Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was an incredible neo-classical artist who was known for many types of work including highly detailed portraits like Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne from 1806. Showing Napoleon on a throne, Ingres depicted him as an all-powerful being in sumptuous clothing, or in other words, a divine ruler. The painting is exquisite with incredible detailing, similar to Northern Renaissance painters like Jan Van Eyck. Even Napoleon’s pose is similar to that of ‘The Almighty’ figure in Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece. And while today it is seen as an incredible work of art, in Ingres’ day, it was not well received. Today, this masterpiece can be seen at the Musée de l’Armée, Hôtel des Invalides, in Paris.
Ingres split his time between France and Italy throughout his career, and it was in Italy where he painted this next work titled The Valpinçon Bather. Painted during his time spent at the French Academy in Rome, this work starts to break away from artistic tradition at the time, as it has an overall exotic tone to it. It features a nude women sitting down with her back to the viewer. Her face is hidden from view, leaving spectators to wonder what she looks like and what she is feeling. This is often referred as Ingres’ ‘first great nude,’ providing inspiration for further works. Also located in Paris, this painting can be seen at the Louvre.
Also painted while in Rome, Jupiter and Thetis of 1811 depicts a mythological subject taken from Homer’s Illiad. He captures the moment in the story when Thetis pleads with the mighty Jupiter to help her son Achilles, who was fighting in the Trojan War. It is an emotional piece as viewers can see the anguish on Thetis’ face and the position of her curvaceous body, throwing herself at the stoic Jupiter who sits on his throne staring directly out at the viewer. While an emotional subject matter, Ingres still manages to imbue the work with eroticism, as Thetis’ partially nude body is slightly draped on Jupiter’s. This is located at the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence.
No doubt Ingres’ most famous nude, La Grande Odalisque, which is on view at the Louvre, is a beautiful work of a woman laying upon luxurious fabrics atop a divan, and like The Valpinçon Bather, she is also seen from the back. While her manneristic body is not anatomically correct with its long, curved lines and impossible position – reasons why it was not well received when shown at the Salon – Ingres managed to create a sensual work of art. Viewers will see more of his interest in Orientalism in this work with touches like her head scarf.
Inspired by the works of Renaissance master Raphael, Ingres also painted religious works like The Vow of Louis XIII. Shown at the 1824 Salon, this painting was an instant success, unlike the above work, due to it subject. Commissioned by the Cathedral of Montauban, where it still resides to this day, the painting is a celebration of the moment when the church and state united. The work shows Louis XIII kneeling and looking up to the heavens where the Virgin Mary and Child are looking down listening to Louis’ vow. It was this work that turned Ingres into a celebrated artist in France.
Antiochus and Stratonice was a commissioned work for Prince Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans, who wanted the piece to go along with a Delaroche work he had acquired. It was commissioned in 1834, but Ingres did not complete it until 1840 while back in Rome. The classical scene depicted comes from Plutarch’s Life of Demetrius, in which Antiochus falls in love with his stepmother, Stratonice. Of course, he can’t follow through with his feelings and falls ill because of it. When the doctor figures it out, he tells the boy’s father who allows his wife to be with his son. A popular subject at the time, Ingres produced several other versions, including a sketch located at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
The Portrait of the Princesse de Broglie was Ingres’ final commission. Depicting Pauline de Broglie, the work was the idea of her husband Albert de Broglie. Sitting in her home, the Princesse de Broglie is dressed in a lavish blue satin dress adorned with delicate white lace. Wearing ornamental jewelry – earrings, a necklace, bracelets and rings – this work is, once again, a testament to Ingres’ breathtaking technical abilities for painting something, or someone, with incredible realistic qualities. The sitter died at the young age of 35, leaving behind her husband and five children, and the painting remained in the family until the mid-20th century. Today, it is in the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
While this work was completed after the above portrait, it was commissioned before, in 1844. Ingres had no desire to paint Madame Moitessier, as he believed portraits were not as important as history paintings; however, he changed his mind upon meeting her, seeing as she was a beautiful woman. It’s a good thing he decided to paint her as this is often referred to as his best portrait, which was finally completed in 1856. Madame Moitessier is seated and wearing a gorgeous floral gown – in fashion at the time – and adorned with jewelry. A mirror is placed behind her, showing the viewer her reflection. The colors are vivid, and the detail, as always, is incredible, adding a photo realistic quality to the painting. See this one in person at the National Gallery in London.
There is a 36-year span from when Ingres began this work to when he finished it. Started in 1820 while in Florence, Ingres did not put the final touches on this piece until he was well into his 70s in 1856. La Source, or The Spring, features a standing nymph whose body is very sculptural, reminiscent of classical statues – very much important to the Neoclassicists. She is holding a pitcher, resting on shoulder, which is upside down and out of which water flows. At her feet, on both sides, are some flowers, and Ingres’ signature can be seen on a rock on the bottom left corner. There is no doubt that is one of his most famous works. It’s on view at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Brimming with eroticism, The Turkish Bath is a voyeuristic scene in every sense. When admiring this circular scene, the viewer might feel as though they are looking through a peephole of some sort, as women are going about their business not realizing they are being watched. Relaxing in an Oriental-inspired interior space, the nude women are partaking in a variety of activities from chatting with one another to falling asleep to playing music. A painting in which Ingres could experiment with the female form in a variety of poses, it was also a work that brought his love of the Orient and nudes together in one spectacular scene. Art lovers can find The Turkish Bath at the Louvre.