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The Latest News…from an Italian-American Perspective



Italian Influence on Realistic Portraiture

by Igor Babailov

Portrait Artist Igor Babailov, the only Living Artist in the Vatican Splendors Exhibition, tells PRIMO why Artists Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and Pietro Annigoni are his Key Influences.


Igor Babailov's painting "For Gold, God and Glory" on the cover of PRIMO magazine.

The great Italian contributions in the history of art are immeasurable.

On my website, there are a number of artists, whose works I recommend to study, and among them are Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696 - 1770) and Pietro Annigoni (1910–1988).


These are only two great names out of many fine visual artists of Italy. They represent two different centuries, yet both come from the same educational background in the classical tradition of one of the oldest art schools in the world: the Italian Academy of Art.


“La Strega”

by Pietro Annigoni 


“Head of a Young Man in Three-Quarter View Facing Left, Looking Upward,” by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Given that they lived in different eras, both Tiepolo and Annigoni faced unique challenges. Tiepolo’s challenge at his time was to explore the knowledge of the Masters before him and around him and to apply it to his own beautiful figurative works, which were celebrated by his contemporaries, as the sophisticated appreciation of the skill in art was taught and very much present at the time. Pietro Annigoni, the utmost admirer of the Old Masters, had a very different challenge at the peak of his career in 1950s-70s, being constantly attacked by the “art critics” for painting beauty and emphasizing the importance of the masters’ methods and techniques as prerequisite of skill for any artist.


The celebration of Beauty and God’s Creation is the main focus of the traditional school of painting, which requires more than talent, but the skill to produce, and consequently cannot be achieved without the proper education. It has always been at the core of the academic curriculums and the Italian academy has given the world some of the best known names in the history of art, until about the mid 20 th century, when the rich inheritance of the Renaissance Masters suddenly became “debatable” by “art critics who couldn’t draw.”

I became familiar with the name Annigoni when I was invited to teach at the Florence Academy of Art, in Italy in 1999. When I discovered more about his life and works, I immediately felt the closeness to this artist, fully relating to his values and ideals. I myself being a contemporary realist artist, like Annigoni, was asked on numerous occasions “if there was enough of Renaissance in the period of Renaissance…” This question was well answered by Pietro Annigoni, who I quote: “Only those who know nothing about art may think that a Style is repeatable in every age. It is the destiny of every artist to strive to say something NEW with an OLD language.”

In 2008, my life size portrait of Pope Benedict XVI was officially presented to the Pope upon His Holiness’s arrival in the United States. Two years later, I received a call from the Papal Nuncio in Washington, D.C. with the news that my papal portrait arrived in America to exhibit in Vatican Splendors, the North American museum tour from the Vatican Collection. The Vatican Splendors exhibition consists of almost 200 objects representing 2,000 years of the Vatican’s history. They include historic works of art, important period documents, even the relics of St. Peter. The significant part of the exhibition are paintings, sculptures and other works of art; as well as the Papal portraits, with my portrait representing the Papacy of Pope Benedict XVI. At the opening of Vatican Splendors I approached the Vatican Curator Roberto Zagnoli to thank him for selecting my work for such an important exhibition and he replied: “No, no, no, Maestro, the Pope chose it!” That was, of course, a huge honor. Some of the artists’ works on the exhibition include the works of Michelangelo, Giotto, Bernini, Guerchino, Vasari and many other Masters of the Renaissance, and I was humbled to be the only living artist there. The 2000-year impact of the Vatican in art history is unquestionably immense and impressive, with the majority of its artists being Italians, and I’m proud to be among such a distinguished group and company of Masters in the history of art. The Vatican Splendors exhibition moved to the John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, and then the Fine Arts Museum in Ft. Lauderdale until May 2011, when it returned back to the Vatican.


Igor Babailov at work on the portrait of Pope Benedict XVI

On another note, some of my famous Italian American portrait subjects included: Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York, actor James Gandolfini and the most recent portrait of Iraq veteran of war and American Hero, Brendan Marrocco. They all are on my website


Editor’s Note: PRIMO had the honor of featuring the work of Igor V. Babailov on the cover of our September/October 2001 edition on Christopher Columbus. The painting, oil on canvas, was titled “For Gold, God and Glory.” Artist Babailov is praised by many for his sensitive and detailed portraits of contemporary luminaries in politics and entertainment, as well as a number of spectacular landscape paintings. Please review his latest works at


Igor Babailov and Pope Benedict XVI

Apostolic Palace, Vatican

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