Simon Vouet

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VOUET, SIMON (15901649)

VOUET, SIMON (15901649), French painter. Since the late seventeenth century, most historians of French art have justifiably considered Vouet to be the founder of the early modern school of French painting. Born in Paris, the son of a minor court painter and grandson of the Master of the King's Falcons, Vouet was a child prodigy who was perfectly situated to receive the best possible exposure to great works of art, and the best training, which probably began with his father. At the age of fourteen he was already recognized as a successful portraitist, and at the age of twenty-two he was selected by the crown to travel to Constantinople with the French ambassador to paint portraits of important foreign dignitaries.

On his return from the Near East, Vouet traveled through Italy and settled in Rome, which was at that time the center of the art world. There, like so many artists of his generation, he painted in a Carravaggesque mode, but one that sought to infuse this tenebrist approach with delicacy and refinement (St. Jerome and the Angel, c. 1622, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). His commissions at this time included altarpieces or complete decorations for the Raggi Chapel of the Gesúin Genoa, the Alaleoni Chapel in St. Lorenzo in Lucina in Rome, and the Charter House of St. Martin in Naples. He achieved so much success in Rome that in 1624 he became the first non-Italian to be elected director, or prince, of the Accademia di San Luca, where his insistence on a solid grounding in principles of good draftsmanshipthat is, figure drawingwas greatly admired. Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIII kept a close watch on this precocious talent by supporting him in Rome, and by 1626, he was offered a brevet du roi, accompanied by a lucrative pension and suitably noble housing in the Louvre for himself, his family, and his atelier.

Upon his return to Paris in late 1627, knowing that Carravaggio (15711610) and his followers were never really appreciated in the French capital, Vouet gradually altered his manner. During his four-month stop in Venice on his return journey from Rome, he modified his heavy chiaroscuro with the grace, fluidity, and color of northern Italian painting. As a result, Vouet became unequaled in Paris for grand decorative painting, where slightly elongated monumental figures with swirling draperies slowly float across the surfaces of his large canvases (Allegory of Wealth, Louvre, Paris). His manner was an astute blend of sixteenth-century mannerist French court art at Fontainebleau, the Romano-Bolognese classicism of the Carracci, the naturalism of Carravaggio, and the extravagant color, lively facture, and dazzling light of sixteenth-century Venetian artists. The genius of Vouet's elegant inventions was conveyed by the power of his draftsmanship, as is evident in the numerous drawings that survive. Most of them are elegant figure studies that reveal his use of firm, sweeping contours that effortlessly render the human form in motion. Only a small number of composition studies enable us to comprehend the genesis of his designs.

Vouet's ever-increasing success led to numerous ecclesiastic commissions for altarpieces (St. Nicolas-des-Champs, St. Eustache, and the Novitiate of the Jesuits), and an even greater number of royal and private commissions for both religious and secular decorations at the Louvre, the Palais Royal, the Palais du Luxembourg, the Hôtel Séguier and the chateaux at Chilly, Chessy, Fontainebleau, Poitou, Rueil, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and Wideville. Being in such demand required an increasing number of skilled hands in a remarkably organized studio. His extraordinarily busy atelier utilized, trained, and influenced more than a generation of painters and printmakers. These artists included François Perrier, Nicolas Chaperon, Charles Poërson, Pierre Daret, Michel I Corneille, Nöel Quillerier, François Bellin, Pierre Patel l'aîné, Eustache Le Sueur, Michel Dorigny (16161665), and François Tortebat (16161690). These last two became his sons-in-law and made etching or prints of many of his works. As each of these artists matured, they actively participated in the master's vast decorative campaigns. A generation later, the possibilities of this well-run enterprise would be taken to even greater heights by his most famous student, Charles Le Brun, in the service of Louis XIV.

Unfortunately, most of Vouet's decorative ensembles have been destroyed or dismantled. However, well aware of his posterity, Vouet owned his own printing press and was granted a royal privilege to replicate his designs. This encouraged an atmosphere of experimentation with printmaking that led Perrier, Dorigny, Tortebat, and others to interpret in etchings and engravings a large portion of his most celebrated commissions.

See also Caravaggio and Caravaggism ; Carracci Family ; Le Brun, Charles ; Louis XIII (France) ; Mannerism ; Painting ; Richelieu, Armand-Jean Du Plessis, cardinal .


Brejon de Lavergnée, Barbara. Dessins de Simon Vouet, 15901649. Musée du Louvre, Cabinet des dessins. Paris, 1987.

Clark, Alvin L. "Simon Vouet and His Printmakers: Posterity, Prosperity, and Process." In Museum of Fine Arts, French Prints from the Age of the Musketeers, exh. cat., edited by Sue Welsh Reed. Boston, 1998.

Crelly, William. The Painting of Simon Vouet. New Haven, 1962. Contains catalogue raisonné.

Galeries nationales du Grand Palais. Vouet. Exh. cat. Texts by Jacques Thuillier, Barbara Brejon de Lavergnée, and Denis Lavalle. Paris, 1990.

Loire, Stephane. Simon Vouet: Actes du colloque international. Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 57 February 1992. Paris, 1992.

Staatliche Graphische Sammlung der Neue Pinakothek. Simon Vouet: 100 Neuentdeckte Zeichnungen aus den Bestanden der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek. Exh. cat. Richard Harprath and Barbara Brejon de Lavergnée, eds. Munich, 1991.

Alvin L. Clark, Jr.

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Simon Vouet (sēmôN´ vwā), 1590–1649, French portrait and decorative painter. He first established himself as a successful painter in Rome. Recalled to France in 1627 as court painter to Louis XIII, he decorated several of the royal palaces. Vouet was the first to introduce the Italian baroque style into France. After his return to Paris, he began to work in a more classical and decorative vein. He created new devices in illusionism and developed a splendid manner that formed the foundation of French 17th-century painting. Le Brun, Mignard, and Le Sueur were among the pupils who perpetuated his style. Several of his paintings are in the Louvre.