Urgent Museum Notice

Madame de Saint-Huberty in the Role of Dido

Close up of Madame de Saint-Huberty in the Role of Dido

Realistic painting of a light-skinned woman with elaborately-coiffed medium-brown hair, gazing at the viewer, wearing a classic white silk dress and red draped cape with gold embellishments, gesturing dramatically with one hand over her heart and the other extended outward.

Anne Vallayer-Coster, Madame de Saint-Huberty in the Role of Dido, 1785; Oil on canvas, 57 3/8 x 40 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Madame de Saint-Huberty in the Role of Dido
Anne Vallayer-Coster

Trained by her father, a goldsmith and tapestry designer to the French king, Anne Vallayer-Coster gained renown for her still-life paintings, but also painted portraits of members of the royal family and other luminaries.

Her depiction of Madame de Saint-Huberty in the Role of Dido reveals her deep knowledge of her famous sitter. In 1783, Anne-Antoinette Clavel (known as Saint-Huberty, 1756-1812) performed the leading role in Niccolò Piccinni’s opera Didon. According to Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-LeBrun, who portrayed Saint-Huberty in a pastel of 1780, “Mme Saint-Huberti not only possessed a superb voice but was also a truly great actress.”

Positioned against a grisaille rendering of an architectural arch and reliefs, Huberty is shown singing the verse: “Ah que je fus bien inspirée/ Quand je vous reçus dans ma Cour!” (Oh, how inspired I was when I received you in my court).

In her choice of subject (the opera derives from Virgil’s Aeneid) and use of compositional elements that draw inspiration from ancient architecture, Vallayer-Coster embraced the tenets of Neoclassicism.

Artwork Details

  • Artist

    Anne Vallayer-Coster
  • Title

    Madame de Saint-Huberty in the Role of Dido
  • Date

    1785
  • Medium

    Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions

    57 3/8 x 40 in.
  • Donor Credit

    Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay
  • On Display

    No