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Simon Vouet and Marc-Antoine Charpentier

November 19th, 2010

During his decade as master of music for the Jesuit church of St. Louis, Charpentier would have become very familiar with the magnificent altar of the church, which echoed the three level structure of the church’s façade. Five exquisite paintings adorned the altar, three by Simon Vouet (1590-1649,) an artist whose career in many ways followed a similar course to that which Charpentier’s would take a generation later. (An interactive reproduction of the altar can be viewed here.)

Simon Vouet, Self Portrait (ca. 1626-1627)

Vouet’s paintings–The Presentation in the Temple, the Apotheosis of St. Louis and a depiction of the Virgin mourning Christ’s suffering on the Cross–were all gifts to the new Jesuit church from Cardinal Richelieu upon it’s completion in 1641.

Like Charpentier, Vouet spent his formative years in Italy, mostly in Rome, where his patrons included the Barberini family, Cassiano dal Pozzo, Paolo Giordano Orsini and Vincenzo Giustiniani, He also received a pension from Louis XIII summoned to return to Paris in 1627. Upon returning to France, Vouet was made peintre de Roi and adapted his very Italian style, influenced by Caravaggio Carracci, and Reni, to the grand decorative designs of Cardinal Richelieu. This melding of Italian style and French taste parceled the role that Charpentier would later play in fusing French and Italian musical styles.

Vouet enjoyed more prestige and success during his lifetime but like Charpentier his posthumous reputation was initially overshadowed and it was only in the 20th century that his contribution to French Baroque art has been fully appreciated. William R. Crelly published a monograph and catalogue in the 1960s and there have been several important exhibitions devoted to his work in the years since the quadracentenary of his birth in 1990.

The gallery below includes the five paintings that graced the altar of L’Eglise Saint Louis during Charpentier’s tenure (those that survive are no longer in the church): the three Vouet paintings along with a depiction of Christ delivering the souls in Purgatory by Philippe de Champaigne and Resurrection of Christ by Claude Vignon.

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