Together with Georges de La Tour and Claude Gellee, Simon Vouet did also manage to solidify the emergence of Baroque style in France. Unfortunately though he was overshadowed by his more recent contemporaries such as Nicolas Poussin; and thus, he wasn’t as popular as the abovementioned artists. But he did make some important contributions like when he lead the establishment of the French art training school around 1630’s to 1640’s.
Simon Vouet is known for allegorical paintings, particularly those that depict the extravagant lifestyle. These kinds of art demonstrate a deeper breadth and higher confidence with simpler painting technique that is reminiscent to Mannerism in some way. This explains why his style was noticeably Italian in nature despite developing his own style along the way.
Likewise to Claude, he as well traveled to Naples, Genoa, Bologna and Venice to study some art works and find an inspiration to which he could model his style and technique after. He subsequently became a follower of Caravaggio, which was somewhat expected because it was common for foreign art students at the time to develop a deeper interest in the said master’s works.
Vouet was also a skilled draftsman during the early stages of his career. He was one of the few painters who had mastery of using easel whenever he paints. And his skills were undoubtedly comparable to that of Italian classicists. This could be one of the results of his long term stay in Rome from 1613 to 1627.
Throughout his career, he had produced various decorative schemes for different edifices in France, tapestries, and oil paintings. He is most remembered today for designing the Palais Cardinal, Chateau de Fontainebleau, Residence of President Tuboeuf, among many others. His tapestries include The Life of Ulysses, Renaud and Armide, and Moses saved from the waters. Lastly, his studio paintings are mostly a series of allegories such as the Allegory of the Fine Arts, Peace and Charity.
Simon Vouet was born on January 8, 1590 in France where he was also taught the basics of painting by his father, Laurent Vouet. He came from family of painters in aside from his father his brother and grandson were also artists. Little is known about his boyhood though but the earliest records show that he traveled to England and once joined the group of Baron de Sancy to fulfill some diplomatic missions in Constantinople.
His earliest works were mostly portraits as taught by his father. A large number of these paintings may have been executed in Rome in 1614, after his journeys to England, Venice and Constantinople. And around 1625, his works began to show some influences of Caravaggio but revolutionized it by adding French artistic styles to it.
From 1614 to 1527, Simon Vouet stayed in Rome where he developed his Baroque style completely. His Italian training and education was a primary key to his quick rose to prominence and in no time, he received an allowance from the King of France. His association to the King earned him a pool of reputable clients such as Cassiano dal Pozzo, Vincenzo Giustiniani, Barberini clan and Paolo Giordano Orsini.
Having a good amount of fortune in his pocket enabled him to travel to other parts of Italy like to Bologna, Venice, Genoa and Naples. He particularly visited the Carracci’s Bolognese school of painting in Bologna to study the founder’s Caravaggesque style of painting. Meanwhile, he pursued a commission by the Doria monarchs in Genoa around 1620 to 1622.
As he was a scholar and academician, he had the ability to adopt the techniques and styles imposed by Caravaggio and his followers easily. As a result he made sure to apply these lessons and everything that he has absorbed from his studies to his own work, using it to his own advantage. For most parts of his career, he painted art works that display dramatic lighting, Mannerism coloring and the new approach to foreshortening by adding more breadth. All of these were also enhanced by applying the art of Guido Reni, Carracci and Lanfranco.
Therefore, Vouet’s art is the complete embodiment of the abovementioned Italian artists. And it did serve him well for he had a successful career in Rome and Paris, France. In fact, his success and good reputation earned him a position, which he nevertheless won by election, at the Accademia di San Luca as its president in 1624.
Before he worked for the King’s court in France, he married Virginia da Vezzo in 1626. Da Vezzo was his model for his Madonnas when he was still working on some secular commissions in Italy.
In 1627, Simon Vouet returned to France as per recommendation of the Duke of Bethunes. He was originally summoned by the King to be his court painter, which he responded with a lifetime commitment.
Even in France his works were still highly characterized as Italian. But this style changed later in his advanced years as he began introducing classic French Baroque into his style and to his contemporaries. He experimented with combining all art studies he had in Italy and eventually found the secret ingredient for a unique painting style that would soon make him the “The King’s Painter”, for his most important patron was pleased with his contributions to developing French Baroque art.
His tenure under the patronage of King Louis XIV was one of the highlights in his career. His title came with a greater responsibility of supervising all of the artistic projects of the monarch besides designing building schemes and painting portraits for the court. In 1630, he spearheaded the decoration of Cardinal Richelieu’s palace in Paris. He was particularly responsible for decorating the palace’s chapel and gallery plus another commission to work on the chapel of the cardinal’s rest house at Rueil.
During the 1630’s, Vouet’s workshop had grown larger that he needed the assistance of his brother long-term. More and more pupils and assistants began to recognize the art that his workshop can instill to them. Few examples of his well-regarded students include Laurent de la Hyre, Francois Perrier, Eustache le Sueur and Claude Mellan.
By the late 1630’s, the French native was appointed to man the decoration of the Palace of St. Germain’s gallery. It was for this palace that he executed a couple of allegorical paintings such as the Allegory of Riches and the Allegory of Charity. Alongside this major task were his other commissions for the Hotel Seguier, local chapels and villas of the Chancellor of France.
After completing his tasks at the Parisian Palace of Richilieu, Simon Vouet proceeded onto working on the Hotel Brentonvilliers, for which he decorated its walls and gallery in 1646. For his hotel he produced an important painting that is distinctly classicist; Saturn, conquered by Cupid, Venus and Hope.
Around 1640’s, his student Charles le Brun designed the interior décor (painting) of the Versailles Palace. However, Le Brun’s jealousy over the popularity of his master tempted him to eliminate Vouet from the Acedemie Royale. This took place in 1648, when Vouet was already in his advanced years. Nonetheless, the master was still able to produce quality students like Valentin de Boulogne, Pierre Mignard, Nicolas Chaperon and Charles Alphonse du Fresnoy.
Simon Vouet died on June 30, 1649 at the age of 59. He was buried in Paris, France.