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Department of Paintings: French painting
© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier
Avec le retour d'Italie de Vouet, la peinture claire triomphe à Paris. Cette allégorie lumineuse, qui évoque Véronèse, fait allusions aux richesses spirituelles (l'enfant qui désigne le ciel), supérieure aux biens terrestres (vases, bijoux) et même au savoir (Livre).
Vouet and grand settings
In 1627, Simon Vouet was recalled to France from Italy by Louis XIII. He had gone to Italy a decade earlier and enjoyed great fame; after he returned to Paris, he dominated the art scene until his death in 1649. Familiar as he was with all the latest Italian innovations, particularly where grand settings were concerned, he was soon overwhelmed by commissions from the king and his entourage. So he quickly set up a large workshop, and this was where nearly all the great painters of the next generation, including Le Sueur and Le Brun, received their training. Vouet's talent was put to use for both religious and secular painting, where he breathed new life into both form and content by applying the new techniques he had acquired in Italy as well as a certain French tradition that had emerged at Fontainebleau. One of the major aspects of his work was in developing a decorative technique missing at that time in France, and introducing mythology and allegorical figures into the decoration of private town houses and chateaus. The allegory of Wealth is thought to be one of the many brilliant fragments left over from such decorative schemes. However, fate has not been kind to these testimonies to Vouet's skill, and not a single one has survived intact.
A large serpentine figure of a woman draped in fabric is seated in front of an imposing architectural background. She is carrying a child in her arms while gazing at another standing close by, who is proffering a fistful of jewels. At her feet, two masterly still lifes show an open book and a heap of dishes and vases made of silver and gold plate, one of which is decorated with the story of Apollo and Daphne. The gleaming appearance of the gold and precious stones is echoed in the woman's full, swirling drapery - one of Vouet's specialities. Her slender profile, pointed nose, red cheeks, and long supple fingers are also characteristic of all his paintings. For this personification of Wealth, Vouet refers, like most of his contemporaries, to the Iconologia of Cesare Ripa - a work published in the late sixteenth century that catalogued the representation of allegorical figures, giving them very precise attributes.
The painting is mentioned for the first time in inventories of 1706, when it was in the Cabinet de la Surintendance at Versailles. It is possible that this, like the two other figures of Virtue and Charity - also in the Louvre - was intended to be part of a comprehensive decorative scheme. However, from the early eighteenth century onwards it was considered to be an easel picture, which could be moved, and was exhibited as such in the royal collections. It is possible, as has already been suggested, that the picture comes from the Château-Neuf de Saint-Germain, like the works already cited. But there are no records prior to 1706 that list this work, and so its origins remain obscure.
Château Neuf de Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Oil on canvas
H: 1.70 m.; W: 1.24 m.
Louis XIII Collection
The painters of Louis XIII
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