Listening to Art

08.10: Paul Delaroche, Cardinal Mazarin's Last Sickness

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Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume eight, number ten: Cardinal Mazarin’s Last Sickness by Paul Delaroche.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

Cardinal Jules Mazarin was chief minister to Louis XIII and Louis XIV from 1642 to his death in 1661. He plays major roles in the second and third novels in the Musketeers saga by Alexandre Dumas: Twenty Years After and The Vicomte de Bragelonne. English translations of the latter majestic work are usually broken up into three volumes: the first also titled The Vicomte de Bragelonne, then Louise de la Vallière and The Man in the Iron Mask. I quote from chapter forty-nine, “Enter Colbert,” from the Oxford World’s Classics edition of The Vicomte de Bragelonne (pp. 341–342):

Towards midnight, while still rouged, Mazarin’s mortal agony came on. He had revised his will, and as this will was the exact expression of his wishes, and as he feared that some interested influence might take advantage of his weakness to make him change something in it, he had given orders to Colbert, who walked up and down the corridor which led to the cardinal’s bed-chamber, like the most vigilant of sentinels. The king, shut up in his own apartment, dispatched his nurse every hour to Mazarin’s chamber, with orders to bring him back an exact bulletin of the cardinal’s state. After having heard that Mazarin was dressed, rouged, and had seen the ambassadors, Louis heard that the prayers for the dying were being read for the cardinal. At one o’clock in the morning, Guénaud had administered the last remedy. This was a relic of the old customs of that fencing age, which was about to disappear to give place to another age: to believe that death could be kept off by some good secret thrust. Mazarin, after having taken the remedy, respired freely for nearly ten minutes. He immediately gave orders that the news should be spread everywhere of a sudden improvement. The king, on learning this, felt as if a cold sweat were passing over his brow; he had had a glimpse of the light of liberty; slavery appeared to him more dark and less acceptable than ever. But the bulletin which followed entirely changed the face of things. Mazarin could no longer breathe at all, and could scarcely follow the prayers which the curé of Saint-Nicholas-des-Champs recited at his side. The king resumed his agitated walk about his chamber, and consulted, as he walked, several papers drawn from a casket of which he alone had the key. A third time the nurse returned. M. de Mazarin had just uttered a joke, and had ordered his “Flora,” by Titian, to be revarnished. At length, towards two o’clock in the morning, the king could no longer resist his weariness: he had not slept for twenty-four hours. Sleep, so powerful at his age, overcame him for about an hour. But he did not go to bed for that hour; he slept in an armchair. About four o’clock his nurse awoke him by entering the room.

“Well?” asked the king.

“Well, my dear sire,” said the nurse, clasping her hands with an air of commiseration. “Well; he is dead!”

This is a painting, oil on canvas, 97.5 cm wide by 56.4 cm high.

Now let’s listen to Cardinal Mazarin’s Last Sickness by Paul Delaroche, recorded at the Wallace Collection, in London, England, on 21 December 2017.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was Cardinal Mazarin’s Last Sickness by Paul Delaroche. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

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All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Dumas, Alexandre. The Vicomte de Bragelonne. Edited by David Coward. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Wallace Collection. “Cardinal Mazarin’s Last Sickness.” Wallace Collection Online.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Paul Delaroche,”

⸻, s.v. “Cardinal Mazarin,”