Monday, July 13, 2020
Home Vatican Updates Meet Natalia Tsarkova, the Pope's Official Painter

Meet Natalia Tsarkova, the Pope’s Official Painter

Natalia is the only woman in the history of art to have painted the official portraits of four popes!

Natalia Tsarkova, an artist from Moscow and the Vatican’s official papal portraitist, is the only woman in the history of art to have painted the official portraits of four popes: John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. These portraits are now kept in the Vatican Museums.

Painting Pope Francis

We remember talking to Natalia in her home studio some years ago, when she just finished the first version of her portrait of Pope Francis. We recall how she proudly showed to us the Pontiff’s portrait.

“In this painting, as in the others, I try to go beyond aesthetics to grasp the soul of the pope,” she explained. “This is why I painted Pope Francis holding a lamb with a bloodied hoof, alluding to the tenderness with which this pope speaks to humanity, healing wounds of the soul.” (Read: How Pope Francis is proving himself worthy of the title ‘PETA Person of the Year 2015’)

The Pope’s Humility

Natalia Tsarkova was so fascinated with Lolo Kiko that on December 17, 2013, on the 77th birthday of the Pontiff, she went to Saint Peter’s Square and waited patiently for the Holy Father to approach the crowd.

She wanted to donate a drawing to him, a sketch of the first meeting between Popes Benedict and Francis, a scene that took place on the 23rd of March 2013. This was an important date because—for the first time in history—two popes were in the same place.

On that spring day, Pope Francis went to Castel Gandolfo to visit his predecessor. By then, he already showed everyone the proof of his great humility by leaving the pontifical empty and sharing the same kneeler in prayer beside Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Meeting at the Square. Natalia Tsarkova at the audience with the pope. She showed him the portrait of Mother Assunta Marchetti, a missionary nun beatified in Brazil. (Photo from Newscom)

“When I saw that image on TV,” Natalia relates with affection, “I was struck by that extraordinarily simple gesture, so I made a sketch of that scene, adding the figure of Our Lady of Humility seated on the chair of Pope Francis.” (Read: A prayer of humility to St. Pope Celestine)

“Once I finished the drawing, I decided to give it to the Pope. I remember that I couldn’t sleep due to excitement the night before I met him. Finally, when I showed him the sketch, he was moved, and I felt my heart burst with joy,” she adds.

Painting the Popes

Video screenshot from Raw-News Report Around The World

Being the Vatican’s official papal portraitist, Natalia acknowledges the wonderful opportunity and great responsibility given to her.

“Popes don’t pose,” she explains. “Therefore, to draw their figure, you need to go the audiences and synods, to be near them and gather their physical as well as their personality traits. I try to create a lively image with my brushes, not static.”

Natalia’s customers have always been entranced by her paintings. Even Pope Benedict appreciated his portrait that is now on display at the Vatican Museums. In 2007, Natalia portrayed him wearing a red cape, the color of faith and love, with his left hand on a book, which is the symbol of dialogue with the faithful.


Text by Linda Marino and Stephanie Jesena-Novero.

Most Recent

Blessed Sacrament Found Intact As Fire Razes Santo Niño Church in Manila

A devastating fire razed the Santo Niño de Pandacan Parish in Manila on Friday. The revered 400-year-old image of the Child Jesus...

PH Hospitals Now Offer ‘Drive-Thru Testing’ for Safer Service

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect individuals from all around the world, many can't help but feel worried about their health and safety....

Chemical Engineers Start Online Baking Business Amid Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many Filipinos to think out of the box when it comes to staying productive and earning extra income. With...

4 Reasons to Watch ‘Hamilton’ on Disney Plus

The 2015 hit Hamilton: The Musical by Broadway sensation Lin Manuel Miranda is now available on Disney Plus for streaming, and it...