An English Catholic painter came to paint the Pope's portrait. Hadrian knew him for a vulgar and officious liar: detested him; and, at the first application, had refused to sit for him. His Holiness was not at all in love with His Own aspect. It annoyed him because it just missed the ideal which He admired; and He did not want to be perpetuated. Also, He loathed the cad's Herkomeresque-cum-Cameraesque technique and his quite earthy imagination: from that palette, the spiritual, the intellectual, the noble, could not come. But, He thought of the man's pinched asking face, of his dreadful nagging wife, of his children—of the rejection of all his pictures by the Academy this year, of the fact that he was being supplanted by younger grander minds. Ousted from livelihood! Horrible! Love your enemies! Ouf! The Pomtiff would give six sittings of one hour each, on the condition that He might read all the time.
The privilege alone was an inestimable advertisement. Alfred Elms looked upon himself as likely to become the fashion. Hadrian sat in the garden for six siestas; and he read in Plato's Phaidon, which is the perfection of human language, until His lineaments were composed in an expression of keen gentle fastidious rapture. Elm's professional efforts of conversation were annulled quietly and incisevely. The Pope blessed him and handfuls of rosaries at the end of every sitting. Sometimes His Holiness was so elated with the beauty of the Greek of His book, that He even was able with a little self-compulsion to utter a few kindly and intelligent criticisms of the painter's work. That was startlingly real, mirror-like. The varied whitenes of marble and flannel and vellum and the healthy pallor of flesh, gained purity from the notes of the reddish-brown hair and the translucent violet of the amethyst. The clean light of the thing was admirably rendered. The painter could delineate, and tint with his hand, that which his eyes beheld, with blameless accuracy. What his eyes did not see, the soul, the mind, the habit of his model, he as accurately omitted. Hadrian made him glad with a compliment on the perfection of the connection between his directive brain and his executive fingers. At the end of the last sitting also He gave him two hundred pounds, and the picture, and a written indulgence in the hour of death. The painter went away quite happy, and with his fortune made. He never knew how vehemently his work was detested, how profoundly he himself was scorned.
—Fr. Rolfe (Baron Corvo), Hadrian The Seventh, 1904