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Portrait of a Lady as a Vestal Virgin (work of art)

Artwork Info

45 1/2 x 53 1/2 inches (115.6 x 135.9 centimeters)


Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina

Object Number
European French
European to 1910

Key Ideas about this Work of Art

  • The woman in this painting is portrayed as a vestal virgin. Vestal virgins were chosen in their youth by the chief priest of the ancient Roman religion. The vestal virgins were required to be freeborn (not born into slavery) and born of respectable parents who were still alive. They also had to be physically and mentally healthy. 
  • Rococo was a French art style of the 18th century that was especially decorative and theatrical. Fun and romance were common themes of this style. Rococo is often associated with European aristocracy.
  • Jean-Marc Nattier was known for his portraits of nobility and royalty. He was one of the leading portrait artists under the reign of Louis XV of France. He painted mostly women and was known for his ability to make his subjects look both idealized and like individuals.

Learn More

In Nattier’s lavish painting, a woman plays the role of a vestal virgin, a young, celibate priestess in ancient Rome. Nattier exhibited this painting at the Salon of 1759, and while the sitter’s identity is unknown today, Salon-goers would have likely recognized the woman as a particular French courtier. 

Due to his ability to both idealize and individualize his sitters, Nattier rose to fame as a portraitist to the French nobility. His paintings of court ladies combined classical elements with the latest fashions to reinforce eighteenth-century constructions of womanhood that celebrated feminine charm and allure above all else. 

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  • An oil painting of a seated woman wearing a white dress, a blue robe, and a headscarf with a floral crown. A large column and two women wearing similar dresses are depicted in the background.

    Portrait of a Lady as a Vestal Virgin