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European Paintings - French

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Saint Cecilia

circa 1626
17th century
134.1 cm x 98.2 cm (52 13/16 in. x 38 11/16 in.)

Simon Vouet (Paris, France, 1590 - 1649, Paris, France) Primary

Object Type: painting
Artist Nationality: Europe, French
Medium and Support: Oil on canvas
Credit Line: Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Suida-Manning Collection, 2017
Accession Number: 2017.1434

Cecilia, the patron saint of music and musicians, sits in front of a small organ. Clothed in a lush silk dress and a brocaded mantle, she gracefully turns to the two cherubs that appear to her. Soft golden light bathes the figure and the background, infusing the scene with heavenly atmosphere.

Cecilia was a Christian martyr who lived in third-century Rome. She took a vow of virginity, and on her wedding night, she converted her groom Valerian, who in turn guided his brother Tiburtius to the Christian faith. Their beliefs were soon discovered by the authorities, which led to their martyrdom. Cecilia has been represented with a musical instrument since the fourteenth century, although her connection to music is tenuous at best. According to "The Golden Legend," the saint heard celestial music when she was praying to God to preserve her virginity. She sang, “Let my heart and my body be undefiled, O Lord, that I may not be confounded.”

Depictions of female saints in rapture were popular in Rome in the 1620s. It is possible that Simon Vouet used his wife, the painter Virginia da Vezzo, as the model for the saint figure. They married in Rome in 1626, just before they left for France to serve King Louis XIII.

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