The topics of this blog are Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Duke of Richelieu, and the IDEAL CITY built on his command next to his magnificent CHÂTEAU on the borders of Touraine, Anjou and Poitou, in France.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

A tale of paintings, statues and busts

In 1640 Richelieu decided to commission a full height portrait statue from the Roman artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680). While ordinary high churchmen were normally painted and sculpted only at bust length, First Minister Cardinal Duke Richelieu normally had himself painted full-length as a symbol of his Power and Glory as statesman.The negotiations were entrusted to Jules Mazarin, then a trusted agent of the Cardinal (and his subsequent successor), and to Marshal d' Estrée, French ambassador to Rome. They not only had to obtain the assent of the artist himself, but also of the artist's
patrons, Cardinal Barberini and Pope Urbano VIII. Following disagreement on the part of the Pope to the plan for a full-length statue, Bernini was required to reduce the proposal to a shoulder-length bust. The celebrated Roman artist began the work in the November of 1640 and completed it in January of the following year 1641. In August the bust was taken back to Paris, where they discovered that the statue was not to be full-length as ordered. Although Mazarin fullsomely thanked Cardinal Barberini, in reality the sculpture did not please, as, despite detailed care and efforts by the artist, the face did not catch very well the true features of the Cardinal. This situation can be deduced from the later demands from the Cardinal for the preparation of another statue by the Parisian sculptor Jean Warin.

The principal court painter for Richelieu was the Paris resident Flemish master from Bruxelles, Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674). It was he who produced the several full-length official portraits of the Cardinal, often used as diplomatic gifts; one in the Louvre (this one), and another very similar in the National Gallery in London. He was asked to produce a triple-portrait of the Cardinal to be sent to Bernini as an accurate-to-life representation of the subject of the commissioned statue as Richelieu and Bernini had never met. This stunning picture, now also in the National Gallery London is the best portrait of the French Statesman and has, behind the frame, a hand-wriiten note from Champaigne that says, artist-to-artist (and with some modesty), that the right-hand profile was the closest to life. A few years earlier van Dyke had done exactly the same type of portrait for King Charles I. These triple-portraits seem to allow one to see the individual behind the famous icon, both men late in life and not looking very well. Richelieu, often an invalid, died a couple of years later.

1 comment:

Abbé Henri Proust said...

What a terrific blog, Henri!

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