It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed any official portraits.
This is the official portrait of now-former Pope Benedict XVI, painted by Natalia Tsarkova, the official Vatican portrait artist who is controversially not Catholic. According to a recent interview with Tsarkova, the Pope “chose to be portrayed holding a notebook with his speeches, while the angels on his elaborate chair come to life and gaze at him. A dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit bathes him in radiant light.”
As I’ve said before, part of the reason why official portraits are so awful these days is because the subjects themselves have too much influence over them. Of course the Pope would want to be depicted in the most ostentatiously godly manner possible — that’s why he’s a pope and not an artist. Compare the potrait above, which is almost Thomas Kinkade-y in its saturated cheesiness, with perhaps the most famous pope portrait of all time, Diego Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650):
If you look at the two portraits side-by-side, which pope looks more secure in his legacy?
Here’s another doozy. Check out the official portrait of John Ralston Saul, the husband of former Canadian governor general Adrienne Clarkson (or, to cite his official taxpayer-funded title, the “vice-regal consort”):
It’s worth noting that John Ralston Saul made his fame and fortune in life as a postmodernist philosopher. The fact that he chose “mountaintop kayak holder” as the image to leave with future generations reveals a lot about his own insecurities. This unsettling business of political figures electing to depict themselves as heroic outdoorsmen rather than nerdy do-nothings is a fairly common one; previous offenders have included Howard Dean and, well, Governor General Clarkson herself.
Next we have what may very well be the single worst portrait I’ve ever seen, the official portrait of former governor general Michaelle Jean:
This isn’t really a “portrait” at all, it’s more like a propaganda mural of the Dear Leader you’d see in Maoist China. It’s got young people, veterans, aboriginals, seniors, babies, and of course at least one representative of every race, all brought together into a single feel-good rainbow of harmony by the Governor General’s heroic presence and purposeful smile.
This is good example of the sort of shlocky art you get when no one’s willing to say no.
Look at the Velazquez portrait again and marvel at how far we’ve come.