“Grey Eminence” by Jean-Léon Gérôme
“L’Eminence Grise” by Jean-Léon Gérôme depicts the palace of Cardinal Richelieu, the “Red Cardinal,” virtual ruler of France during the childhood of Louis XIII.
Descending the staircase is Richelieu’s chief adviser, François Le Clerc du Trembly, a friar known as L’Eminence grise (the Gray Cardinal), a term that has come to mean “the power behind the throne.”
All of the officials, political, military, and religious, going up the grand staircase bow to the friar in deference to his influence as an advisor to the “Red Cardinal.”
Éminence Grise is french for “grey eminence” and refers to a powerful decision-maker or adviser who operates “behind the scenes” in an unofficial capacity.
Leclerc was a Capuchin friar who was renowned for his beige robe attire, as beige was termed “grey” in that era.
The title, “His Eminence” was used to address a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. Although Leclerc was not a cardinal, those around him addressed him as such in deference to the considerable influence this “grey” friar held over “His Eminence the Cardinal.”
Aldous Huxley wrote an English biography of Leclerc entitled “Grey Eminence.” Leclerc is also referred to in Alexandre Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers” as the character Father Joseph, an influential associate of Richelieu, and one to be feared.
Gérôme’s art epitomized the academic style against which the Impressionists rebelled. His paintings are meticulous in their detail and had brilliant effects of color and light.
Cardinal Armand Jean du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu (1585 – 1642) was a French clergyman and statesman. He was appointed Foreign Secretary in 1616 and King Louis XIII’s chief minister in 1624.
He remained in office until he died in 1642; he was succeeded by Cardinal Mazarin, whose career he had fostered.
Cardinal de Richelieu sought to consolidate royal power and crush domestic factions. He restrained the power of the nobility and transformed France into a strong, centralized state.
Richelieu has been depicted as the lead villain in Alexandre Dumas’s novel “The Three Musketeers” and its numerous film adaptations.
François Leclerc du Tremblay
François Leclerc du Tremblay (1577 – 1638) was a French Capuchin friar, confidant and agent of Cardinal Richelieu.
He was the original “grey eminence,” a term for an influential advisor or decision-maker who operates secretly or unofficially.
In 1612 he established those personal relations with Richelieu that established his reputation and reference to “éminence grise.” The description drew on the grey friar’s cloak, and the title “eminence” conferred on Richelieu as a cardinal.
François Leclerc du Tremblay, also known as Père Joseph, became a war minister, and, though maintaining a personal austerity in his life, he devoted himself to diplomacy and politics.
He had a dream of arousing Europe to another crusade against the Ottoman Empire.
Historical Examples of Éminence grise
Vice President Dick Cheney was described as an éminence grise of the George W. Bush administration. He was a powerful and uncompromising politician with the ear of the president.
Former diplomat and policymaker Dennis Ross was viewed as the éminence grise on Middle East matters during multiple USA administrations.
Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 – 1904) was a French painter and sculptor, and his body of work includes historical paintings, Greek Mythology, Orientalism, and portraits in the academic painting tradition.
- Title: L’Eminence Grise
- English: Grey Eminence
- Artist: Jean-Léon Gérôme
- Year: 1873
- Type: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions: Height: 68.6 cm (27 in); Width: 101 cm (39.7 in)
- Type: History Painting
- Museum: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- Artist: Jean-Léon Gérôme
- Born: 1824 – Vesoul, Haute-Saône, France
- Died: 1904 (aged 79) – Paris, France
- Nationality: French
- Movement: Academicism, Orientalism
- Notable works:
A Virtual Tour of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- ” Mrs. Fiske Warren and Her Daughter Rachel” by John Singer Sargent
- “Dance at Bougival” by Auguste Renoir
- Relief of a Winged Genie
- “The Fog Warning” by Winslow Homer
- “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit” by John Singer Sargent
- “Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair” by Paul Cézanne
- “Appeal to the Great Spirit” by Cyrus Edwin Dallin
- “The Slave Ship” by J. M. W. Turner
- “Poppy Field in a Hollow near Giverny” by Claude Monet
- “Discovery of Achilles on Skyros” by Nicolas Poussin
- “Odysseus and Polyphemus” by Arnold Böcklin
- “The Artist in his Studio” by Rembrandt
- “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” by Paul Gauguin
- “Bocca Baciata” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
- “Portrait of Paul Revere” by John Singleton Copley
- “Flight and Pursuit” by William Rimmer
- “Picture Gallery with Views of Modern Rome” by Giovanni Paolo Panini
- “The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775” by John Trumbull
A Virtual Tour of History Paintings
- “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze
- “The Family of Darius before Alexander” by Paolo Veronese
- “Las Meninas” or “The Ladies-in-Waiting” by Diego Velázquez
- “The Third of May 1808″ by Francisco Goya
- The Second of May 1808 – The Charge of the Mamelukes by Francisco de Goya
- “The Fighting Temeraire” by Joseph Mallord William Turner
- “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way” by Emanuel Leutze
- “The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776″ by John Trumbull
- “The March to Valley Forge” by William B. T. Trego
- “The Massacre at Chios” by Eugène Delacroix
- “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul Delaroche
- “Cromwell in Battle of Naseby” by Charles Landseer
- “The Surrender of Breda” by Diego Velázquez
- “Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps” by J. M. W. Turner
- “The Death of Marat” by Gioacchino Giuseppe Serangeli after Jacques-Louis David
- “Oath of the Horatii” by Jacques-Louis David
- “The Coronation of Napoleon” by Jacques-Louis David
- “The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons by J. M. W. Turner
- “The Burning of the Houses of Parliament” by J. M. W. Turner
- “The Triumph of Cleopatra” by William Etty
- “Dempsey and Firpo” by George Bellows
- Floreat Etona! by Elizabeth Thompson
- Scotland Forever! by Elizabeth Thompson
- “The Last Day of Pompeii” by Karl Bryullov
- Leonidas at Thermopylae by Jacques-Louis David
- The Election Series by George Caleb Bingham
- “The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar” by John Singleton Copley
- “Watson and the Shark” by John Singleton Copley
- “The Death of Major Peirson, 6 January 1781″ by John Singleton Copley
- “Frederick the Great Playing the Flute at Sanssouci” by Adolph Menzel
- “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” by Rembrandt
- Entry of Alexander into Babylon by Charles Le Brun
“If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.”
– Cardinal Richelieu
Photo Credit: 1) Jean-Léon Gérôme [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons