This rather large canvas1
is a capital work of the leader of the mid-eighteenth-century Roman school, Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (1708-1787). An actual historical scene, Pope Benedict XIV presenting to the Duke de Choiseul the Encyclical Ex Omnibus,
is shown with the appropriate religious figures.Etienne-François Stainville, Count and later Duke de Choiseul, was sent as ambassador to Rome by Louis XV at the end of 1754 to gain a papal decision which would alleviate the religious troubles in France between the Gallican church, the schismatic Jansenists, and the popular Parliament against the Church and the weak royal opposition were in a real sense the first act of the later French Revolution. An Encyclical, or letter, addressed to the French bishops was the result of Choiseul's embassy on October 16, 1756.The elderly Benedict XIV, perhaps the most interesting and surely the most sympathetic of the eighteenth-century popes, is represented in the painting as presenting to Choiseul, whose hat is on the floor because he has just kissed the Pope's toe, the Encyclical from the throne of St. Peter. Around the Pope on each side stand graceful personifications of Religion and Faith. Before an actual view of St. Peter's, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, protectors of Rome, appear on a cloud below the Holy Ghost, which is shown inspiring the Pope. Putti
at left hold the Sanctuary and Triple Tiara. The painting is initialed and dated 1757 by the artist and was either the Pope's gift to Choiseul when he took his farewell in March of that year or a memorial to one of the great moments of Benedict's reign. A few years later Choiseul was the French Foreign Minister and is best remembered for having arranged the marriage of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.Until its reappearance in the collection of Dr. Gustav Fall in Vienna,2
the picture's history is obscure. A sketch for it and another for a companion allegory of the Venetian settlement of 1753 were in the collection of Prince Orsini in Rome until its sale in 1896. Several drawings for various details exist in the museum of Besançon and in a local private collection. Batoni did a considerable number of other commissions for Benedict XIV including a portrait of 1740.Batoni's superb draftsmanship and immaculate and graceful technique, and the magnificence of the scene—the Pope in full vestments, the ambassador in gold and blue court dress (with scarlet heels to his shoes)—make it necessary to consider this painting one of the great images of the eighteenth century. It is a purchase from the Dunwoody Fund, as were our Rembrandt, El Greco, Poussin and a majority of our best pictures.Endnotes
Referenced Work of Art
- Ex colls.: Benedict XIV; Dr. Gustav Fall, Vienna, and his heirs, Washington, D.C.
- Published and illustrated by E. Schleffran, Belvedere, x, 1931, p. 94s. See also Ernst Emmerling, Pompeo Batoni, Darmstadt, 1932, p. 130, no. 178.
- Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, Roman, 1708-1787. Pope Benedict XIV Presenting the Encyclical Ex Omnibus to the Duke de Choiseul, 1757. Oil on canvas, 50 3/4” x 70 3/4”. The William Hood Dunwoody Fund, 1961, 61.62.