Frank Cadogan Cowper

Lucretia Borgia Reigns in the Vatican in the Absence of Pope Alexander VI

1908–14

Artist
Frank Cadogan Cowper 1877–1958
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 2210 x 1537 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1914
Reference
N02973

Not on display

Display caption

This is a re-creation of an obscure and scandalous incident from the history of the Popes. In 1501 the illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander VI, Lucrezia Borgia, took his place at a meeting. Frank Cowper has invented this suggestive moment in which two noblemen part Lucrezia’s dress so that a Francisan friar can kiss her shoe.The room in the Vatican in which Lucrezia Borgia appeared still exists. It was decorated by the Italian Renaissance artist Pinturrichio. Cowper went there to copy it and painted the faces of the Cardinals from their original portraits.

Gallery label, July 2007

Catalogue entry

N02973 LUCRETIA BORGIA REIGNS IN THE VATICAN IN THE ABSENCE OF POPE ALEXANDER VI
c. 1908–14
 
Not inscribed.
Canvas backed with wood, 87×60 1/2 (221×154).
Chantrey Purchase from the artist 1914.
Exh: R.A., 1914 (103).

The picture was begun in Rome in the Borgia Apartments of the Vatican. These had been occupied by Cardinal Merry del Val, the Papal Secretary of State, and were not open to the public, but had been vacated just before the artist first came to Rome in 1908, so he was able to paint there. The rooms were decorated by Pinturicchio and the frescoes of the Annunication and the Nativity appear on either side of the throne. The subject was suggested by the Diary of John Burchard, Bishop of Orta, Papal Master of the Ceremonies, 27 July 1501, and the following quotation was printed in the R.A. catalogue: ‘Before his Holiness, our Master, left the city, he turned over the palace and all business affairs to his daughter Lucrezia, giving her full power to open all letters which arrive.’

The Cardinals around Lucrezia were painted from contemporary portraits: the one writing on the right is Cardinal Giovanni de Medici, afterwards Leo X, the one on the left holding back her robe is Cardinal Farnese, afterwards Paul III, and the one standing on the right is the Cardinal of Lisbon who had to advise Lucrezia on her official duties. (Letters from the artist 18 and 23 January 1956).

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I

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