The Papal Ring Master

Pius and Edmund roughToday’s frame from my Waterton comic; Edmund, son of Charles Waterton, has gone into a Frodo-like trance as he examines a papal ring. The pope, Pius IX, looks on; is that a blessing or is it the gesture used by a hypnotist when he takes control of his subject’s mind?

I find myself wanting to yell out ‘Don’t trust him Edmund!’ but, with his waxed moustache, Edmund himself looks like a smooth-operating Victorian villain.

pius and edmund

pius ix
This looks like a Punch cartoon but I can’t decipher the signature of the artist.

In my original rough I’d imagined the pope as a distant figure but, when I googled Pius IX, I found portraits of a shrewd looking character who I’m guessing was very hands-on in his Papacy. I’m sure that he would have known every member of his staff, and known how to handle them. You can see in his portraits that he could project a good-natured spiritual radiance, but he doesn’t come over as a reclusive monk-like figure. I think that he would have had no difficulty winning the day at the First Vatican Council, which established the doctrine of papal infallibility.

Edmund rose as far as a layman could in the Catholic hierarchy, so the two men must have known each other. Pius died in 1878, one year after the death of Edmund who was thirty-eight years younger than the pope he served.

Pius reminds me Marlon Brando in The Godfather but not as sinister. Perhaps he acted as mentor to Edmund, rather like the relationship between Professor Dumbledore and Harry Potter.

Victorian cartoonists could see that Pius was as capable of raising two fingers in admonishment as easily as in benediction.

Detail (about 3 inches square in the original) of Edmund from my comic illustration. Lamy AlStar with Noodlers black ink, Winsor & Newton watercolours.

Edmund became a collector of rings and part of his collection will be on display at Wakefield Museum towards the end of this year. One of his interests was in papal rings. These are oversized, apparently designed to fit over a glove, and made of base metals. They typically carry the coat of arms of a pope, or sometimes those of a king.

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