Although David had the occasion to meet Pius VII only during the latter's sojourn in Paris in 1804-5 for Napoleon's coronation, the memory of the pope seems to have haunted the artist as he continued to draw his effigy years after their meeting.
Six drawn portraits of Pius VII dating from David's exile in Brussels after 1816 are today known (P. Rosenberg and L.-A. Prat, op. cit nos. 336, 336bis and ter, 337-38, and 358), but at least two more are documented in old auction catalogues.
David seems to have had admired the Pope. According to his student and biographer, E.-J. Delecluze, he remarked: 'Quelle belle tête il a! Une tête bien italienne; l'enchassement de l'oeil grand, bien prononcé! Celui-là est vraiment pape: c'est un vrai prêtre... Il est pauvre comme saint Pierre' (Louis David, son école et son temps, Paris, 1855, p. 248). But his affection fro Pius VII was partly born of personal ambition, as he admitted himself: 'J'avoue que j'ai longtemps envié aux grands peintres qui m'ont précédé des occasions que je ne croyais jamais rencontrer. J'aurai peint un empereur et enfin un pape !' (op. cit., p. 249).