Thursday, December 20, 2012

Vouet, Simon

Saint Cecilia
oil on canvas
134.1 × 98.2 cm
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art‎, Hartford, CT, USA

Simon Vouet (1590 - 1649) was a French painter, who today is perhaps best remembered for helping to introduce the Italian Baroque style of painting to France. His father was a painter in Paris and taught him the rudiments of art. Vouet began his painting career as a portrait painter. At a young age he traveled to England and was part of the entourage of the Baron de Sancy, French ambassador to Constantinople. From there he went to Venice and was in Rome from 1614 to 1627. He formed his style in Italy, where the Baroque style was emerging during these years.

He was a natural academic, who absorbed what he saw and studied, and distilled it in his painting: Caravaggio's dramatic lighting and Italian Mannerism, etc.. His early work was influenced by Caravaggio, but works done after 1620 display more idealized figures and use more evenly diffused white light. Vouet's immense success in Rome led to his election as president of the Accademia di San Luca in 1624. He received a pension from the King of France.

Despite his success in Rome, Vouet suddenly returned to France in 1627, following a summons from the King of France Louis XIII, to become his first painter. Thereafter he won almost all the important commissions and dominated the city artistically for the next 15 years. Vouet was the fresh dominating force in French painting, producing numerous public altarpieces and allegorical decors for private patrons, in Paris. Vouet's sizeable atelier or workshop produced a whole school of French painters for the following generation, and through Vouet, French Baroque painting retained a classicizing restraint from the outset. A French contemporary said, "In his time the art of painting began to be practiced here in a nobler and more beautiful way than ever before."

Vouet's new style was distinctly Italian, importing the Italian Baroque style into France. He adapted this style to the grand decorative scheme of the era of Louis XIII and Richelieu. Louis XIII commissioned portraits, tapestry cartoons and paintings from him for the Palais du Louvre, the Palais du Luxembourg and the Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. His late works display the soft, idealized modeling, sensuous forms, and bright colors for which he is best known. A number of Vouet's decorative schemes have been lost.