The Screaming Pope: imagery and leadership in two paintings of the Pope Innocent X

Acevedo, Beatriz (2011) The Screaming Pope: imagery and leadership in two paintings of the Pope Innocent X. Leadership. ISSN 1742-7169

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The image of authoritarian figures and leaders inspired many of Francis Bacon’s paintings. Among these, his interpretation of the Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650) by Velázquez represents an exemplary way of revealing the complex dilemmas incorporated within a leader. However, whereas in Velázquez’s portrait the Pope appeared regal, serene and inquisitive, Bacon’s Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953) seems to explore the isolation conferred by his authority. The obsession of Bacon with this painting may suggest a wider challenge to contemporary organizational mythology — top managers, businessmen, politicians, CEOs, bankers, etc. — experiencing a sort of leadership crisis, in a moment when their public image is being questioned and their social status threatened. Is it, then, possible to visualize how our contemporary images of power may become transfigured, challenged and contorted? The dialogue between these two representations of Innocent X inspires questions about the representation and re-interpretation of authority and leadership and it aims at responding the question of What do images of leaders as depicted by portraiture contribute to our understanding of leading and leadership? This paper follows the analytical framework proposed by Guthey and Jackson concerning a ‘visual genealogy’ of images of leaders. The notion of establishing a ‘genealogy’ of representations of leadership draws upon the work of Michel Foucault, concerning the ways through which Western culture creates subjects and, most specifically, how images of leadership are created through portraiture and art. The interest in the Pope acknowledges the significance of his figure as leader of the Catholic Church, one of the most important institutions in European history; here, however, the intention is to establish a dialogue between Bacon’s view on leadership in the figure of Innocent X, on the one hand, and on the other the original portrait by Velázquez, both seen in the context of contemporary discussions about leadership and charisma. Here, portraiture is approached as an aesthetic expression that can be used as a means of enquiring into certain aspects of leadership. Both perceptions coincided in their interpretation of leadership as focused on the charismatic individual; yet each of these two representations evidences a rupture, a questioning of this view. Velázquez, in a troppo vero (too real) depiction of the Pope, shows an efficient and cruel leader while offering his personal interpretation of the politics of his time. Bacon’s interpretation goes further, by representing a powerful yet isolated leader, whose excessive individuality has produced a cage in which he remains trapped. Separated from his subjects, this view resembles the excessive attention that the individual is given when understanding leadership and its potential problems. This paper adds to the exploration of aesthetic expressions as a means of enquiring into organizational and social issues, for example, the case of leadership. It evidences the potentialities of considering specific artistic expressions, such as portraiture, as heuristic devices towards understanding some of the processes through which leadership is socially constructed, and the mechanisms promoting one notion or another of leadership in different historical periods.

Item Type: Journal Article
Additional Information: Citation: Acevedo, B., 2011. The Screaming Pope: imagery and leadership in two paintings of the Pope Innocent X. Leadership, 7(1), pp.27-50..
Faculty: Lord Ashcroft International Business School
Depositing User: Repository Admin
Date Deposited: 27 Nov 2012 10:14
Last Modified: 07 Jul 2016 12:50

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