Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Portrait of a Young Woman as a Vestal Virgin

Artist:
François Hubert Drouais (French, Paris 1727–1775 Paris)
Date:
1767
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
31 1/2 x 24 7/8 in. (80 x 63.2 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. William M. Haupt, from the collection of Mrs. James B. Haggin, 1965
Accession Number:
65.242.2
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 613
It was not uncommon to depict portrait sitters in the guise of a vestal virgin: many young women were shown in this guise when they were about to marry. The vestals were Roman guardians of the hearth and house who were chosen for their youth and purity; hence the presence of what might have been a table but is instead a brazier. The gold-trimmed robe is not contemporary dress but a costume, and the way in which the young woman lifts the veil is quite typical for the subject.
This portrait is first recorded in 1923, when it was sold as one of a pair, with a Portrait of Monsieur de la Hache which measures 31 3/4 by 25 3/8 inches and is signed and dated "Drouais 1769." The presumed pendant (private collection), which is two years later in date, shows a gentleman at half-length with his arms crossed and wearing a powdered wig, a watered silk coat and waistcoat, and fine lace. A curtain and bookcase comprise the background.

Several artists, notably Jean Raoux (1677–1734) and Jean Marc Nattier (1685–1766), had depicted portrait sitters in the guise of a vestal virgin, including several of the royal princesses, who were unmarried, and others who sat, as may be presumed in the present case, when they were about to marry. The vestals were Roman guardians of the hearth and house who were chosen for their youth and purity; hence the presence of what might have been a table but is instead a brazier. The gold-trimmed robe does not constitute contemporary dress but is instead a costume, and the way in which the young woman lifts the veil is quite typical for the subject.

[Katharine Baetjer 2011]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left, on altar): Drouais, 1767.
Mlle de Caters, Paris (until 1923, as Portrait of Madame de la Hache as a Vestale; sold to Wildenstein); [Wildenstein, Paris and New York, 1923–25; sold to Haggin]; Mrs. James B. Haggin, New York (1925–d. 1965); her sister, Mrs. William M. Haupt, New York (1965)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Eighteenth-Century Woman," December 12, 1981–September 5, 1982, unnumbered cat. (p. 52).

Hamburger Kunsthalle. "Europa 1789: Aufklärung, Verklärung, Verfall," September 15–November 19, 1989, no. 216.

P[eter]. Th[urmann]. in Europa 1789: Aufklärung, Verklärung, Verfall. Exh. cat., Hamburger Kunsthalle. Cologne, 1989, pp. 202–3, no. 216, ill.



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