PHILIPPE DE CHAMPAIGNE! A noble figure of man and painter. His admirable existence was divided between the practice of all the Christian virtues and the ardent and passionate worship of art. He realizes the accomplished type of “honest man” as it was conceived in the seventeenth century.
Although born in Brussels, Philippe de Champaigne can be claimed by France where he spent his whole life. Shortly after arriving in Paris, he had the fortune of being employed by Duchesne, first painter of Marie de Medici, in the decoration of Luxembourg, undertaken by the queen-mother. Not long after, Duchesne died; the young artist inherited his office, his lodging in the palace, and he married his daughter.
At that time, Marie de Medici was not yet scrambled with Richelieu. She recommended her painter, whom she was charmed. The cardinal, who at that time embellished his castles at Richelieu and Bois-le-Vicomte, frequently employed Philippe de Champaigne. Soon came the war between the queen-mother and the cardinal-minister: it was for Marie de Medici persecution, internment and exile. The painter, very devoted to his benefactress, felt a real pain of the unworthy treatment he was subjected to Richelieu. He never loved him. In charge of the work at Bois-le-Vicomte and the Cardinal Palace, he let the work drag on, imagining all sorts of pretexts for not continuing them. The game was all the more dangerous because the rude minister was well aware of the reasons for this ill-will. But he liked the talent of Philippe de Champaigne; he employed the most flattering methods to bring him back to him. He sent him his confidant, Le Boutilhier de Chavigny, to remove whatever remained of his rancor. Champaigne persisted. Unaccustomed to resistance, Richelieu was indignant. One day, meeting the painter, he said in an angry tone: “You do not want to be mine, because you are of the queen-mother.”
But the cardinal’s soul was too big not to understand the dignity of such a character. He esteemed him more and, in several meetings, affected him publicly to make marks of it. One day, wishing to regain him completely, he made him say by Des Bournais, his valet, that he could ask what he liked for the advancement of his fortune and his family. But Champaigne answered:
“If Monsieur le Cardinal can make me more skillful painter than I am, it is the only thing I will ask of His Eminence; otherwise, I am satisfied with the honor of his good graces.“
This answer was reported to Richelieu, and did not offend him, precisely because he saw in it a height of soul to which court-men had probably not accustomed him.
Nevertheless Philippe de Champaigne did not refuse to work for the cardinal. If he did not seek orders, he did not think he had to hurt the minister, whom he did not like, but knew he wanted him well.
Several times he had the opportunity to paint the Eminence rouge, as they were then called, sometimes in allegorical compositions, sometimes alone with his barrette on his head. The National Gallery, London, has three beautiful portraits of the cardinal, one from the front, the other two in profile, executed by Philippe de Champaigne for the sculptor Mocchi, charged with executing the bust of the great statesman.
But the most beautiful is unquestionably the one owned by the Louvre. Félibien relates that, during the sessions of pose, the cardinal conversed familiarly with the painter, questioning him on his art, inquiring about his family and unfolding to him to please all the graces of his vast intelligence and his great spirit .
Richelieu is represented standing, wearing his cardinal costume. Above the red cassock, one sees the surplice of lace which throws a clear note in this purple symphony. On the shoulders is thrown the ample red cloak, whose folds, draped with admirable art, descend to the ground. A large ribbon of blue moire bears the cross of the Holy Spirit. From the starched neck emerges the thin and voluntary head of the cardinal; a silky hair frames the high forehead behind which bubbles one of the most powerful brains of modern times; the eye is sharp, scrutinizing, the lip tight and quick to mark anger. The raised mustache and the pointed beard give a martial look to this prelate who willingly deposited the dress to endorse the harness of war. The right hand holds the cardinal’s barrette, while the left hand, with its outstretched index, seems to give an order. The whole character is elegant, the silhouette is slender, because Cardinal Richelieu is a gentleman. The portrait stands out in bright red on a background of dark drapery which gives all its relief to the beautiful effigy of the great minister of Louis XIII.
The portrait of Richelieu belongs to the old collection and comes from the hotel of Toulouse. He appears in the Grand Galerie of Louvre, at the span reserved for Flemish painters. Philippe de Champaigne remains none the less one of the purest glories of French art.
Height: 2.22 – Width: 1.55 – Figure in foot natural size.