The Vestal Virgins were priestesses dedicated to Vesta, the Roman goddess of hearth and home. Their job was to keep the altar fire in their temple continually burning. François Lemoyne depicts a lovely young Vestal looking skyward in pious devotion as she tends the fire. The painting was meant to be installed high above a doorway, which explains the low vantage point and loose handling. In France, Lemoyne was one of the most important history painters of his generation, serving as first painter to King Louis XV. The fierce rivalries at court proved too stressful for the artist, however, and he committed suicide at the peak of his career.
Credit Line: Text courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (CC BY 3.0).