Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres La Grand Odalisque
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres' 1814 La Grande Odalisque, impossibly curvaceous and with a number of surplus vertebrae, is a seminal distortion of emotion and form, and the meeting point between the Neoclassical and Romantic styles. Having studied under the preeminent French Neoclassicist Jacques-Louis David, Ingres, caught by a spasm of rebelliousness sometime before 1814, broke with the teachings of his renowned tutor and laid the groundwork for Romanticism which would dominate painting for much of the nineteenth century. By focusing on heightening the sensuality and emotional resonance of the female figure rather than conforming to anatomical accuracy, Ingres set the mood for generations of artists to follow.
The viewer's eyes stretches across the body of a naked woman, an 'Odalisque' consigned to a harem in Ottoman Turkey. As such, on the surface Ingres' work is a vision of Orientalism, the taste and fashion for Westernized images of the predominantly Muslim East. But like most artists of his day, the painter knew nothing of the lands to the east. Instead, women's bodies were used as a second canvas upon which to project ideas that, if staged in any other form, might be deemed taboo by his audiences. The Odalisque looks at the viewer with a look that seems both drunk with love and halted in anticipation. Yet Ingres' depiction of this lascivious body, which extends across the width of the table is an abstract one; the left leg juts out irregularly and the spine in much too long. Like the fate of the unfortunate individual that Ingres imagines, the Odalisque is subject to the will of man, in both love and form. The painting has also become the archetypal image illustrating why a transformation of form by the artist is so often linked to the controlling gaze of the male upon his female subject.
Of course, Ingres as a master technical painter, would have intended to create such a warped and anatomically inaccurate representation of his subject. Although later lambasting the assumed 'modernity' of the Romanticist painters, Ingres' La Grande Odalisque stumbled upon creating one of the defining images of the movement. A deft interpretation and mosaic of influences ranging from Titian to Raphael, Ingres' Orientalist icon seems to yearn for a type of liberty beyond the bounds of classical tradition, aiming instead for a world of ingenuity punctuated by the comforts and exotic delights of another imagined the world; the East.
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