A winner of the Prix de Rome in 1704, Jean Raoux became famous for his depictions of Vestal Virgins. These paintings described the virtues of chastity and maidenhood, an image he often contrasted with that of the modern bourgeois women, whose excesses and narcissism were at odds with moral virtue. Raoux’s reputation became such that the philosopher Voltaire described him as the equal of the great Dutch painter Rembrandt.
Dido and Aeneas suggests Raoux’s interest in Rembrandt and other Northern European painters. Note the attention paid to particular surfaces, especially the exquisite rendering of the satin (an effect for which Raoux was well known), and its broad range of lights and darks. These influences are distilled with Raoux’s observations of Italian painting, made while resident in Rome, where he studied and copied the finest moments of classical antiquity and Renaissance painting. The scene itself, a moment from Virgil’s account of the fateful love of Dido, the Queen of Carthage, and the founder of Rome, Aeneas, is rendered in terms closer to everyday life than classical antiquity.