Specifically, of Père Henri-Dominique Lacordaire (1802-1861), who managed to re-establish the Order of Preachers in France amid the ongoing civil wars and ideological chaos of the early 19th century. This is a fine portrait by Théodore Chassériau, from 1840. I greatly admire the lighting and atmosphere, and the riveting gaze of the subject, who emerges in clarity from a rather hazy, indistinct background. The coloring reminds me of an old sepia photograph.
Père Lacordaire said of this portrait: “M. Chassériau, a young painter of talent, has insistently asked me to do my portrait. He painted me in the Dominican habit, under the cloister of Santa-Sabina. I am generally satisfied with this painting, although it gives me a somewhat austere aspect.”
He does look a bit austere, but he also strikes me as having an inner intensity and passion. I think the portrait captures very well the way Père Lacordaire is described in this Old Catholic Encyclopedia article (emphasis mine):
His voice, feeble at the beginning, gradually grew in volume until it rang through the vast vault of the cathedral, sometimes breaking out into a cry which thrilled the hardest hearts. His gestures were graceful and yet full of vigour, his dark eyes flashed out the fire that was burning within him. His words were the choice of the moment, coming freely to his lips after careful preparation of the matter and the main lines of his discourse; indeed, his most brilliant passages were inspired by some movement among his audience, or some sudden emotion within himself. We can understand the state of prostration produced by such delivery, and how his strenuous efforts tended to shorten his life.
That inner fire comes through in the contrast between the rather stern brow and the very dark eyes, and in the way the hands are held in what appears to be almost an act of self-restraining and composure.
I think it’s a brilliant portrait, and a beautiful work of art.