Louis Vallée took his subject from Giovanni Battista Guarini's late sixteenth-century tragicomedy Il Pastor Fido, a pastoral play that glorified arcadian life and had far-ranging effects on the art and literature of France, Flanders, and the Netherlands. Its extremely intricate plot focuses on the love between the faithful shepherd Mirtillo and the nymph Amarillis, who is betrothed to Silvio by paternal arrangement. This scene is from the play’s subplot, which concentrates on the love of the nymph Dorinda for Silvio, who cares only for the hunt and is oblivious to her feelings. After one of Silvio’s arrows accidentally wounds Dorinda, she crawls out from the bushes where she had been hiding in her animal-skin disguise and falls into the arms of her guardian, Linco. Silvio, distraught and finally realizing his own love for Dorinda, offers her the arrow so that she can exact revenge by taking his life in return. Dorinda, whose wound is only superficial, wisely rejects his emotional offer so that all ends well. The two lovers are married before sunset that very day.
Silvio with the Wounded Dorinda is an excellent example of Dutch classicism as it developed in Amsterdam around mid-century. History paintings such as this work were greatly admired and avidly collected by Amsterdam patricians. Almost nothing is known about the life of the artist Louis Vallée. Unfortunately, the first and only document that refers specifically to him is the register that records his burial in Amsterdam’s Oude Kerk on May 28, 1653.
Louis Vallée drew this subject from Giovanni Battista Guarini’s late sixteenth-century tragicomedy Il Pastor Fido, a pastoral play that glorified arcadian life and had far-ranging effects in art and literature in France, Flanders, and the Netherlands.
W. W. Greg, Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama (London, 1906), 196–200. See also Alison McNeil Kettering, The Dutch Arcadia: Pastoral Art and Its Audience in the Golden Age (Totowa, NJ, 1983), 107–113; Peter van der Ploeg and Carola Vermeeren, Princely Patrons: The Collection of Frederick Henry of Orange and Amalia of Solms in The Hague (The Hague, 1997), 216–225.
Vallée emphasizes the emotional drama unfolding between Silvio and the wounded Dorinda, rather than the play’s broader narrative sweep, by filling the picture plane of this large canvas with the three protagonists. Dorinda, dressed in a classicizing manner with a red satin skirt, white blouse, and strand of pearls in her hair, reclines sensuously in the arms of Linco, her pale skin amply exposed to reveal the bloody wound in her breast. The wolf skin that served as her ill-fated disguise is beneath and behind her, while Silvio’s gold and black quiver of arrows and polished hunting horn lie abandoned next to her recumbent body. With a loving gaze, Silvio leans forward and offers the fateful arrow, its tip still wet with her blood, to Dorinda so that she can exact revenge by plunging it into Silvio’s chest. In Guarini's text, Silvio says:
Behold with bended knees I show thee rev’rence.
O grant me pardon, and deny me life!
Behold my arrows, and my bow I give;
Ah do not wound, but spare these eyes, these hands,
Which were the guilty ministers because
By an unguilty will they were directed.
Here strike my breast, that enemy to love,
Foe to all tenderness, this cruel heart
Which was so harsh to thee. My breast is open.
The Faithful Shepherd: A Translation of Guarini's “Il Pastor Fido,” trans. Thomas Sheridan, ed. Robert Hogan and Edward A. Nickerson (Newark, DE, 1989), 143.
Dorinda, whose wound is superficial, wisely rejects Silvio’s offer, all the while giving him a sidelong glance as though gauging the sincerity of his intentions. In its emotional and pictorial impact, Vallée’s interpretation of the scene is in keeping with the character of the tragicomedy. As Guarini defined it, tragicomedy is “the mingling of tragic and comic pleasure, which does not allow hearers to fall into excessive tragic melancholy or comic relaxation.”
As quoted in the introduction to The Faithful Shepherd: A Translation of Guarini's “Il Pastor Fido,” trans. Thomas Sheridan, ed. Robert Hogan and Edward A. Nickerson (Newark, DE, 1989).
The most important visual prototype for Vallée was a painting of the same subject that
It raises the question, for example, as to whether Louis Vallée was related to Simon de la Vallée, a French architect who worked for Prince Frederik Hendrik between 1633 and 1637, a connection that could have provided the painter with access to the palace of Honselaarsdijk. Maarten Wurfbain, in a letter to Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., May 8, 2003, suggested that, like Saftleven’s Il Pastor Fido cycle, Vallée’s painting may have been intended for an architectural setting. Its dimensions are roughly those of the Golden Section, a ratio often used for paintings in architectural settings.
