recognize a resemblance with the character depicted by Reni. Do you agree that the face trampled by the archangel Michael resembles to Giovanni Battista Pamphilj?
Guido Reni’s famous words
When the Cardinal realized the resemblance to the devil, Reni defended himself by saying:
“The angel I could not see and had to paint him according to my imagination. The demon, on the other hand, I met several times, I looked at him carefully and fixed his features just as I saw them.”
Do come to Rome. We’d like to show you, its beauties. There are so many marvellous things to see and stories to tell… come and #feeltheessence!