The treatment of this painting is comparable to a number of Vouet's paintings dating to his Italian period. The young artist arrived in Rome in 1614, where he became part of the Caravaggist movement along with Northern European artists such as Gerard van Honthorst. The contrast between light and shade used to articulate the face of the model here is reminiscent of Vouet's early painting of the Swordsman, today in the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Brunswick - a work which also blurs the line between portrait and character study.1 And the mouth, slightly ajar, is an evocative device that Vouet had already employed in works such as the Portrait of a young man, in the Galleria Pallavicini, Rome,2 as well as his own head-and-shoulders Self-Portrait, now in the Musée Réattu, Arles, believed to date to the last years of the second decade, just before the artist travelled to Genoa.3
Vouet is recorded in Genoa in 1621, where he painted his David with the head of Goliath, today in the Palazzo Bianco, Genoa, perhaps his most overtly Caravaggesque work (fig. 1).4 David is depicted half-length, his right arm, shoulder and chest bare, drapery covering the rest of his torso, as he holds the head of the giant in his left hand and glances over his right shoulder, his mouth just slightly open and his expression a sophisticated mixture of apprehension and assurance. The analogies with the present painting are clear, to the extent that it is even possible to speculate as to whether the models may be one and the same. Similarly pertinent is Vouet's Bust of Saint John the Baptist, in a private collection, Milan, in which the subject turns his head to look over his bared right shoulder, the eyes again directed to the side, the mouth slack (fig. 2).5 The present work clearly belongs to this same moment, which sees Vouet delighting in the development of his own ideas following his assimilation of Caravaggio's legacy.
1 See J. Thuillier (ed.), Vouet, exh. cat., Paris 1990, pp. 193-94, cat. no. 7, reproduced in colour p. 194.
2 See B. Nicholson, Caravaggism in Europe, Turin 1990, vol. II, reproduced fig. 734.
3 See Thuillier 1990, p. 202, cat. no. 10, reproduced in colour p. 203.
4 See Thuillier 1990, p. 204, cat. no. 11, reproduced in colour p. 205.
5 See Nicholson 1990, vol. II, reproduced fig. 740.
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