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A Vestal Virgin

British (English) School

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

1800 - 1899

Materials

Oil on panel

Measurements

413 x 349 mm (16 1/4 x 13 3/4 in)

Order this image

Collection

A La Ronde, Devon (Accredited Museum)

On show at

A La Ronde, Devon, South West, National Trust

NT 1313475

Caption

A vestal virgin was a Roman priestess of the temple of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth and home. They maintained the scared fire which needed to be kept burning perpetually. They collected clean water, prepared food used in rituals and cared for objects in the temple's sanctuary. Here, wearing pure white robes and veil, a vestal virgin is seen pouring oil from a gold jug into an urn. They were sworn to chastity and the punishment for breaking the vow would be being buried alive. They had certain privileges, like being able to own their own property, make wills and vote, when other women could not, and were entrusted with legal matters. Given that in the will of Mary Parminter, one of the creators of A la Ronde, it stipulates that only unmarried kinswomen should inherit the property, this is an appropriate painting to be found in the collection.

Summary

Oil painting on panel, A Vestal Virgin, British (English) School, 18th century. An image of a young woman wearing a long white dress with a thin, white coat over and a chaplet of round white discs holding a long white veil onto her head. She stands, turned slightly towards a metal urn on a circular plinth to her left. She holds a small gold jug in her right hand from which she pours oil, or possibly water, into the urn which glows orange, releasing smoke, presumably incense, into the air. The woman holds the left side of her coat in her left hand. The event takes place in a shallow space against a dark background and the figure is probably located within a darkened interior. Roman vestal virgin tasks included the maintenance of the fire sacred to Vesta, the goddess of the hearth and home, collecting water from a sacred spring, preparation of food used in rituals and caring for sacred objects in the temple's sanctuary. Their sacred fire was treated, in Imperial times, as the emperor's household fire.

Provenance

Bought by Mrs Tudor's son, Simon/Jonathon;bought from Mrs Tudor Perkins, 1990

Credit line

A la Ronde, The Parminter Collection (National Trust)

Makers and roles

British (English) School, artist

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