Known both as an astute politician and a connoisseur of the French arts, Cardinal de Richelieu controlled much of France's political and artistic sphere in the 1600s. Simon Vouet drew him in his cardinal's robes while clasping in his hands a letter, an attribute of his life as an official of the Church and the State. Richelieu's direct, incisive gaze holds the viewer's eyes and attention.
King Louis XIII commissioned Vouet to produce a series of some thirty portrait drawings of noblemen, artists, and officers of the court in colored chalks on light brown paper. In this highly finished example, Vouet used a combination of red, black, and white chalk. The red chalk shows off the brilliant color of the cardinal's cape and hat, while the white creates soft highlights in his hair and collar. Black chalk lines behind the cardinal give the figure added weight and depth. Finally, layers of pastel on top of the chalk give the surface of the drawing added richness and texture.