Portrayal of Pope Leo X on Painting of Raffaelo Sanzio


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The chosen work of art that was recreated is known as Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de’ Medici and Luigi de’ Rossi by Raffaelo Sanzio aka Raphael. The oil paint on wood was created in 1518-1519. Its intended location is unknown although it was sent to Florence from Rome in order to be shown at Leo’s nephew’s wedding which he could not attend. “Although the painting was set up at the event, it was probably originally intended for other purposes” (Khan). The portrait portrays Pope Leo X with his illegitimate relatives, cousins Luigi de’ Rossi and Giulio de’ Medici (who later becomes Pope Clement VII). The three men are draped in red velvet, the color of the papacy and the fabric of the rich and over the top. The entire painting has an air of elegance to it with the decorative bible the Pope is reading and the intricately carved bell covered in medici symbols on the table. Raphael is often praised for creating the significant details like the carvings and the reflection in the top of the chair.

All three men are sat around a table covered in, once again, red velvet. Pope Leo portrayed as very round and portly though he is sitting up straight, almost in an uncomfortable way, in his chair. Giulio and Luigi sit directly behind and perpendicular to the Pope, respectively. They too are sitting straight in their chairs, almost looming behind the Pope. Leo grips a looking glass with one hand while the other almost looks cramped as it caresses the bible on the table in front of him. Luigi’s hands are out of sight, but Giulio has both hands resting on the back of the Pope’s chair in support or solidarity. As for the eyes of the men, Pope Leo is seen looking intensely to the left as if studying something in the distance instead of looking down to the words on the page. Luigi looks opposite of Leo into the other direction with less intensity and what seems like defeat or even sorrow in his eyes. Giulio, on the other hand, is staring straight out of the painting. It is him as the commentator that brings the observer into the painting. His eyes pierce you and dare you to look upon the majesty of the three figures. He looks to be almost protective as he hovers behind the Pope and clenches the chair in his hands. All of their facial features give the painting a solemn aura.

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The figures appear very close together as the two in the back watch over the Pope. Obviously, Pope Leo X is at the forefront of the painting for a reason, but the close relation of Giulio and Luigi speaks volumes as well. In life, both cardinals were extremely close to the Pope, one of them even being raised in the same household as him. This close relationship shows in the portrait as the three men sit right next to each other and the two Cardinals bodies are angled towards the Pope. Pope Leo is in the forefront to show his importance and his Status in the Church.

Raphael chose to put the men in this pose to show their importance and elegance. They sit in almost a triangular position with Leo at the pinnacle. In contrast of their lavishness and exuberance, the men are also painted in a tense, almost stiff seated pose that portrays the harshness of the times. At this point in life, Pope Leo X was having to deal with the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther’s “95 Theses”. It was an extremely stressful time for the church, especially because it was this Pope that was condoning the issuing of indulgences to pay for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s. He is definitely not known for handling the situation well and the stress is clear on his face and in his body language in this painting.

This pose Raphael put Pope Leo X in is mostly realistic. The only difficulty I found in recreating it was trying to have my back against the chair while still appearing to be hunched over the reading. I believe that my friends and I were able to recreate the look of the painting fairly well. We had to angle the table in several ways and move the seating positons before we could finally decide on which was correct for the portrait. The facial expression was a bit twisted and it was hard to keep my eyes open wider while having the grimace on my face and arching my brows that much. His lips are almost pouty in the portrait which seemed a bit unrealistic.

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