Joseph-Marie Vien presented this sketch in a six-part submission for pre-selection for the 1743 Prix de Rome. Based on the unresolved nature of the paintings, it was a surprise to many that Vien was deemed eligible for competition and eventually won the prize. While this was reflective of the declining state of the Prix, with its unfashionable privileging of history painting at the expense of the pastorals and allegories that had become fashionable, the award was prophetic. Vien would become France’s most highly awarded painter and its leading teacher, and one of the earliest exponents of the Neo-classical style.
The subject of Vien’s painting suggests something of this historical context. Joshua, a disciple of Moses and his successor, leads the Israelite invasion of Canaan and the Promised Land. During a final, fraught battle for the town of Gibeon, Joshua prays for extended daylight so as to assure what would become a great victory.