While the painting drew acid criticism when first shown in 1814 ("She has three vertebre too many," "No bone, no muscle, no life"), Ingres's Grande Odalisque seems to sum up the painter's artistic intentions. Ingres treats the figure in his own "sculpturesque stlye" -- polished surfaces and simple rounded volumes controlled by rhythmically flowing contours. The smoothness of the planes of the body is complemented by the broken, busy shapes of the drapery. His subject, the reclining nude figure, is traditional enough and goes back to Giogione and Titian but by converting the figure to an odalisque (a member of a Turkish harem), Ingres made a strong concession to the comtemporary Romantic taste for the exotic. The work also shows his admiration for Raphael in his borrowing of that master's type of female head ,(Madonna of the Chair) but Ingres did not only draw from the period of High Renaissance. His figure's languid pose, her proportions (small head and elongated limbs), and the generally cool color scheme also reveal his debt to such Mannerists, as Parmagianino. Often criticized for not being a colorist, Ingres in fact had a superb color sense. It is true that he did not seem to think of his paintings primarily in the terms of their color as did Delacroix, but he did far more than simply tint his drawings for emphasis, as recommended by the Academy. In his best paintings, Ingres created color and tonal relationships so tasteful and subtle as to render them unforgettable.


Lometa. "Artists and Art in the Classroom" Tucson, Arizona.
1994. (Lecture presented at St Joseph's Catholic School.)

Justus, Kevin. "Art and Culture II." Tucson , Arizona.
1992. (Lecture presented at Pima Community College.)

De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

For future reference the image may viewed at

Mark Harden:

Ingres' Grande Odalisque is one of, if not the most important paintings in art history.

It hangs in a gallery at the Louvre museum. If you haven't had the chance of going there, know that it is a huge sunlit room which itself is only a section of one of the most frequented corridors of the museum. On the side walls hang huge, famous, beautiful paintings by the likes of David, Delacroix or Géricault. Even though I'd already read about it, I had never seen the Odalisque other than thumbnails on glossy paper. I was admiring those gigantic paintings, and recounting to a friend the true story behind Liberty Leading the People and why it spent King Louis-Philippe's reign hidden in the Louvre's basement (let's just say it's no coincidence that it now hangs next to the Raft of the Medusa).

After about fifteen minutes admiring each painting I prepared to walk out, and on the wall that separated this room from the next, between doorways. It was so absurd that this painting should hang at the end of a room between doorways that I laughed out loud. I explained to my friend that this was what I loved about the Louvre. Wander 'round, find a masterpiece in a corner with people walking by it. The painting is beautiful. The odalisque's skin tone and curves give her an ethereal, oriental beauty. I never tire looking at it.

"But why is the painting so important?" you ask. Maybe you are fed up with this GTKY tripe about my museum wanderings, and I understand. Try this experiment. Fetch a picture of the painting on the Internet, and try to match the odalisque's position. You don't have to be naked. Can you match the odalisque's back's curve? Try hard. No? No matter how hard you try you won't be able to end up in the same position because, as Lometa pointed out, the odalisque has three extra vertebrae. Her right breast has been moved too, so it ends up in that space between her chest and her arm. It was no mistake on Ingres' part, all painters have to know their anatomy: he didn't just draw a longer back, he added three vertebrae under her flesh, and painted her.

What this means is that he painted something voluntarily unrealistic because it looked better. For the first time an artist put his aesthetic goal before realistic representation, he built his own reality for his work. This is what the impressionists would do, this is what opened the way for Monet and Picasso. Most people and even art history scholars overlook it, but there is truly a before and after La Grande Odalisque. And it's not just painting either: Ingres understood the great principle of all art, which is that it should never try to imitate the world outside, but rather the artist's own world. You're not looking at a window into the world, you're looking at it through the artist's eyes. Borrowing his soul.


TheLady points out that the Odalisque wasn't the first time a voluntarily unrealistic piece was made. Of course not, all 'primitive' art, and Medieval art didn't try to be realistic, but it remains that the dogma of Western post-quattrocento art was realism. Artists have always used things like composition and style to convey ideas, thank God, but Ingres was the first to be boldly unrealistic, and to break with that overwhelming tradition.

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