Tag Archives: Ingres

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres: Mademoiselle Rivière

6 Oct

I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no Melancholy.”


Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière, 1806

By the time this portrait of Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière was finished, she had already ceased to be. Some say it was soon after the portrait was finished, but nonetheless Mademoiselle Caroline was of tender age when this portrait was painted, just blooming into womanhood; in her white muslin gown she reminds me of a tender white autumnal rose killed by the first frost. Her youth, paleness and delicacy would have surely inspired Edgar Allan Poe to write his tales of death and romance. Caroline’s eyes are dark and clear and she is gazing directly at us. But still a certain shyness has coloured her cheeks in a soft pink shade. Her slightly elongated neck looks swan-like. Her figure stands out sharply against the serene landscape behind her, painted in muted tones. Even though the landscape shows nature in spring, the gentle greenness show the awakening of nature, Caroline herself possesses the eerie calmness and stillness of a winter landscape of frost and whiteness. The river in the landscape is meandering steadily and the flow of water can remind us of the flow of time and transience. The thinness and fragility of her white muslin gown, easy to tear and easy to decay in the grave, are contrasted with the strong mustard yellow colour of her gloves and the sensuous white fur. All this is suggestive of Caroline, whom the young painter called “the ravishing daughter”, blooming like a flower into womanhood, and yet this solemn coldness around her speaks of other things. And can we blame Ingres’ for being so captivated with Caroline? The painter was in his early twenties and why should he not feats his eyes on this delicate object of his painting. Caroline’s paleness and stillness of her pose is reminiscent of some older portraits, such as Parmigianino’s painting “Portrait of a Young Woman” (“Antea”) and this “Gothic”; slightly static and elongated portrayal of Caroline’s figure has also drawn comparisons to the art of Jan van Eyck and also to Piero di Cosimo’s portrait of Simonetta Vespucci who is painted with a snake wrapped around her. In the age of Neo-Classicism, the young Ingres received negative criticism for this style because Gothic revival wasn’t in style yet, but looking from our perspective today we know that this was just the beginning of Ingres’ success in the world of portraits.

Paolo and Francesca: The Passion of Lovers is for Death

15 Nov

“The passion of lovers is for death said she
Licked her lips
And turned to feather”

(Bauhaus, The Passion of Lovers)

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Gianciotto Discovers Paolo and Francesca, 1819


It is easy to envelop the distant, mythical past in many veils of dreams and poetry. Romantics loved romanticising and the subject of doomed thirteen century lovers which charmingly unites the themes of love and death, was a perfect fuel for the artists’ fantasies from Ingres all up to now probably. Even the embraced couple, carved in splendid white marble, in Auguste Rodin’s sculpture “The Kiss” shows Paolo and Francesco, though the title of the work wouldn’t reveal it instantly. Different artists chose to portray different moment in Paolo and Francesca’s doomed love life; some portrayed them as innocent love bird sharing a coy kiss or two, others painted them in the moment of their deaths, and some focused on their buzzing afterlife in Inferno.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres is considered a Classicist and still elements of Romanticism, both stylistically and thematically, often pop up in his work; from the vibrant exoticism of his harem ladies and dark archaic touch of the Northern art in some of his portraits, to his portrayal of Medieval lovers caught in their forbidden earthly love. In his painting from 1819, he presented the two lovers enjoying each others company in a small elongated chamber the walls of which are covered in wood panels which makes the room resemble a box, perhaps suggesting the oppressive environment of their household. Francesca is painted in archaic robes and resembles a character from a painting of Northern Renaissance. Paolo, in his tights and a sword, is kissing her cheek as she turns her oval face away from him. As the old saying goes: “Two is a company, three is none”; the seeming peace of their love is interrupted by a figure in the background. It’s Giovanni, slowly drawing the curtain away only to see a shocking sight. The scene all together resembles a theatre scene and the narrative aspect is very strong, Ingres is leading us thought the story with little details and gestures. The very moment Giovanni is about to raise his sword, Francesca’s book is caught in its fall to the ground.

William Dyce, Francesca da Rimini, 1837

Francesca was born in 1255 in Ravenna, her father was the lord of Ravenna; an Italian town on the Adriatic coast with a strong Byzantine influence, and the last place to be the centre of Western Roman Empire in the fifth century. Around the age of twenty she married Giovanni Malatesta, the wealthy yet crippled lord of Rimini, sometimes also known as “Gianciotto” or “Giovanni the Lame”. Similarly to the story of Tristan and Isolde, Francesca wasn’t in love with Giovanni, it was just an arranged marriage after all, but her eyes soon took notice of Giovanni dashing younger brother Paolo. Gaze turned into a conversation, and words into kisses and caresses… Paolo was also married, and yet the two managed to keep their love a secret for ten years. William Dyce portrayed the couple as sitting on a balcony; Francesca is reading a book while Paolo is rushing to kiss her. Behind them is a serene verdant landscape, the moon shines in the right corner, and next to Francesca’s feet is an instrument, I am guessing, a lute which might add a sensuous touch to the scene. The scene is all together a bit too sentimental. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, hailing from Italy himself and an ardent admirer of Dante’s poetry and his life, envisaged the scene differently. In his watercolour, he portrays the couple as sitting in a chamber; pink roses are blooming, fresh air is coming in through the window, and, distracted from whatever they were reading, the couple share a passionate kiss. The book, half on his lap and half on hers, is about to fall down on the thorns of some more pink roses.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Paolo and Francesca da Rimini, 1867, watercolour


The secret kisses turned out to be not so secret after all, for one day, around 1285, Giovanni caught them off guard, in Francesca’s bedroom. His blood fueled from rage and jealousy, and without much thinking Giovanni yielded the sword and deprived them both of life. Well, unfortunately, it wasn’t so dramatic in reality. What really happened was that Giovanni had heard some rumours about his wife cheating on him, and he rushed to her chamber. Francesca let him in because she was certain that Paolo had managed to escape through the window, but what she didn’t know was the he got stuck. Giovanni then tried to kill his brother, but Francesca tried to defend him, and was killed instead. Giovanni then proceeded to kill Paolo as well. Later they were buried in a single tomb; how devastatingly romantic is that!?

Alexandre Cabanel, The death of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, 1870

Alexandre Cabanel was a French Academic painter and the way he envisaged the scene of Paolo and Francesca’s death is very theatrical. They are both dressed in splendid clothes, their pale faces are full of pathos, their gestures tell a story of their agony. Francesca is lying on something which looks more like a sarcophagus than a bed, and the ornamental marble floor further emphases the mood of coldness and death. Meanwhile, Giovanni is checking behind the curtain one more time to be sure they are indeed dead. Previati portrayed the scene of their death in a very dramatic way, using an elongated canvas and focusing on the figures themselves and not so much on the interior. Our eyes are focused on the bodies and the agony and pain of their sudden death. The painting is striking; there is still a sword in Paolo’s back, and his arm is limp, and Francesca’s hand is on her chest while her mouth are still slightly open as if she’s still catching her breath.

Gaetano Previati, Paolo e Francesca, ca. 1887

Wind of Passion

Death is no the end, as Nick Cave says in one of his songs. Almost a thousand years had passed from their deaths, but Paolo and Francesca are still embraced and carried away by the wind of passion. It is almost hard to imagine that before their eternity of damnation they were of mortal flesh just as we are now. Dante shows both disapproval of their life choices and a sympathy when he finally meets them in Inferno. I am thinking: wow, what a way to spend eternity! Being carried by the wind, safe in the arms of the one you love. Sounds like heaven, not hell.

George Frederic Watts, Paolo et Francesca, 1872-75

When Dante met Paolo and Francesca in Hell, this is what he said:

And I began: “Thine agonies, Francesca,
Sad and compassionate to weeping make me.
But tell me, at the time of those sweet sighs,
By what and in what manner Love conceded,
That you should know your dubious desires?”

And Francesca responds:

And she to me: “There is no greater sorrow
Than to be mindful of the happy time
In misery, and that thy Teacher knows.
But, if to recognise the earliest root
Of love in us thou hast so great desire,
I will do even as he who weeps and speaks.
One day we reading were for our delight
Of Launcelot, how Love did him enthral.
Alone we were and without any fear.
Full many a time our eyes together drew
That reading, and drove the colour from our faces;
But one point only was it that o’ercame us.
When as we read of the much-longed-for smile
Being by such a noble lover kissed,
This one, who ne’er from me shall be divided,
Kissed me upon the mouth all palpitating.

William Blake, The Lovers’ Whirlwind, Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, 1824-27

Grande Odalisque – Ingres

21 Jun

Shards, oh shards
The androgyny fails
Odalisque by Ingres…” (Manic Street Preachers – Pretension/Repulsion)

1814. Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres1814 Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Odalisque was a tremendously popular subject in the history of art, from Francois Boucher to Henri Matisse, but the most memorable and the most fascinating rendition of the odalisque is certainly the one J.A.D. Ingres painted in 1814.

