Assaying the Pope
Francis Bacon's Interrogation of Religion
Keywords:pope, existentialism, the scream in painting, the death of God, Francis Bacon
AbstractThe artist Francis Bacon vehemently denied that he was religious and yet in his art he employed numerous examples of Christian symbols, such as the Crucifixion and the Pope. The use of religious symbols by artists who profess either atheism or a mere lack of a religious interest is uncontroversial. However, Bacon did not use isolated examples of religious symbols: he employed them throughout his career. His use was ongoing and frequent and this raises questions about his motivation. I am not disputing his atheism but believe that his attitude towards religion was reactive and complex. Religion, with the existential issues it raises, needs to be addressed and this is what his art does. Bacon worked with and through religious ideas and symbols to express his unbelief. One indisputable and paradoxical notion is that, in order to articulate his unbelief, he was dependent on the very tradition that he denounced. Bacon spent the early part of his career, particularly the 1930s and 1940s, articulating his interpretations of the Crucifixion, before moving on to the symbol of the Pope, a subject that he concentrated on in the 1950s. For reasons of space I have limited my study to the symbol of the Pope. In his pursuit of the Pope, Bacon traps and strips him down to reveal “the scream of the abyss.”
Ades, Dawn. 1985. Web of Images. In Francis Bacon (exhibition catalogue), by Dawn Ades and Andrew Forge, 8–23. London: Tate Gallery and Thames and Hudson.
Alley, Ronald and John Rothstein. 1964. Francis Bacon. Introductory essay by John Rothstein, catalogue raisonné by Ronald Alley. London: Thames and Hudson.
Bryson, Norman. 2003. Bacon’s Dialogues with the Past. In Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Art, edited by Wilfried Seipel, Barbara Steffen and Christoph Vitali, 43–55. Milan: Kunsthistorisches, Skira Editore.
Chilvers, Ian, Harold Osbourne and Dennis Farr, ed. 1994. The Oxford Dictionary of Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Danto, Arthur C. 1995. Embodied Meanings: critical essays & aesthetic meditation. New York: Noonday Press.
Davies, Hugh M. 1978. Francis Bacon: The Early and Middle Years, 1928–1958. New York: Garland Publishing.
———. 1993. The Screaming Pope: Past Art and Present Reality. In Francis Bacon, edited by Rudy Chiappini. Milan: Electra. Museo d’Arte Moderna Citta di Lugano.
———. 2001. Francis Bacon: The Papal Portraits of 1953. Exhibition catalogue. San Diego: Museum of Contemporary Art.
Davies, Hugh M. and Sally Yard. 1986. Francis Bacon. New York: Abbeville Press.
Dawson, Barbara. 2009. Francis Bacon: A Terrible Beauty. In Francis Bacon: A Terrible Beauty, edited by Barbara Dawson, Martin Harrison and Logan Sisley, 50–69. Dublin: Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane; Steidl, Göttingen.
Deleuze, Gilles. 2003  Francis Bacon: the logic of sensation. Translated by Daniel W. Smith. New York: Continuum.
Farr, Dennis, ed. 1999. Francis Bacon: a retrospective. Yale Center for British Art. Exhibition catalogue. New York: Harry N. Abrams, in association with the Trust for Museum Exhibitions.
Geldzahler, Henry, ed. 1975. Francis Bacon: Remarks from an interview with Peter Beard. Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings 1968–1974. March 20–June 29, 1975. Exhibition catalogue. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Gowing, Lawrence. 1989. Francis Bacon: The Human Presence. In Francis Bacon. Exhibition catalogue. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, in association with Thames and Hudson, 27–38, 11–26.
Hammer, Martin. 2005. Bacon and Sutherland. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
——— and Chris Stephens. 2009. Seeing the Story of One’s Time: Appropriation from Nazi Photography in the Work of Francis Bacon. Visual Culture in Britain 10(3): 315–351.
Harrison, Martin 2005. In Camera—Francis Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting London: Thames and Hudson.
Martin, Elizabeth A. and Jonathan Law, ed. 2006. A Dictionary of Law. 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1969. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Peppiatt, Michael. 1997. Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma. London: Phoenix.
———. 1999. Three Interviews with Francis Bacon. In Francis Bacon: a retrospective, Edited by Dennis Farr. New York: Yale Center for British Art. Exhibition catalogue. Harry N. Abrams, in association with the Trust for Museum Exhibitions.
———. 2006. Francis Bacon in the 1950s. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Russell, John. 1993 Francis Bacon. 3rd ed. London: Thames and Hudson.
Schmied, Wieland. 2006. Francis Bacon: Conflict and Commitment. Translated by John Ormrod. Munich: Prestel.
Steffen, Barbara. 2003. The Papal Portraits. In Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Art, edited by Wilfried Seipel, Barbara Steffen and Christoph Vitali, 115–131. Exhibition catalogue. Milan: Kunsthistorisches, Skira Editore.
———. 2003. The Representation of the Body: Velázquez – Bacon. In Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Art, edited by Wilfried Seipel, Barbara Steffen and Christoph Vitali, 205–213. Exhibition catalogue. Milan: Kunsthistorisches, Skira Editore.
Sylvester, David. 1993. Interviews with Francis Bacon: the brutality of fact. 3rd ed. London: Thames and Hudson.
———. 2000. Looking Back at Francis Bacon. London: Thames and Hudson.
Yard, Sally. 1999. Francis Bacon. In Francis Bacon: a retrospective, edited by Dennis Farr, 8–17. Exhibition catalogue. New York: Yale Center for British Art, Harry N. Abrams, in association with the Trust for Museum Exhibitions.
Zweite, Armin. 2006. Bacon’s Scream: observations on some of the artist’s paintings. In Francis Bacon: The Violence of the Real, edited by Armin Zweite, 69–104. London: Thames and Hudson in collaboration with Maria Müller.