Allegories bring big ideas down to earth. Simon Vouet’s painting Wealth gives a grand example of this at work. Baroque painters, such as Vouet, reveled in allegory. They swam in it, like Scrooge McDuck with his pool of gold coins. Vouet flourishes with a sweep of golden fabric across the work’s center – a rich beacon.
Wealth is a woman surrounded with children beside her here. That’s to remind us that it’s not the bejeweled necklaces and chic vases that matter most. True riches lie in bonds of the heart and soul. For instance, with the unconditional love between parent and child depicted here. The woman Wealth drowns in riches. She’s got it on all levels, tangible, emotional, and familial.
That’s why Vouet depicts our lady Wealth’s eyes locked into those of the cherubic child. It’s where her focus lies, in this love rather than her gold. The painter expounds on Wealth’s meaning with this detail at the center of the work. Just in case we miss it, though, Vouet puts another angelic child beside her. This one points to her head as if telling us where to look. Wealth clutches this infant harbinger to her chest. She appreciates this child’s love. Wealth holds the baby close; not the necklaces or golden urn.
Still, her tangible riches make it easier for her to care for others. That familiar phrase “share the wealth” refers to this kind of healthy generosity. Wealth can be generous. She’s got it to give. There’s great joy in this. In fact, the ability to help others may be the greatest gift of all in life. It satisfies more than a Las Vegas buffet. Vouet uses her parental manner to show this. But it applies to all forms of unconditional love and generosity. Often, it’s the giver who actually gets the most out of it.
Wealth = Art & Literature
We all have our choice indulgences. For some it’s chocolate or booze. Others enjoy travel. For Wealth in this painting, “finer things” means art and literature. The urns at her side and imposing pillars behind her signify art. Her eyes may be elsewhere. But she surrounds herself with fine creations. It’s no wonder. Wealth can afford it.
She’s also in the middle of an engrossing book. We know this because Wealth holds her toe poised above this open opus – ready to turn the page. The wonder of reading a fantastic book offers another kind of wealth. It transports us. Vouet offers these symbols for a reason. He wants us to absorb these ideals as what true Wealth means. After all, allegories often illustrate morality and values. Through this work we can see what mattered to either Vouet or this work’s commissioner.
Simon Vouet – Factoids
- Frenchman Simon Vouet was born January 9, 1590.
- He primarily painted in Italianate Baroque style.
- In fact, he introduced this style to the French art world.
- Simon was the most eminent French painter of the 1630s and even into the early 1640s.
- Vouet’s success far eclipsed his artist father’s career.
- The signs were already apparent when Simon was a child. He painted coveted portraits at only 14 years old.
- Vouet painted many beloved religious paintings. This includes the glorious Martyrdom of Saint Eustace.