National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Muses Urania and Calliope Simon Vouet and Studio
Simon Vouet (painter)
French, 1590 - 1649
The Muses Urania and Calliope, c. 1634
oil on wood
overall: 79.8 x 125 cm (31 7/16 x 49 3/16 in.) framed: 105.4 x 150.2 x 10.2 cm (41 1/2 x 59 1/8 x 4 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
On View
From the Tour: Seventeenth-Century French Painting
Object 8 of 8

Precocious and widely traveled, Vouet already had worked in London, Constantinople, and Venice before reaching Rome in 1614. Louis XIII summoned him back to Paris in 1627 to become chief court artist. Training many French painters, Vouet exercised his power by brashly setting up a rival institution to the royal academy of art.

Resting beside a temple to Apollo, the god of creativity, two muses personify aspects of human knowledge. Urania, the muse of astronomy, wears a diadem of stars and leans against a celestial globe. The patroness of epic poetry and history, Calliope is crowned with gold and holds a volume of Homer's Odyssey. Winged infants or putti carry trophies of achievement - Apollo's laurel wreaths. The viewpoint from below suggests that this work was meant to be installed high up in a wall. The wooden panel probably graced a private library, honoring the goddesses of the arts and sciences.

Simon Vouet's earlier Roman manner differs greatly from the restrained taste he adopted in France. His Saint Jerome and the Angel, painted ten to twelve years before this picture of muses, is also part of the Gallery's collection. His Roman phase, with its vigorous naturalism and dramatic spotlighting -- influenced by Caravaggio -- contrasts with his mature, courtly style that emphasized idealized forms and soft illumination.

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