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A Hard Man Who Saw Art as Power and Vice Versa
01.04.2021 Deborah Weisgall
Religion
Cardinal Richelieu

CARDINAL RICHELIEU's seductive yet guarded expression never varies. He looks out from his portraits with heavy-lidded brown eyes. A goatee exaggerates his pointed chin; a mustache adorns his small, finely formed mouth. His face is almost delicate, but his craggy, beaked nose warns against mistaking refinement for weakness.

Armand Jean du Plessis, le cardinal-duc de Richelieu, was the brilliant and ruthless prime minister of France from 1624 until his death at 57 in 1642. A sumptuous exhibition, ''Richelieu: Art and Power,'' at the Museum of Fine Arts here, explores the cardinal's use of the visual arts as propaganda for his grand enterprise -- the invention of the French state -- and for his own advancement.

Richelieu shaped Louis XIII -- a boy suffering from a stutter, an abusive father, a mother who conspired against him, a jealous brother and sexual predilections not conducive to producing an heir -- into his conception of a divinely sanctioned king, the absolute ruler of France. In doing so, the cardinal bound rival nobles and fiefs torn by religious wars into one state governed from Paris, a state that dominated Europe culturally and politically until 1789.

nytimes.com
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