La Grande Odalisque is one of the most famous nude paintings. It is a masterpiece of exotic Romanticism.
La Grande Odalisque depicts an “odalisque,” a French term from the Turkish “odalık”. It directly translates as “chambermaid” but refers in the Western tradition to a harem concubine.
These female figures are often presented fully nude in a reclining position in artistic depictions. Nineteenth century French art particularly reveled in the eroticized and sexualized nature of Ottoman concubinage, with Dominique Ingres paintings no exception.
Indeed, later Ingres portrait paintings also depicted “Odalisque” figures. This included l'Odalisque à l'esclave (“Odalisque with Slave”) painted in 1839. In addition, numerous other European painters, from Jules Joseph Lefebvre to Henri Matisse, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Eugene Delacroix, and Francisco Hayez, tackled the theme.
In Ingres’ painting, the woman’s back is incredibly long. Indeed, she has three to five additional vertebrae in her spine. Scholars argue about her exact anatomy, but the curvature of the spine and rotation of the pelvis is impossible to replicate in real life. A conscious decision by Ingres has her left arm painted shorter than the right arm.
Art historians argue Ingres distorted the woman’s body to represent the sexual nature of a concubine. Her pelvis's elongation explicitly draws the viewers’ attention to this area.
The woman’s direct gaze (perhaps looking at someone just entering the room) belies this purely mechanistic interpretation. Instead, it reveals a highly individualized and complex sense of personhood.
Ingres painted La Grande Odalisque at the request of Queen Caroline Murat of Naples. The sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, she commissioned the work in the style of previous “Venus” paintings.
Art historical inspirations included Giorgione’s Dresden Venus and Titian’s Venus of Urbino, depicting reclining nude figures in a highly classical manner.
Despite this, the pose of Ingres’ woman directly references the Portrait of Madame Récamier by Jacques-Louis David. In this portrait, the woman’s body turns away from the viewer while she gazes directly over her shoulder.
In La Grande Odalisque, the woman wears a ruby and pearl-encrusted brooch in her hair and bracelet. The peacock fan and a bejeweled mirror lying face-down on the bed reinforce symbols of affluence. The sumptuous damasks and satins also present an opulent, decadent scene.
The portrait's title, the turban, and the hookah pipe (visible on the right-hand side of the composition) demonstrate the contemporary French fascination with Eastern societies.
Contemporaries were shocked by La Grande Odalisque, not for the erotic subject matter, but the break from Neo-Classical styles. On its initial display at the 1819 Paris Salon, critics derided Ingres as an artistic “rebel”.
In the portrait, Ingres takes inspiration from Mannerism, which promoted elongated and stylized forms over classical realism.
Ingres uses her body's long, flowing lines to convey romantic sensuality. The use of bright and even light tones down the realism of a body in space.
The woman’s small head, as well as her long arms and legs, directly reference Mannerist distortions. Indeed, one critic angrily remarked the woman had neither “bones nor muscle”.
The work currently hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Enjoy the exotic beauty of Jean Auguste-Dominque Ingres reproduction oil paintings. La Grande Odalisque painting is available in our online catalog of famous nude paintings.
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