Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- The woman in this painting is portrayed as a vestal virgin. She was most likely a royal courtier of King Louis XV of France.
- This is a rococo painting. Rococo was a popular art style in France during the 18th century.
- Jean-Marc Nattier was a French painter. He is known for his portraits of the women of Louis XV’s court.
The vestal virgins were a group of six women who were chosen as young girls by the chief priest of the ancient Roman religion. The vestal virgins were required to be freeborn (not born into slavery) and have respectable parents who were still alive. They also had to be physically and mentally healthy.
This painted portrait is an example of the rococo style that began in France in the 1730s. Rococo paintings are especially decorative and theatrical. Fun and romance were common themes in rococo art. This art style is often associated with European aristocracy.
French artist Jean-Marc Nattier is best known for his portraits of nobility and royalty. He was one of the leading portrait artists under the reign of Louis XV of France. Nattier often portrayed the women of Louis XV’s court as goddesses or other mythological figures. He was skilled at making his subjects look both idealized and like individuals.
Nattier showed Portrait of a Lady as a Vestal Virgin at the Salon of 1759. The Salon was the official annual art exhibition of France. The identity of the woman in the painting is unknown. People who saw this painting at Nattier’s exhibition would have likely recognized her as a French courtier.
Resources for Teachers
- Read an article that explains the concept of a vestal virgin.
- Read an article about King Louis XV of France.
- Watch a video about two works of 18th-century French portraiture.
Resources for Students