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


Oil on canvas, 102 x 141 cm
Royal Collection, Hampton Court

Signed and dated on the quiver in the lower right corner: Simon Vouet F. Paris 1637 (the date has previously been incorrectly read as 1627).

The artist had been a leading painter in Rome and in 1624 was elected President of the Accademia di San Luca. His style there oscillated between the Caravaggesque, Roman baroque and Bolognese classicism. On his return to Paris he gained a reputation as a decorative artist, indulging in skilful displays of illusionistic painting including the ceiling of the principal room in the château at Colombes where Henrietta Maria (the wife of Charles I) lived from 1657. Vouet was undoubtedly the most influential artist of his generation in France (beside Poussin who spent much of his life in Rome) and was active in establishing the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1648, one year before his death.

Diana is in Vouet's late, more classical style. The idealised expression of the face with its widely spaced features, the languid gesture, and the slow, ponderous rhythms combined with the pale flesh tones and light colours of the drapery are typical of the artist's decorative work. The composition was originally oval, as seen in an engraving of 1638 by Vouet's son-in-law, Michel Dorigny. With this knowledge the internal rhythms of the painting become more comprehensible, with the curve created by the reclining figure of the goddess of hunting continued in the muzzles of the two dogs pointing in opposite directions.

Dorigny also engraved two other oval compositions in 1638, Venus and Adonis and Mars and Venus, which could have formed a series with the present painting. The pose is reminiscent of Venetian painting (for example, Venus and Cupid by Palma Vecchio - Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum). Vouet had visited Venice in 1612/13, but evidence of his interest in Venetian art resurfaces in several of the decorative schemes undertaken after 1627, especially in his masterpiece in the Hotel Seguier, Paris. There is also an affinity with Primaticcio's work carried out at Fontainebleau for Francis I at the beginning of the sixteenth century, which was widely known through engravings.