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Saint Louis enlevé au ciel

Simon Vouet

(1590 - 1649) | 803.21

Date : 1642-43 | Medium : Oil on canvas

This Apotheosis of Saint Louis has had a turbulent history. Originally, around 1642-43, it was associated with the famous Presentation at the Temple by the same painter, a masterpiece housed in The Louvre. It towered above it at the heart of an immense, 16-metre-high altarpiece in the church of Saint-Louis-des-Jésuites, the professed house of the Jesuits in Paris. The Jesuits had asked Simon Vouet to decorate what was to be one of the richest high altars in the capital.

But in 1763 the altar was broken up and during the confiscations of the Revolution the Apotheosis was mixed up with various other pieces that were falsely attributed to Vouet. After that, when it was sent to Rouen along with 17 other works in 1803, the painting sank into oblivion. It was not until 1966, thanks to the assistance of Pierre Rosenberg, that the Apotheosis of Saint Louis was cleaned and recognised.

However, there was another reason why this work was forgotten – when it was painted it attracted a great deal of criticism. Between 1640 and 1642, Nicolas Poussin was in Paris at the request of Louis XIII, and he took over from Vouet as the fashionable painter. As the king himself remarked at the time: ‘Vouet has been caught out’. Some decades later, Paris historian Sauvel recalled that ‘The Assumption of Saint Louis...was thought by some people to be an assumption of the Virgin because the saint looked so feminine’!

But today let us dare to approach this work without prejudice. Along with Jacques Thuiller, let us see ‘its luminosity; the wonderful idea of the globe formed by the group of the saint and the two angels and crossed by the robe with the fleur de lys; the effect of movement produced by the curves (rather than by diagonals), all giving this apotheosis a special place among the many that were painted at that time.’