la grand odalisque
The painting was commissioned by Napoleon’s sister, Queen Caroline Murat of Naples,  and finished in 1814.  Ingres drew upon works such as Dresden Venus by Giorgione, and Titian’s Venus of Urbino as inspiration for his reclining nude figure, though the actual pose of a reclining figure looking back over her shoulder is directly drawn from the 1800 Portrait of Madame Récamier by Jacques-Louis David.
Ingres portrays a concubine in languid pose as seen from behind with distorted proportions. The small head, elongated limbs, and cool color scheme all reveal influences from Mannerists such as Parmigianino,  whose Madonna with the Long Neck was also famous for anatomical distortion.
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. La Grande Odalisque. 1814. Oil on canvas, 91 x 162 cm. Louvre Museum Paris.
Astrid Kerchman is currently a second year student of the Research Master Gender Studies at Utrecht University. She is also MOED’s research intern. Her interests focus around the intersections of decolonial thinking, deconstructing “Western” discourses and modes of thinking, activism and (visual) art.
Ingres repeated the Oriental setting in his harem picture, The Turkish Bath (1862, Louvre), which contained far more nudity than Manet’s Olympia (1863, Musee d’Orsay) of the following year, but which – unlike Manet’s painfully real composition – was deemed to be perfectly acceptable owing to its fantasy setting.
Portrait of Monsieur Bertin (1832) by J.A.D. Ingres.
In the mind of an early 19th century French male viewer, the sort of person for whom this image was made, the odalisque would have conjured up not just a harem slave, itself a misconception, but a set of fears and desires linked to the long history of aggression between Christian Europe and Islamic Asia. Indeed, Ingres’ porcelain sexuality is made acceptable even to an increasingly prudish French culture because of the subject’s distance.
Figure 1. La Grande Odalisque
La Grande Odalisque,
Ingres transposed the theme of the mythological nude, whose long tradition went back to the Renaissance, to an imaginary Orient. This work, his most famous nude, was commissioned by Caroline Murat, Napoleon’s sister and the queen of Naples. Here, Ingres painted a nude with long, sinuous lines bearing little resemblance to anatomical reality, but rendered the details and texture of the fabrics with sharp precision. This work drew fierce criticism when it was displayed at the Salon of 1819.