Portrait of Pope Clement IX

The New England Chapter

The portrait, originally part of the collection of the Rospigliosi family in Rome and eventually inherited by Prince Girolamo Rospigliosi, was acquired in 1930 by the American Louis Mendelshon, who then donated it to Pope Pius XI Ratti the following year. The artist Carlo Maratta, who leaves his signature and the date “1669” on the letter placed on the table to the right, has produced a masterful work, in which the formal notations and the psychological aspects are blended to perfection, rendering to posterity a portrait of Pope Clement IX that is of superb and refined expressiveness. 

Ritratto di Clemente IX (Rospigliosi 1667 – 1669). Inv 40460

Maratta, who arrived in Rome at a very young age, had conducted his apprenticeship with Andrea Sacchi, a renowned classicist painter and protagonist, together with Pietro da Cortona, of the artistic scene during the Barberini pontificate. Maratta’s ascent during the late seventeenth century was unstoppable, strengthened by his ability to define his own identity based on the studies of classical art and examples of Raphael’s masterpieces, particularly the works of Annibale Carracci and Domenichino. 

Maratta was also inspired by contemporary artists such as Lanfranco, Bernini and Cortona – all great masters of the century. His career crossed the paths of many pontificates, from Urban VIII Barberini (1623-1644) to Clement XI Albani (1700-1721).

Literary sources, including In primis Vita on the life of Maratta drafted by biographer Giovan Pietro Bellori, tell of a privileged relationship of friendship and esteem between Maratta and Pope Clement IX. This affinity of sentiment emerges in the painting, in which the artist, portraying the now elderly and sick pope, succeeds in transmitting, in the words of Bellori, “the fatigue of age and the languid aspect of the Pope, the majesty of his face”. 

Clement IX (Giulio Rospigliosi, Pistoia 1600 – Rome 1669) occupied the offices of Apostolic Nuncio, Secretary of State and Cardinal before finally rising to the papal throne, even if for only two years from 1667 to 1669.

In this canvas, Maratta depicts the Pope seated and holding a book, a symbol of his intellectual interests.  His gaze, calm and intense, is directed towards the viewer. The portrait was done during Carnevale when the Pope resided at the Convent of Santa Sabina. Given the poor health of Clement IX, he died a few months later on December 9, 1669 after the portrait sessions with the artist. For this reason, Maratta lavishly confers on the pontiff’s face those distinctive characteristics that had already been formed in his mind after a careful observation of the Pope’s physiognomy. These were in accordance with a most exquisitely classicist criteria, linked to a process of an “ideal” selection of iconographic elements. 

In this portrait, the painter proposes a classicist interpretation, refined in form yet communicative from an emotional point of view. This is in perfect agreement with the artistic tastes as well as the literary and theatrical culture of Pope Rospigliosi.