1819. Oil on canvas. 167.2 x 173.6 cm. Windsor Castle, Royal Collection, UK. Read Note.
Ercole Consalvi (1757-1824) -- Cardinal, diplomat and statesman. He began his service under Pope Pius VI (1717-1799) in 1783. In 1796, he was placed in charge of a military commission whose purpose was to prevent the intervention of French Republican forces in the Papal States--which he was, however, powerless to prevent. After the French occupation of Rome in 1797, Consalvi was imprisoned and threatened with transportation to French Guyana, though he was ultimately released to Naples. In 1798, he managed to make his way to Venice where many of the top clergy of the Catholic Church had fled. At the Papal Conclave of 1800, which took place there, he was voted secretary nearly unanimously and in that role proved to be instrumental to the election of Cardinal Chiaramonti as Pope Pius VII. In reward for this, he was made cardinal and Secretary of State for the Holy See -- effectively the Pope’s second-in-command.
In this role, Consalvi played a pivotal role in negotiating the 1801 Concordat with France that re-established the Catholic Church in that country, from where it had been expelled during the French Revolution. Napoleon realized the political danger that the capable cardinal presented, and insisted on his dismissal to the Pope. Seeking to prevent conflict, Consalvi resigned of his own will in 1806, although he remained a close confidant to Pius. However, in 1809 when the French once again invaded Rome, Consalvi was forced to leave the Pope’s side. He travelled, instead, to Paris, there hoping to aid the cause of the Holy See. In 1810, he, along with 12 other cardinals who refused to take part in the wedding ceremony of Napoleon and Mary Louise of Austria, was deprived of his property and forced to dress in black, like regular priests. This group of thirteen became known as “the black cardinals”.
Finally freed in 1813, Consalvi immediately re-united with Pope Pius VII, then in Savona, and, after Napoleon’s abdication in 1814, was re-appointed Secretary of State. He represented the Holy See at the Congress of Vienna, where he successfully lobbied for the restoration of the Papal States. During the years 1815-1823, he worked on important political reforms to improve the life of common people in the States.
After the death of Pope Pius VII in 1823, he retired, and died early in 1824, only a few months later.