The Cardinal de Richelieu, Louis XIII's chief minister, is represented as a prelate, displaying the Order of the Saint-Esprit. This bust was commissioned from the renowned sculptor Bernini (a protégé of Pope Urban VIII), who was then at the height of his fame. The sculptor endowed the figure with an appropriately grave and noble air, and subtly modeled the folds of his clothing.
Richelieu wanted to commission a full size statue from Bernini in 1640. Negotiations were entrusted to Mazarin, the cardinal's close collaborator (and future successor) and the Marshal d'Estrée, French ambassador to Rome; they needed to obtain the agreement not only of the artist but also of his exclusive patrons, Cardinal Antonio Barberini and his uncle, Pope Urban VIII. As the pope expressed reluctance regarding the project for a full size statue, Bernini proposed to begin with a bust. The full size statue was never produced.
The bust was started in November 1640, and completed in January 1641; in August it was taken to Paris. Mazarin thanked Cardinal Barberini warmly, praising both the sculptor and his work. In private, however, he confessed that the bust, although very fine, was not a very good likeness. No doubt Richelieu was not entirely satisfied either, as he commissioned another bust from French sculptor Jean Warin.
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