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Ingres at the Louvre (Part 2 of 2)

Ionarts Central has temporarily relocated to Paris. This is the conclusion of a review of the Ingres retrospective at the Louvre. Go back to Part 1.

Ingres, Roger délivrant AngéliqueEqually and perhaps more erotic is the central figure of Roger délivrant Angélique: a naked Angelica, the temptress character who literally drives Orlando mad in Ariosto's L'Orlando furioso, bound with handcuffs to a rock and just rescued from a beast by Ruggiero on his hippogriff. In a pose worthy of a bondage scene, her manacled arms are pulled to one side, her head thrown back in anguish, she is not anatomically possible – especially her neck. It was an image that fascinated Ingres, and perhaps some of his patrons: the final version of the painting is shown here with a study for the figure of Angélique, with shorter hair and devoid of jewelry, and a finished version of Angélique, with bejeweled hair that falls down both sides of her body, as in the full version.

Ingres, Les Ambassadeurs d'Agamemnon et des principaux de l'armée grecque, précédés des hérauts, arrivent dans la tente d'Achille pour le prier de combattre, winner of Prix de Rome, 1801There are a few male nudes, too. Ingres certainly appreciated the beauty of the male figure but did not have the same fascination. The painting that won him the Prix de Rome, Les Ambassadeurs d'Agamemnon et des principaux de l'armée grecque, précédés des hérauts, arrivent dans la tente d'Achille pour le prier de combattre (1801), is at the entrance of the exhibit, flanked by two male nudes. Ingres contrasts the rigid male forms of Agamemnon's emissaries with the curving, feminized shapes of Achilles, holding a harp when there is a war going on, and the effete Patrocles, hip thrust out in a sassy S-curve and wearing only a cloak off one shoulder and a kicky helmet. The opposition of male and female seems to be the subtext of the two versions of Œdipe et le sphinx (1825): Oedipus, foot propped on a rock, answers the question of the Sphinx – part woman and part winged lion – while gazing directly at her nipples. Men are always the same.

The portraits are all brilliant but not what leapt out at me as the best. For Ingres, they certainly brought a lot of income and he was good at painting them, but they probably wasted a lot of time, as he himself once admitted. A section of copies of masterpieces made by Ingres brought some illumination to his portrait style. In particular, the lovely portrait of Caroline Rivière – in arm-length gloves with a swan's neck boa wrapped around her – was very similar to the painter's copy of Leonardo's La Belle Ferronière, with her small head and pose. The two portraits of Napoléon made it clear to me why the emperor of France preferred the neoclassical style of David for his main portraits. In the first portrait, as Premier Consul, Ingres shows Napoléon in a red velvet costume, with a very strange and prominent fold right at his crotch, that looked strikingly vaginal. This was the first portrait, prior to those of David, in which Napoléon is shown with his hand inserted between two buttons of his coat. (That vaginal fold does not appear in Ingres's ink sketch study of this subject.) In the second portrait, as emperor, Napoléon is dressed grandly in his imperial ermine: all we really see of him is the pale, pudgy head like that of a kewpie doll. Ingres was living in Rome during most of the tempestuous reign of Napoléon, but he did help the French in Rome prepare for the emperor's visit in 1812.

Ingres, Apotheosis of HomerThe final chapter of Ingres's work is in religious and allegorical painting. In the Oath of Louis XIII, we see the influence of Roman Baroque painting, as the statue of Mary in front of the kneeling king is covered over by a cloud: angels draw back a theatrical curtain to reveal the Virgin and child receiving Louis XIII's offer of crown and scepter. Ingres gives tribute to Raphael's The School of Athens in his Apotheosis of Homer (1827). The Greek poet is seated like Zeus in front of the Parthenon, crowned with laurels by an angel and handed a harp (not unlike the one in the hands of Achilles in his Prix de Rome painting). His students cluster around him in the midground, while in the foreground later writers come to give homage to their illustrious ancestor. On the left, Dante hopes for an autograph, with a copy of his Divine Comedy in his hands and the arm of Virgil lovingly around his shoulders. On the right, Racine and Corneille offer the mask of tragedy, while beneath them Molière is writing something with a wry smile on his face.

Ingres, portrait of Franz LisztIn a series of paintings of the Virgin Mary, the model appears to have been the same woman, perhaps his wife, Madeleine. In the sweet Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Jesus (c. 1839, owned privately in New York), Mary looks down with the joy that every parent feels when looking upon a sleeping baby. Ingres used the same pose in his Virgin with a Blue Veil and the odd Virgin Adoring the Host, where Mary casts the same joyful look upon her son, but this time in the guise of the Eucharistic bread. The theme of parent and child, so wistful for Ingres, appears again in Jésus au milieu des docteurs, in which Mary and Joseph call out from the right side to their precocious son, whose revelatory teaching in the temple has scattered books in Hebrew all over the floor in front of him.

As a musician, I have always loved Ingres for his connections with musicians of his age. In this exhibit, there are several portraits, mostly drawings, of musicians who visited Ingres in Rome: Cherubini, the violinists Paganini and Pierre Baillot, the dashing young Liszt, and a young Charles Gounod, seated at the piano with a score of Mozart's Don Giovanni in front of him. The curators are even displaying, in a case, Ingres's own violin, on loan from the museum in Montauban. Ingres was reportedly a virtuosically gifted violinist who was passionate about music. The fact that he played the violin so well while leading a career as a great painter has inspired the idiomatic French phrase, avoir un violon d'Ingres. As a French grandfather explained to his two adorable granddaughters next to me as we looked at Ingres's violin, it means to have a pasttime that one does well but that is completely unnecessary. With a smile, he added: "You will remember that, won't you?"


Mark Barry said...

Ingre wasn't a bad composer, eh. Charles weren't we supposed to flip for this assignment?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for explaining violon d'Ingres. It has puzzled me for decades. And thanks for the review.