odalisque painting ingres
For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).
The painting includes several typical devices used by Ingres. Notice, for example, the lack of illusionary depth in the picture which focuses attention on the figure. She herself is, as usual, created with long, sinuous lines, while her skin is bathed in a diffused soft light, with none of the exaggerated chiaroscuro championed by Caravaggio (1573-1610) and his supporters. And as usual, the artist demonstrates his exceptional skill in rendering the different fabrics and surfaces, as well as the fine details of the turban, fan and curtains.
Stemming from the initial criticism the painting received, the figure in Grande Odalisque is thought to be drawn with “two or three vertebrae too many.”   Critics at the time believed the elongations to be errors on the part of Ingres, but recent studies show the elongations to have been deliberate distortions.  Measurements taken on the proportions of real women showed that Ingres’s figure was drawn with a curvature of the spine and rotation of the pelvis impossible to replicate.  It also showed the left arm of the odalisque is shorter than the right. The study concluded that the figure was longer by five instead of two or three vertebrae and that the excess affected the lengths of the pelvis and lower back instead of merely the lumbar region. 
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.
After describing The Source by Ingres I decided to write a new post about a work by Ingres to make its meaning clear and to describe it, even though the magic of this painting remains, and like me, you could continue to imagine the story of this woman.
In front of a beautiful woman such as the Grande Odalisque by Ingres I can’t help wondering who she is and why an artist decided to paint her giving her immortality.
© 2005 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier
La Grande Odalisque
A favorite subject of Ingres was the female nude. He loved to imaginatively enhance the female form as he considered it ideal. Often this meant strong anatomical distortions. La Grande Odalisque, one of his most well known nudes, is a fine display of such achievements. His use of color, lighting and the tone he evokes is unique, combined on the canvas in a way only Ingres could make successful.