Simon Vouet: portraits of self and others

Simon Vouet ( 1590- 1649) established his painting style while he was in Italy  where he was influenced by Caravaggio, Guido Reni, Il Guercino, and Domenichin. He was accredited with bringing the baroque style to France where Louis XIII (of Three Musketeers fame) was his patron.

Baroque art is often characterized by great drama, rich, deep colour, and intense light and dark shadows as well as eccentric redundancy and noisy abundance of details, which sharply contrasted the clear and sober rationality of the Renaissance.

Some of these characteristics are seen in his self-portrait. The artists hair and his jacket blend with the dark background and shadow envelops the bottom half of his face. This serves to highlight the wonderful play of light across the features of his face: the shadows under his eyes and the shape of his nose.

Simon Vouet self portrait
Simon Vouet self portrait

It’s a wonderful insight into the man. World weary and slightly debauched as result of being the favoured painter in the court of the most powerful man in Europe but still with the call and appraising eye of the artist.

The baroque characteristics are also seen in this painting of Louis, complete with his laurel wreath and painted goatee beard and moustache. He pays scant attention to the two slightly dishevelled, gorgeously apparelled and adoring handmaidens paying court to him.

Vouet  portrait of Louis XIII
Vouet portrait of Louis XIII

It’s a set piece bathed in gorgeous golden and red light which serves to highlight the figure of Louis in his black armour.  The painting is all about appearances, surface impressions. By placing three figures in the painting, Vouet does not allow himself the ability to provide the psychological insight that we see in his portrait but it must surely have pleased his royal patron.

Vouet was an extremely talented painter and many of his paintings have a strong element of the portrait in them so it is useful to start looking at some of his portraits. there is a self-portrait of him as a younger man.

self portrait

It’s an interesting contrast to the later portrait. The young man looks out of the poker with the slightly surprised look on his face. The appraising stare is already there but it lacks the world weariness of the later work.

Vouet’s likeness recurs in a number of his paintings. Here the soldier, draped in a sumptuous red cape, stares arrogantly over a shoulder

The Halberdier
The Halberdier

His portrait of St. Guillaume dAquitaine is painted using the same model from a slightly different angle.

St. Guillaume dAquitaine
St. Guillaume dAquitaine

St. Guillaume dAquitaine also bears a striking resemblance to a sketch that is thought to be a self-portrait.

Bust Portrait of a Young Man (Self-portrait?)
Bust Portrait of a Young Man (Self-portrait?)

And finally a painting of St John

St John

Is this the work of a supremely narcissistic artist completely preoccupied with his own self-image? It would seem so.

It is certainly a very thorough exploration of male beauty and the painting of St John’s is  a work capable of standing next to anything similar by Caravaggio.

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