A British artist who has painted the British royal family and Margaret Thatcher in person says his Christian faith "deepened" after completing a portrait of Benedict XVI.

"It's absolutely deepened my faith," Alexander Rice told CNA June 28.

"If you paint someone who is extremely spiritual you have to empathize with that human being, and perhaps find part of them in yourself."

Rice spoke at the global premier of his portrait, hosted at the Vatican by the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, as part of their Second International Conference on Human Dignity.

He believes it was a painting "that was supposed to be painted," and feels "very honored" to have done it.

It took the Englishman two years to complete Benedict XVI's portrait, which is now worth £250,000 pounds, roughly $380,000, and is due to end up in the Vatican Museums.

Rice now hopes to start a portrait of Pope Francis, to go alongside Benedict XVI's.

"I think he seems like such a lovely man; he has inspired so many people by his humility and his humanity," he said of the new Pope.

"I would love to meet him and to paint him, because I hope that I would be able to put some of that energy into that painting."

Rice received the commission for Benedict XVI's portrait from Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, president emeritus of the Governatorate of Vatican City State. Cardinal Lajolo was familiar with his paintings of the British monarchy.

Rice, who is a Greek Orthodox Christian, said that before painting the former Pope, he had recently gotten divorced from his wife and was going through a hard time.

While he was painting Benedict XVI, he travelled to Afghanistan to helped to set up the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, a charity which helps promote Afghan art, architecture, and local craft industries.

Rice related how he had been invited for an audience to meet Benedict XVI before beginning the portrait.

"Although I painted Benedict mostly from photographs, I had the opportunity to see him, and I think some of his personality came into the picture," said the artist.

"I think there are lots of artists who are perhaps technically better than I am, but I try to capture the psychology of the human being," he added.

Rice studied at the Florence Academy of Art and at the Repin Academy of Saint Petersburg, where he is currently an honorary professor.

He completed portraits of Thatcher and Benedict XVI simultaneously over a two year period, and at the same time he launched another non-governmental organization, called the Afghan Rugby Federation.

But he explained that he would draw Pope Francis in only three months, since he would be solely focusing on that and that he would like to have several sittings with him, just as he did with the royal family.

Rice also told of a powerful faith experience he had when he was in Afghanistan.

"We had to spend the night at a settlement because it was extremely cold, and there were 25 men praying in a building there," he said.

"I thought the polite thing to do would be to join them, so I went to the very front and prayed the Lord's Prayer on my knees."

The local leader told his translator, "if this man, a Christian, can pray as a Christian amongst so many Muslims, he must be a man of great faith, so we will protect him."

"So we spent the night there," Rice said, "and I found out as we left that they were Taliban, and that if we would have met him half an hour before, they probably would have killed us."