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  • Dedication of a New Vestal Virgin

    Artist:
    Marchesini, Alessandro. 1664-1738
    Technique:
    oil
    Dimensions:
    118x169 cm

Marchesini, Alessandro. 1664-1738

Dedication of a New Vestal Virgin

Italy, First quarter of the 18th century

The official cult of the goddess Vesta (Greek Hestia), patron of the hearth and fire, was, according to legend, introduced to Rome by Numa Pompilius, King of Rome (in fact a mythical stereotype), and certainly it continued to exist into the 4th century AD. An eternal flame burned in the Temple of Vesta, and from here fire was taken to new settlements. It was considered a harbinger of doom for the fire to go out and thus the flame was tended by the priestesses or handmaidens of the goddess, known as Vestal Virgins. They were selected from among girls aged between 6 and 10 years old, from noble families, and they served for 30 years, throughout which time they had to remain chaste. Marchesini shows a new Vestal Virgin being dedicated to the goddess in the Temple of Vesta. Above the sacrificial altar, around which the priestesses have gathered, the virgin goddess Diana is seated on a cloud. Invisibly present in the temple, she looks down benignly on the initiation. To the right is a group of girls with candles in their hands preparing for the ceremony. The interior of the temple is suffused in gloom and crowded with many figures, and yet the composition retains its clarity. Whilst the artist idealised the images of the Vestal Virgins and the attendant Romans, he nonetheless employed a variety of poses and the movements of his figures seem smooth and natural. This painting was listed in earlier Hermitage catalogues as The Kingdom of Purity.

School:

Title:

Dedication of a New Vestal Virgin

Place:

Material:

Technique:

oil

Dimensions:

118x169 cm

Acquisition date:

Entered the Hermitage in 1930; transferred from the Stroganov Palace Museum collection

Inventory Number:

ГЭ-6376

Category:

Collection:

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