Pope Alexander VI, the great-grandfather of St. Francis Borgia and one of the most prominent popes in history, is unfairly mistreated. The man was a defender of Jews, a steward of liturgy, a good leader, and the one who spread the Faith to South America. But all of this is, unfortunately, often overshadowed by his sins of the flesh. This artwork by Pinturicchio shows the pope’s obvious devotion, as well as his strong interest in increasing the temporal powers of the Church.
This painting of the pope kneeling before Christ and the Madonna (Italian, “My Lady”) is my favorite:
The illustration might seem, at first glance, to be nothing extraordinary. But look closer.
It contains a remarkably-detailed portrait of Jesus. The Infant King’s halo is of pure gold, and His right hand is raised in benediction while His left hand holds an orb topped with a cross. (The orb symbolizes the world, and the cross symbolizes God. God is over the world.) And Pope Alexander VI, infamously known for his supposedly unholy lifestyle, reflects his religious subservience by appearing as bald, mirroring the tonsure of a humble monk. As for the Madonna, her soft demeanor reveals a special calmness, almost as if she is in prayer.
This fresco, however, is undoubtedly more striking to the average eye:
The pope, again with a tonsure, is depicted as being at the Resurrection, kneeling before our Lord. To honor God, the pope wears his very best, bejeweled vestments, with his tiara placed on the ground next to him. His hands are reverently clasped in prayer. Christ is shown as radiant and surrounded by angels while holding a Christian flag, representing His victory over the Devil and His call for us to join His Militant and His Triumphant.
These paintings both highlight a style of the Renaissance and provide a glimpse into the mind of this fascinating pope.