Pope Innocent X

I'm wrapping up my latest National Gallery Copyist painting, and this one has an interesting background. I'll also talk more about the process and numerous benefits of copying, at the end of this post.

Here is the almost-finished painting, in front of the original:

We must use a larger or smaller support than the original. Since there are other references in a larger format (see below), I chose to go bigger (24 x 18), and the proportions are a bit different.

The original and the details of it can be seen on the NGA website, here. This painting was bought by Andrew W. Mellon in 1930 as an original Velazquez, but scholars have since established it as "Circle of Velazquez". Velazquez painted the full size portrait of Pope Innocent X in Rome, here is an image of that:

This portrait is still in Rome. The Pope, upon seeing it, said "Troppo vero, troppo vero!" Too true! (This is the work that inspired Francis Bacon's Screaming Pope paintings in the 1950's)

Then, Velazquez painted what is known as an "autograph replica"--a copy of his original, for himself. That painting now resides in London, and here is an image of it:

Both of these are known to be by the hand of Velazquez, so the work at the NGA was assumed to be another replica or study also painted by Velazquez.

 Time and modern technology have made better assessment possible...there is an unrelated painting underneath it. In addition, the expression and other elements have become a little bit exaggerated. On the ear, there is a visible series of dots--revealing a process that was frequently used to transfer an image. This was most likely painted by a workshop assistant or student, on a discarded canvas. We can't possibly know for sure, but the evidence seems compelling.

In making my copy, I decided to undo some of the distortion of the eyes and brow, and make mine closer to the original or the autograph replica--both of which have a much more believable expression. I referred to high-resolution images of those works, and relied on the paint and brushwork of the painting in front of me. 

My process, as in the past, is to paint from what's in front of me. No tracing or mechanical transfer of the image, because duplication is not my goal...learning is. While I'm grappling with visualizing the original, my errors are woven in and my own voice shows through. This is the greatest gift of copying, I think. It's a lesson from a master, but ultimately it comes through me and produces something original, just as this "Circle of Velazquez" rendition did for whomever painted it.

Copying is a standard part of an artist's training in school and beyond. We see differently and absorb things in a unique way when we copy--written, drawn or painted. Linda Barry likens it to singing along with a song you love, because it takes you somewhere. And yet, the voice is yours.

My result, minus final touches: