Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called il Guercino or simply Guercino, meaning “The Squinter”, a nickname referring to a congenital eye condition from which he suffered. In 1621, Guercino was called to Rome from his hometown of Cento, Ferrara, to paint this portrait of Pope Gregory XV (1554–1623). Despite being a largely self-taught artist, Guercino quickly rose to fame in north Italy and was patronized by cardinals and noblemen, before receiving this commission from the Curia.
Though using a format that had become standard for papal portraiture since the Renaissance, the artist deviates from tradition by placing less emphasis on the trappings of power and more on his subject's character. Shown with a weary stare and a sickly pallor, this portrait captures the pope at the end of his life, worn by the cares of office and failing health.