In The Red Portfolio, Jehan-Georges Vibert pokes fun at his favorite victim, a cardinal. The main point of this painting is the immense pride of an unidentified but elegant cardinal standing self-consciously in the council chamber of Louis VX at Fontainebleau. His air of self-importance, as he strikes a pose before an elegant fireplace, swelling his chest to better display his royal decorations, implies that he fancies himself a successor to the great cardinal-ministers of France, Richelieu, Mazarin, and Fleury.
Cleary the cardinal’s mind is more occupied with this world than the next. His attire is fashioned of the most expensive materials, ermine, silk, gold, and lace – a match for the elegant Rococo interior. Yet the shadow if a beard – it is already four, according to the clock – implies human fallibility behind the impeccable façade. Even his perfect grooming is slightly flawed by a wig that does not quite cover his dark sideburns.