Portrait of a young girl holding a bird
1590 - Paris - 1649
Inscription at the back: Op. (…) di Michelangelo / 1620
Oil on circular panel
38.5 x 38.5 cm / 15.2 x 15.2 in
With Trinity Fine Art Ltd., London (cat. Trinity Fine Art Ltd at Newhouse Galleries, May 1998, n.47; illus. in “The Burlington Magazine”, January 1999, with dimensions diam. 52cm; Koelliker collection (2002).
Simon Vouet (les années italiennes 1613/1627), Paris 2008, p. 166.
Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts - Besancon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie, Simon Vouet (les années italiennes 1613/1627), 21 November 2008 – 23 February 2009, 27 March – 29 June 2009, n. 50;
Robilant + Voena, A History of Taste: Collecting French & Italian Old Master Paintings for America, New York, 2010, p.48.
Vouet has only rarely painted on panel therefore the present picture acts as an unicum in his Roman output, along with the San Francisco tondo (1626). The attribution to Simon Vouet is substantiated notably by the virtuosity of the painting technique. This ‘florid’ manner [this is a rather literal translation. Maybe you will prefer ‘rather exuberant style’ or broad brushstrokes] echoes that of some Northern Caravaggisti working in Rome such as Baburen, but also that of some ‘Italians’ like Orazio Riminaldi or Ribera. Vouet demonstrates the same mastery whether he paints a young girl or the Prince Doria. The picture seems to have been painted after the Allegory of Innocence (sale, Sotheby’s, London, 3 July 1997, n. 210; forthcoming study by Franco Moro) as well as probably the portrait of a friend of the artist that also shows a young girl [half-length], clad in white and holding a dove. In the present painting the artist emphasises the child’s hand that is lightly leaning on the bottom edge and makes perfect use of the format and the proportions of the head that form a circle within the tondo.
Is it a portrait or simply a genre scene showing a child playing with a bird? The simplicity of the layout and the treatment leads one to view it as the portrait of a young child in Vouet’s acquaintance. The costume is elegant and the hair neat. This is unlikely to be his first daughter Francesca, born in Rome in 1627, since because of sitter’s age, the painting would have had to be painted when Vouet was in Paris. A pastel from this period showing a different young girl with a dove was given [in lieu of tax] to the Louvre in 2007 (B. Brejon de Lavergnée, 2008, p. 11). It seems to represent Francesca’s sister Angélique, who was born in 1630. Moreover, the dove holds an allegorical meaning. According to Tervarent (pp. 133-135), it can be either the attribute of Peace, Venus or Lust (as in a strange painting by an artist in the circle of Vouet, now in the Tournus Museum, which was brought to our attention by Sylvain Laveissière and shows a young girl with a dove facing a figure playing the flute) as well as that of Simplicity, Concord or Marital harmony! In the present case, only Simplicity seems to correspond and the source is Matthew (X, 16): “be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves”. The beautiful dress, white with silvery tones, would confirm this interpretation. Nevertheless, the Bible’s message does not seem to fit with the charming image of a young girl playing with a pigeon (rather than a dove). Interestingly, Plinia Ferri, Vouet’s mother in law, had an important role within the parish life (see O. Michel, 1992, p. 125). She had the title of “mammana” which means that she was entitled to baptize summarily a newborn in case of an emergency. As such, the matron, chosen for her respectability, was in charge of ensuring that the clergy was notified of all births. Besides, archival documents mention that Virginia became the godmother, in 1616 and 1620, of children delivered with her mother’s assistance. From 1622 she established herself and her family in the parish of San Lorenzo in Lucina, the same as Vouet’s. Hence, the artist had a special relationship with some children in the parish. The child here depicted by Vouet is likely to be one of them.
Dominique Jacquot (2008)
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