Jean-Baptiste Colbert

Initially appointed as minister of finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–1683) gradually came to control a wide range of government sectors, including trade, industry, royal buildings, arts and sciences, colonies, and the navy. For twenty years, he remained one of the king’s most trusted advisors.

Below the portrait is Colbert’s coat of arms, featuring an undulating grass snake (Latin: coluber) on a stippled (golden) shield. The minister was the scion of a dynasty of wealthy traders and bankers based in the Champagne region. The family claimed illustrious Scottish origins but was actually of minor nobility at best. Through his position close to Cardinal Mazarin (1602–1661) and then Louis XIV, the “grand Colbert” rose further in the social hierarchy and was at the center of a highly influential clan of public servants, which included several brothers, cousins, and sons.

Graphic Arts Collection. Gift of John Douglas Gordon, Class of 1905.