We are grateful to Dominique Jacquot, who, on the basis of a photograph, has confirmed the attribution (private communication, 16 October 2008).
Son of the obscure artist Laurent Vouet, Simon Vouet was born in Paris in 1590. He was in England at the age of fourteen and in Constantinople between 1611 and 1612. His career then divides neatly into two periods: the Italian (1612-27) and the French (1627-49). Although he worked in Genoa and Venice, and visited Milan, Parma, Bologna and Florence, he became a major figure in the French colony in Rome, along with Valentin, Tournier and Vignon. His career was closely followed in France and he was granted a pension by the King. In Rome his success is measured by the fact that he was elected president of the Academy of Saint Luke in 1624 and commissioned to paint a fresco in St. Peter's the following year.
Recalled by the King to Paris in 1627, in November he became premier peintre du roi at a time when new fortunes were being made in France and a revival in construction meant that he was employed by the King on numerous projects that were to include executing cartoons of scenes from the Old Testament for tapestries that remain in the Louvre, as well as paintings for the other royal residences of Château Neuf de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Fontainebleau and the Palais Royal. In addition he worked for many private patrons, attracted not least by his pictures' highly lyrical and decorative qualities, and of course for religious congregations and orders. The work of his last two decades combines a sense of monumental format, often (as here) using a di sotto in sù viewpoint with a strongly coloured and consistent palette, displaying rich and fluent brushwork. This elegant, late composition by Vouet was until recently known only from the engraving of it (in the reverse sense) by his pupil, Michel Dorigny. The engraving is dated 1649 and was the last executed by Dorigny (and the only one that year) after a picture by Vouet, while the latter was still alive. The engraving had not however been printed by Vouet's death: in his inventaire après décès, the plate is listed under the title Petite Vierge dans un paysage, demy feuille, with the note non encore imprimé. Vouet's popularity at his death remained extremely high, and there continued to be great demand for prints after his work. François Tortebat and Dorigny requested and won the continuation of the royal privilege which had been granted their father-in-law to occupy his appartements in the Louvre and to continue working in his style (see J. Thullier, B. Brejon de Lavergnée and D. Lavalle, Vouet, exhibition catalogue, Grand Palais, Paris, 1990-1, pp. 142-3, and fig. 1).