Pretty in Pontiff

Posted by lapata on September 20, 2006 · 5 mins read

Pretty in PontiffWhat the Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City needs are some bright colors to lift his mood. I have depicted him here surrounded by a warm bath of candy pink to brighten up his outlook. Pink is a great color for Pope Benedict XVI, who is undoubtedly a summer. Usually in my portraits I have eschewed the use of flesh tones, but in this case, the papal visage is so pleasingly pink and fleshy that it seemed appropriate to go with verisimilitude for his skin.

Some days I feel sorry for the Bishop of Rome. He used to look so very pleased when he stood before crowds of the adoring faithful with his hands outstretched. Now he doesn't look so good. We all know what it's like to gun for that perfect job for a really long time, maybe decades! And then you get there, you don the ecclesiastical robes and that scrumptious golden mitre (finally!). Maybe you even crack a few too many I'm-not-a-Cardinal-anymore jokes with your old buddies: "Oh, no, I don't think cardinal red will suit me today, but do you have anything in the gold?" And for a short time, you look in the mirror every morning and you tell yourself that it's all paid off. It was all worth it: the stint in the Hitler-Jugend, those years in the seminary, making friends with all the right people, mastering the professional buzzwords and idées du jour, the lifetime of celibacy. This is it! You're not just the Pontifex, you're the Pontifex Maximus, and no one can take that away from you, not ever! You won't have to live the humiliating life of a former Commander-in-Chief and go around building libraries and visiting Africa all the time. There's not going to be the retiree's fade-out in the golden twilight of Boca with a Sea Breeze in one hand and a bocce ball in the other.

And then it happens. You give a cozy little academic talk, strictly entre-nous, you quote one of your favorite Byzantine texts, and boom! the honeymoon is over. Suddenly the job just doesn't seem that great anymore. You gaze enviously out the window of your Vatican boudoir at the care-free Cardinals skipping across the courtyard, their robes billowing out behind them as they laugh and chat to their hearts' content. Slowly you start taking the celebratory clippings about your installation off the papal refrigerator. You even take down from your old bulletin board your now-yellowing collection of John Paul II humor that used to make you laugh so hard tears would come to your eyes. One day you'll sit down and scrapbook them all in the brand-new Memento Pontifici album with the papal heraldry découpage you prepared a few weeks after you moved into the pontifical apartments. But not right now. Your heart just isn't in it.

"Make sure you write all these experiences down and keep a record of the clippings for yourself," a fellow cardinal had advised when he heard the news of your upcoming installation, "You think you'll remember all the things that happened in these early days forever, but people forget! Look at John Paul II...a few months ago I entered the presence of His Holiness and we reminisced for a while about the Vatican in the eighties. At one point I happened to remark upon a particularly funny incident involving a protocol blunder he had made during the dinner after his installation-- and this was an incident that never failed to elicit a chuckle from the Holy Father-- and, I kid you not, his face was totally expressionless! 'My dear friend,' he remarked, 'I fear that I do not recall the incident of which you speak, though it is clear from your face that it should be etched in my memory for all eternity. I regret deeply, my friend, I regret deeply the fact that I never kept a diary or scrapbook of those first days of my installation, for those were some of the happiest days of my life. I always believed, wrongly, I now see, that each detail of that time would continue to gleam on in memory like the fine and artfully carved gemstones in this ecclesiastical necklace I am wearing.'"