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The Grande Odalisqe

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The Grande Odalisque painted in 1884, drew many criticisms.

There were complaints about the lifelessness of the subject, the fact that she has three vertebrae too many. It illustrates the rather strange mixture of Ingres’s artistic allegiances.

His subject, the reclining nude figure, is traditional, going back to Giorgione and Titian; but by converting her into an odalisque, an inhabitant of a Turkish harem, he makes a strong concession to the contemporary Romantic taste for the exotic. Ingres treats the figure in his own “sculpturesque” style: polished surfaces and simple rounded volumes controlled by rhythmically flowing contours. The smoothness of the planes of the body is complemented by the broken, busy shapes of the drapery. His admiration for Raphael is shown in the borrowing of that master’s type of female head and headdress, and an inclination of the head, as it can bee seen in Raphael’s Madonna of the Chair. But Ingres is drawing not only from the High Renaissance, for his figures languid pose and her proportions (small head, elongated limbs) betray his debt to such Mannerists as Parmigianino, as does the generally cool colour scheme.

Often Criticized for not being a colourist, Ingres in fact, had a superb colour sense. It is true that he did not seem to think of his paintings primarily in terms of colour, as did Delacroix, but he did far more than simply tint his drawings for emphasis. In this painting Ingres creates colour and tonal relationships so tasteful and subtle as to render them unforgettable.

Never insisting on likeness for its own sake, Ingres rarly fails to produce a striking characterization and, analogously to the smooth, formal treatment he gives his nudes, never fails to impart to both characterization and setting an air of suave elegance.

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