In March 1634 Anthony van Dyck ceased his duties as court artist to King Charles I of England and returned to the southern Netherlands. During the next nine months he painted a number of portraits of exiled French aristocrats who had relocated to Brussels following the exile of the queen mother of France, Maria de' Medici, whom they supported politically. Among those he portrayed at the queen mother's court was Henri II de Lorraine.
Son of Charles de Lorraine, 4th duc de Guise, and Henriette-Catherine, duchesse de Joyeuse, Henri assumed the title of archbishop of Rheims in 1629 at age fifteen, a prerogative of his wealthy Catholic family. However, his supposedly oft repeated guide for living — "There are only two things in life: war and women, or women and war, the order does not matter, as long as both are present" — conflicted with the religious conviction expected of him as archbishop, and he left Rheims in the early 1630s to join the imperial forces in Germany. He presumably moved to Brussels after the Battle of Nördlingen in 1634, perhaps in the retenue of Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand, who, after his victory in that battle, became the new governor of the southern Netherlands.
Van Dyck pictures Henri full-length, his armor, symbolic of his recent military involvement, discarded at his feet. Reflecting the height of fashion, Henri wears his hair long, with a lovelock that falls gracefully over his broad lace collar adorned with a multicolored bow. Dressed in a resplendent tan doublet split at the sleeves to reveal a billowing white shirt, sporting large boots and vibrant red breeches trimmed with gold and festooned with decorative ribbons, Henri exudes confidence but very little seriousness, which may in fact reflect his lack of moral character.