Skip to comments.Paintings of a Pope
Posted on 01/11/2014 5:45:50 AM PST by matthewrobertolson
Pope Alexander VI, the great-grandfather of St. Francis Borgia and one of the most prominent popes in history, is unfairly mistreated. The man was a defender of Jews, a steward of liturgy, a good leader, and the one who spread the Faith to South America. But all of this is, unfortunately, often overshadowed by his sins of the flesh. This artwork by Pinturicchio shows the pope's obvious devotion, as well as his strong interest in increasing the temporal powers of the Church.
This painting of the pope kneeling before Christ and the Madonna (Italian, "My Lady") is my favorite:
The illustration might seem, at first glance, to be nothing extraordinary. But look closer.
It contains a remarkably-detailed portrait of Jesus. The Infant King's halo is of pure gold, and His right hand is raised in benediction while His left hand holds an orb topped with a cross. (The orb symbolizes the world, and the cross symbolizes God. God is over the world.) And Pope Alexander VI, infamously known for his supposedly unholy lifestyle, reflects his religious subservience by appearing as bald, mirroring the tonsure of a humble monk. As for the Madonna, her soft demeanor reveals a special calmness, almost as if she is in prayer.
This fresco, however, is undoubtedly more striking to the average eye:
The pope, again with a tonsure, is depicted as being at the Resurrection, kneeling before our Lord. To honor God, the pope wears his very best, bejeweled vestments, with his tiara placed on the ground next to him. His hands are reverently clasped in prayer. Christ is shown as radiant and surrounded by angels while holding a Christian flag, representing His victory over the Devil and His call for us to join His Militant and His Triumphant.
These paintings both highlight a style of the Renaissance and provide a glimpse into the mind of this fascinating pope.
You can learn more about Pope Alexander VI here and here.
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Now be fair. At least he was straight.
Pope Alexander VI.
I always get those two confused.
…Notwithstanding these and similar actions, which might seem to entitle him to no mean place in the annals of the papacy, Alexander continued as Pope the manner of life that had disgraced his cardinalate (Pastor, op. cit., III, 449 152)…So little have Catholic historians defended him that in the middle of the nineteenth century Cesare Cantù could write that Alexander VI was the only Pope who had never found an apologist…
Interestingly, though, there is one benefit that we can see from the Rodrigo Borgia papacy: if Holy Mother Church can survive such an evil man without permanent doctrinal damage, it demonstrates, in a way, that the Holy Spirit must be with the Church (while still allowing Her children to make bad choices).
Francis Borgia was a widower when he became a Jesuit. One of his descendants was Queen of England—Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II. They had no children so none of the later British monarchs are descended from Alexander VI (unless through another line).
Notice that the Pope is not kneeling before a picture because he’s holding Jesus’ foot in his hand.
How could Pope Alexander VI be kneeling before the Christ Child when there could be no pope before Jesus was old enough to create the Catholic church?
I think you’re mixing up your Borgias.
Alexander VI has suffered in historical memory also because he was a Spaniard in the midst of Italians, and because of Anglo fear and loathing of all things Spanish, going back to the reformation.
It’s a symbolic, not literal, piece. :)
“How could Pope Alexander VI be kneeling before the Christ Child when there could be no pope before Jesus was old enough to create the Catholic church?”
Simple. That sort of painting was very common in the late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period. The purpose is to show the person’s devotion to Christ.
Here’s another example: http://norbertinevocations.wordpress.com/
People back then instantaneously knew what was going on in the painting. They simply understood the point and purpose of Christian art better than so-called Christians today. They, for instance, had no problem understanding how Christ could be portrayed as High Priest and Sacrificial Victim in the very same panel: https://www.google.com/search?q=christ+giving+birth+to+ecclesia&hl=en&qscrl=1&rlz=1T4ADRA_enUS418US418&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=VYLRUqGFO4blsASo34CwDA&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ&biw=1093&bih=453#facrc=_&imgrc=Yo5ZKsN8FsnvEM%253A%3BiU-iHUlDo9_AzM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252F2.bp.blogspot.com%252F-JsKxmhp7VvI%252FT39Do7SDy7I%252FAAAAAAAAE6I%252FuUKZeJXxIXA%252Fs1600%252Fwound-birth.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fdeus-ex-machina-secundus.blogspot.com%252F%3B396%3B373
They also had no difficulty understanding that Christ was giving birth to His bride, the Church, in that illuminated image - especially when it was coupled with this image of Eve being drawn from Adam’s in the same book: https://www.google.com/search?q=christ+giving+birth+to+ecclesia+bible+moralisee&hl=en&qscrl=1&rlz=1T4ADRA_enUS418US418&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=xYLRUvMz5qGxBPDBgfAN&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ&biw=1093&bih=453#facrc=_&imgdii=_&imgrc=qDBfYwRZMWXDbM%253A%3BVsyveILS5xWdcM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fhome.comcast.net%252F~fraterholme%252Fimages%252FBible_Moralisee.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fhome.comcast.net%252F~fraterholme%252Futerochrist.html%3B366%3B749
That is not the actual baby Jesus; that is a model used for the painting.
Francis Borgia, the Jesuit, was a great-grandson of Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia). So Francis Borgia’s descendants are also descendants of Pope Alexander VI. According to Wikipedia, Francis Borgia was also the grandson of an archbishop (through his mother) and a great-grandson of Ferdinand of Aragon (the husband of Isabella of Castile).