Simon Vouet’s Allegory of Prudence is one of the Musée Fabre’s most significant paintings. It is remarkable as much for its formal bravado – its contorted arabesque lines, its statuesque forms, its dramatic lighting effects – as for its historical importance.
Allegory of Prudence was painted for the recently widowed Queen Regent, Anne of Austria, as part of a large commission to decorate the Palais Royal, Paris (1643–1647). The ambitious Regent – at the time the subject of a series of scandals, including a rumour that she had secretly married the powerful, scrupulous Cardinal Jules Mazarin – is depicted as the figure of Prudence, one of the four Cardinal Virtues from classical and religious texts. The beautiful, virtuous Regent is seen untroubled by the effects of the material world, whether the passage of time personified by the old man at her feet or politics and skulduggery, which she is literally above.