Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683) was one of the principal government ministers during the reign of King Louis XIV. Like Louvois, his colleague and rival, Colbert had the reputation of being an able administrator and a workaholic. But he was also tyrannical, unscrupulous and over-ambitious, and he amassed a large personal fortune while conducting the financial affairs of the kingdom.
Since he lived nearby, Colbert was a parishioner at the Saint-Eustache Church and wanted to be buried here, in his own alcove. He was a generous financial supporter of Saint-Eustache, and no doubt imagined that when he died he would be given a magnificent funeral.
But in fact he had to be buried secretly, under cover of darkness, because his tax policies had made him enormously unpopular, and the authorities feared there would be a riot if they buried him during the day. Then as now, the rich were largely exempt from taxation, so the main burdens of taxation were borne by the poor.
Nonetheless, Colbert’s elaborate tomb is still on display in one of the alcoves of the church. It was designed by Charles Le Brun, one of the most influential artists of the 17th century, and was created by the sculptors Antoine Coysevox (1640-1720), many of whose works are now on display in the Louvre, and Jean-Baptiste Tuby (1635-1700), who is most famous for creating the Fountain of Apollo in the gardens of Versailles.
To the left of Colbert’s tomb is this statue of a woman looking up at Colbert. It is entitled “Fidelity” — though from the look on her face I would have called the statue ‘Anxiety’ or ‘Distrust’. What do you think?
To the right of Colbert’s tomb is another statue of a woman, but this one is looking demurely downwards. The title of this one is “Abundance”, which seems ironic considering that Louis XIV’s subjects didn’t have much of an ‘abundance’ of anything after Colbert’s tax collectors had come to call.
On top of the tomb is a statue of Colbert himself, wearing a robe of the Order of the Holy Spirit and looking extremely devout.
Location, aerial view and photo of Saint-Eustache church on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2018.