Silvio with the Wounded Dorinda is one of only a handful of paintings attributed to Vallée, most of which are portraits.
See Maarten Wurfbain, M. L. Wurfbain Fine Art B.V., IV (Oegstgeest, 1992), 185. He attributes Portrait of a Child to Louis Vallée.
For Dutch classicism of this period see Albert Blankert, Dutch Classicism in Seventeenth-Century Painting (Rotterdam, 1999).
See Maarten Wurfbain, M. L. Wurfbain Fine Art B.V., IV (Oegstgeest, 1992), 186–187.
The Amsterdam painter Jacob Backer (1608–1651) apparently influenced Vallée, as he did Van den Tempel, and it is possible that Vallée studied with this older master. Backer’s mature history paintings, such as his Cimon and Iphigenia, c. 1640
See Peter van den Brink, “De schilder en Tekenaar Jacob Adriaensz. Backer,” in Peter van den Brink and Jaap van der Veen, Jacob Backer (1608/9–1651) (Zwolle, 2008), 54–55. In this same exhibition catalog is a drawing of a young man holding an arrow (no. 43) from the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt (inv. no. 15227) that depicts, in reverse, the young man who posed for Silvio in Vallée’s painting. The similarities in pose and facial features raise the question as to whether this drawing is by Vallée rather than by Backer, to whom it has been traditionally attributed.
This painting was offered to the National Gallery of Art as a work by Jacob Backer. It had previously been attributed to Jacob van Loo; see Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, 6 vols. (Landau, 1983), 6:3731, 3983, no. 2373.
When Wouter Kloek examined the painting in 1996 the signature had been interpreted as reading “Loiy.. V…./f. 65[1?].” Kloek connected these letters with Vallée’s signature illustrated in “Louis Vallée: The Man with Only Three Paintings to His Credit,” in Clifford Duits, ed., Duits Quarterly 1, no. 4 (1964): 16.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
lower right to left of arrow sheaf: Loiy[s] Vallee. / f 65[1?]
(Alex Wengraf, London), by 1983; purchased 1990 by by Patricia Bauman and the Honorable John Landrum Bryant, Washington, D.C.; gift 2000 to NGA.
The painting is on a medium-weight, plain-weave fabric, which has been lined. The tacking margins are extant, but the painting has been reduced in size along the left edge, where approximately 1.5 cm of the pictorial surface has been folded over to serve as part of the tacking edge. The support is covered by a thin red ground layer; the paint is fluid and layered with extensive glazes. The artist used the ground as a base tonality in the flesh colors, sky, and landscape. The X-radiographs show a change in Dorinda’s proper right foot, and examination with infrared reflectography at 1.5 – 2.0 microns indicates that the artist originally painted Silvio’s proper left ring finger outstretched and touching the arrow.
The painting is in fairly good condition, though there is a pattern of wrinkles through the paint probably caused by a past lining procedure. The X-radiographs show a tear through the left side of Dorinda’s chest, as well as one through the shepherd’s head. In addition to paint losses associated with the tears, small losses exist in the upper right corner, scattered in the drapery just below Silvio’s shoulder, in his proper right hand, and along the edges of the composition. Examination with ultraviolet light reveals a fair amount of inpainting covering abrasion in the sky; the shepherd’s head; Dorinda’s face, shoulder, chest, and drapery; and Silvio’s face and drapery. The signature and date are abraded.
 Infrared reflectography was performed using a Kodak 310-21X PtSi camera.
- Sumowski, Werner. Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler in vier Bänden. 6 vols. Landau, 1983: 6:3731, no. 2373, repro., as Silvio und die verwundete Dorinda by Jacob van Loo.
- Brink, Peter van den. "Uitmuntend schilder in het groot: De schilder en tekenaar Jacob Adriaensz Backer (1608/9-1651)." In Jacob Backer (1608/9-1651). Edited by Peter van den Brink and Jaap van der Veen. Exh. cat. Museum Het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam; Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen. Zwolle, 2008: 54-55, repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "Wouter Kloek and the Attribution of Louis Vallée’s 'Silvio with the Wounded Dorinda'." The Rijksmuseum Bulletin 58, no. 2 (2010): 173-177, repro.
- Arcadian scenes
- artist +Herman Saftleven + influence of
- desire +symbolical representation of concept
- reciprocal love
- unrequited love
- historical person +Giovanni Batista Guarini + author critic