The Archbishop of Cambrai, Charles de Saint-Albin, was the illegitimate son of Philippe, duc d'Orléans, and a dancer at the opera. Although his father never recognized him officially, he smoothed his son's swift advance in the Church hierarchy and aided his appointment to the archbishopric of Cambrai. In the year of his appointment, the archbishop commissioned this portrait from Hyacinthe Rigaud, the most accomplished and flattering portraitist at the court of Louis XIV.

Shown in his robes of office, Saint-Albin balances a book on his knee and presses his left hand to his chest, a gesture suggesting his spirituality. Rigaud masterfully displayed the different textures of his shimmering satin robe and the exquisitely patterned lace of the garment worn underneath. A soft ermine cape is painted so realistically that the viewer can see the indentations left by Saint-Albin's fingers as they press against the fur.

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