Ingres was a Neoclassical painter, and his style changed very little throughout his career. His favourite subject was quite unsurprisingly the female nude, and his fascination with the Orient was not a secret. Ingres was fascinated by the exotic world of the Near East (‘Proche-Orient’) and in 1814, aged thirty-four, he chose to convey his two fascinations on the canvas. A work that he created, ‘Grande Odalisque’, remains his most memorable and most controversial painting.

Painting ‘Grande Odalisque’ shows an Odalisque, a concubine in a Turkish harem, or more precisely – a concubine in the household of the Ottoman sultan. Odalisque was suppose to be a very beautiful woman, specially trained to dance and sing, and, unlike the Russian Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna who ‘wasn’t born to amuse the Tsarz‘ as Pushkin wrote it, an Odalisque was indeed born to amuse the Sultan. ‘In the Ottoman Empire, concubines encountered the sultan only once, unless she was especially skilled in dance, singing, or the sexual arts, thus gaining his attention.

1814. Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, detail 3

Ingres painted his Odalisque lying on a divan, offering herself, echoing the pose of David’s portrait of Madame Recamier painted in 1800. Unlike later Odalisque paintings by Matisse, or even Eugene Delacroix, Ingres’ Odalisque seems quite modest, turning her back, and rewarding the viewer only with a glance. Her face appears cold and aloof, radiating disinterest. Reserved and refined, she is a stark contrast to subsequent Odalisque paintings. Compared to Matisse’s Odalisques, painted in vibrant colours, plump and sensual, spreading their legs, dressed in colourful and inaccurate garments, or Delacroix’s vivid Odalisque lacking formality, coldness and restraint that were of vital importance to Neoclassical style, and therefor valued by Ingres.

1814. Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, detail 4

Her body was a source of fascination throughout the centuries as it is too elongated and idealised. For Ingres, long lines symbolised sensuality and with a few corrections her wanted to portray a pure beauty on canvas. This infamous elongation and the small head evoke the spirit of Mannerism. It is also interesting to note how perfect her skin tone is – Ingres adored thin, almost invisible and perfect brushstrokes and he was disgusted by heavy or visible brushstrokes; he never gave up his Neoclassical ideals.

Grande Odalisque‘ gives us a very good insight into Ingres’ style and its main characteristics such as precise and refined lines, masterly handling of lines, light and shadow, and a limited use of colours. Ingres was very proficient in drawing, and he considered colour to be just a useless accessory. Even in this painting, a limited use of colour is evident; there’s an interesting contrast between blue and yellow, but that’s all there is. He said: ‘Drawing is the probity of art. To draw does not mean simply to reproduce contours; drawing does not consist merely of line: drawing is also expression, the inner form, the plane, modeling. See what remains after that.

1814. Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, detail 2

Ingres painted in Davidian style and considered himself a ‘…conservator of good doctrine, and not an innovator‘. He disliked all the dramatic and flamboyant qualities of Romanticism, but nevertheless chose an exotic subject for his painting, thus making a shift towards Romanticism in art. ‘Nature and exotic landscapes’ was one of the four main areas of interest in Romanticism, and it’s not surprising that Ingres wanted to capture that sensual, colourful and exotic world of Orient on canvas.

In painting, Ingres was somewhat influenced by what he had read. Although his reading list was slightly limited (Homer, Virgil, Dante), a female writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu prompted his fascination with Odalisques. Lady Montagu is today remembered for her letters from Turkey which are described as ‘the very first example of a secular work by a woman about the Muslim Orient‘.

So, this painting is a love child of Neoclassicism and Romanticism. Baudelaire described Ingres as a painter of “profound sensual delights.”

Odalisque - Henri GervexOdalisque – Henri Gervex

1857. Eugène Delacroix - Odalisque1857 Eugène Delacroix – Odalisque

1839. Odalisque with a Slave, is an orientalist painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres1842 Odalisque with a Slave – Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

1845. Odalisque by Natale Schiavoni1845 Odalisque by Natale Schiavoni

1870s Odalisque - Lord Frederick LeightonOdalisque – Lord Frederick Leighton

Henri Adrien Tanoux (French painter,1865-1923)  –  L’ OdalisqueHenri Adrien tTanoux – L’Odalisque

1920s Odalisque with Red Pants by Henri Matisse1920s Odalisque with Red Pants by Henri Matisse

1923. Henri Matisse - Odalisque with Raised Arms1923. Henri Matisse – Odalisque with Raised Arms

1925. Odalisque in Red Trousers - Henri Matisse1925. Odalisque in Red Trousers – Henri Matisse

1928. Henri Matisse drawing the model Zita as odalisque in his third-floor apartment and studio in Nice1928. Henri Matisse drawing the model Zita as odalisque in his third-floor apartment and studio in Nice