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  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    St Mary Magdalene; a kneeling woman looking up over her left shoulder, holding a shawl to her eyes with her right hand
    Black and white chalk on light brown paper

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1640-1649
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 260 millimetres
    • Width: 200 millimetres
  • Curator's comments

    This study of a lamenting woman is the first autograph drawing by Vouet to enter the Museum's collection. It probably dates from the 1640s, towards the end of the artist's life, and shows the qualities that are characteristic of his mature draughtsmanship: the monumentality of the female form, and the fine, sculpted folds of drapery which emphasise the figure beneath. When exhibited in Rome in 1991, it could not be firmly linked to any known picture, although it was tentatively related to "The children of Niobe", painted by Vouet in the mid-1640s as part of his decoration of the Hôtel Séguier in Paris, and now known through a print by his son-in-law Michel Dorigny. However, early in 2015 Barbara Brejon de Lavergnée identified the figure as a preparatory study for the weeping Magdalen in a painting of "The Crucifixion". This painting appeared on the French art market in 2000 as by Dorigny (Drouot, Paris, 28 March 2000, lot 58) but Mme Brejon de Lavergnée has since reattributed it to Vouet's studio. The drawing is thus a preliminary study made by the master himself for the guidance of his assistants when they came to execute the painting.

    At the time this drawing was made, Vouet had been the dominant figure in French artistic circles for more than ten years. As First Painter to Louis XIII he ran a busy studio, which received commissions not only from the royal family but also for the townhouses of Parisian financiers and the rising bourgeoisie. He had been familiar with artistic circles since childhood: he had been taught by his father Laurent, who was a minor painter in the service of the court, and Vouet had developed a precocious talent for portraiture. His biographer Félibien records that in 1604, at the age of only fourteen, Vouet was commissioned to paint the portrait of a French noblewoman who had moved to London. In 1611, while still very young, he formed part of the entourage of the French ambassador to Constantinople, where again he was primarily employed as a portraitist. In 1613 he was granted permission to travel to Rome, where he remained, working and studying, for fourteen years. Although he was closely connected with French circles in the city, and was financially supported by a pension from the Crown, he also enjoyed the patronage of Roman connoisseurs and religious bodies, his most notable patron being the erudite Cassiano dal Pozzo. He was closely involved in the artistic community and, according to Baglione, served as 'principe' of the Accademia di San Luca in 1624.

    In 1627, however, Vouet was recalled to France with high honour: Louis XIII appointed him First Painter and gave him lodgings in the Louvre. This was the beginning of a distinguished career that turned away from the portraits of Vouet's earlier days to grand religious, allegorical and history subjects. His Italianate style, initially formed in the circle of Caravaggio's followers in Rome and more fully developed under the influence of Roman and Bolognese Baroque painters, was radically new to French eyes and assured him an immediate success. His influence was assured by the wide circle of his patrons, along with his shrewd dissemination of his compositions through prints made in his own workshop.

    Vouet occupies a very significant position in the development of French art in the 17th century: he stands at a moment of transition between the last remnants of French Mannerism and the glamorous style of official painting which came to epitomise the reign of Louis XIV. He not only introduced a more Italianate flavour to the artistic vocabulary of his contemporaries, but was also responsible for training many of the leading painters of the next generation, most notably Charles Le Brun, who developed his master's style into the dazzling 'grand manière'.



  • Location

    Not on display (French Roy XVIIc)

  • Exhibition history

    1991, Rome, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, "Vouet", no. 64.
    2016, July-Nov, London, BM (G90a), "French Recent Acquisitions" (no catalogue).

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    By descent from Charles Molinier (1845-1910) until sold in 1950s. Purchased by a private collector in Toulouse in 1954, from whom purchased by Antoine Tarantino. Credit line: "Funded by the Ottley Group." This item has an uncertain or incomplete provenance for the years 1933-45. The British Museum welcomes information and assistance in the investigation and clarification of the provenance of all works during that era.

  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


St Mary Magdalene; a kneeling woman looking up over her left shoulder, holding a shawl to her eyes with her right hand<br/>Black and white chalk on light brown paper

St Mary Magdalene; a kneeling woman looking up over her left shoulder, holding a shawl to her eyes with her right hand
Black and white chalk on light brown paper

Image description



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Object reference number: PDO431152

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