VOUET, Simon
(b. 1590, Paris, d. 1649, Paris)

Presentation in the Temple

Oil on canvas, 393 x 250 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Simon Vouet arrived in Paris in 1627, having already pursued a successful career in Rome. His art seems to have appealed immediately to Louis XIII, who gave him more commissions than he accorded other artists. Vouet's main achievement was in bringing a fully developed Baroque style back from Italy, which shows his extraordinary ability to change direction: he had been totally preoccupied with Caravaggism in his Roman years. He must, however, have been absorbing all the fashionable trends in Rome (Caravaggism had already become old-fashioned among Italian painters in the 1620s), and he was able to bring them almost unadulterated to the court of Louis XIII.

The Parisian court's preoccupation with foreign styles of painting was already obvious, and Vouet, although a Frenchman, found that he could provide an up-to-date approach to what the court wanted without any local rivals. The combination of Italian influences is seen to perfection in his Presentation in the Temple, one of the most Baroque of all Vouet's compositions, given by Cardinal Richelieu to the Jesuit church in Paris. Only certain of the facial expressions suggest that the picture might not be Italian. In scale and composition it is a flawless altarpiece of the type then being commissioned for newly decorated or reconstructed churches all over Rome. The main influences in the picture are derived from the cool order of Domenichino and the much softer, more sensual approach of Guido Reni, and in it Vouet reached the level of accomplishment found in the work of Orazio Gentileschi, who had been working successfully for the Parisian court for two years.