Ingres, Jean-Auguste-Dominique

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INGRES, JEAN-AUGUSTE-DOMINIQUE (1780–1867), French painter.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres inherited the mantle of Jacques Louis David (1748–1825) and remained the apostle of neoclassicism for half a century, despite fundamental antagonisms with the Academy and inconsistencies in his work and tastes. In the twentieth century, Ingres's linear forms, with their anatomical and spatial distortions, made him an acclaimed precursor of modernism.

Born in Montauban, a small town north of Toulouse, the son of an artisan and musician, Ingres came to Paris and entered David's studio in 1797. The linear surface patterns and flattened spaces of his early works owe much to the 1793 outline drawings for the Iliad by British artist John Flaxman (1755–1826) and to the broader interest among David's students in archaic periods considered primitive and anticlassical. At the Salon of 1806, critics decried the hard, cold light akin to "moonbeams" and the "Gothic" character of Ingres's exhibited works, including the monumental Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne and the three portraits of the Rivière Family. In 1819 the same invective was used for the Grande Odalisque, whose extra lumbar vertebrae, taken as a sign of the artist's prescient abstraction in the twentieth century, were then merely seen as evidence of faulty drawing. The more modeled, neo-Renaissance forms that define much of Ingres's later production first appear in his altar-piece The Vow of Louis XIII. Exhibited at the Salon of 1824, The Vow suited the political agenda of the restored Bourbon monarchy and, in the wake of the deaths of David and his most talented pupils—Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy (1767–1824), Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1774–1833), and Baron Antoine Jean Gros (1771–1835)—Ingres became the undisputed head of the neoclassical school and the symbol of a distinctly national art. Due in part to the uneven critical reception of his work in Paris, however, Ingres spent much of his life in Italy (1806–1820 in Rome, as a pensionnaire at the French Academy until 1811; 1820–1824 in Florence; 1834–1841 in Rome, as the Director of the French Academy). He married twice, to Madeleine Chapelle (1782–1849) in 1813 and to Delphine Ramel (1808–1887) in 1852.

A consummate draftsman, Ingres first supported himself in Italy by drawing portraits. But the process of drawing was integral to the conception, execution, and replication of his painted work. The range of his practice—from isolated motifs as small as an ear to compositional studies, from the most summary sketches to works of the utmost finish, from tracings after his own works to copies after engravings—and the sheer number of works produced—he bequeathed four thousand drawings alone to the museum in Montauban that bears his name—signals its importance. Yet during his lifetime the artist's insistence that he was a history painter was categorical.

The Apotheosis of Homer (1827), commissioned as a ceiling painting for the Louvre, is a zealous exercise in codifying Ingres's vision of history as it devolves from the blind poet at the center of the composition, the personifications of the Iliad and the Odyssey at his feet, and the throng of hierarchically arranged figures who pay homage, none of whom lived beyond the seventeenth century. A drawing of Homer Deified (1864–1865) updates the assembly to include David to the right of the outstretched arm of Nicholas Poussin (1594–1665) and a self-portrait—as a young servant peeking out from behind a new altar directly below the similar pedestal upon which Homer sits. Ingres's self-representation belies both his production and reputation as a painter of nudes and portraits, which, together with his drawings, secured his reputation as a modernist. Twentieth-century scholarship questioned the persistent myths about Ingres, illuminating the inconsistencies between his stated positions and his practice.

While the purity of his drawing and the finish of his oils are inconceivable without the training received in David's atelier, Ingres's incessant pre-occupation with the individual motif worked against unified compositions; the parts are rarely, if ever, subordinated to the whole (see, for example, the unfinished commission for The Golden Age, 1839–1849). Interpretations of his preoccupation with repetition—reworking motifs and remaking entire compositions—extend from his avowed "pursuit of perfection" to an aesthetic of

the shop window. If the emphasis on detail and the attention to historical accuracy that characterize his production lend support to this industrial model, it is the late work that best exemplifies it. The polychromed backgrounds (executed under the artist's direction by his students) of Odalisque with Slave (1839) and Antiochus and Stratonice (1840) recall both archaeological studies and pattern books; among his society portraits, Madame Moitessier, Seated (1856) is remarkable for its upto-the-minute fashion augmented by a sumptuous display of luxury goods.

The wide range of sources, styles, and even spatial arrangements—ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and French history up to his own time—complicate Ingres's stated allegiances to Phidias (c. 500–432 b.c.e.) and to his beloved Raphael (1483–1520). The fresco-like Romulus, Conqueror of Acron (1812); the combination of Raphaelesque ideal and seventeenth-century costume in The Vow; the hierarchical arrangement of homèrides as if in bas-relief against the Ionic hexastyle temple in The Apotheosis; or the High Renaissance figures and arching space in Christ Among the Doctors (1862) bespeak a concern for period style as much as for changing conditions of patronage. Ingres's practice also blurs distinctions between history and other genres. With its references to the Phidian colossus of Zeus at Olympia and to the figure of God the Father from Jan Van Eyck's late Gothic Ghent altarpiece (among the Napoleonic spoils on exhibition in Paris from 1799–1816), Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne is as much history painting as portraiture. So is Madame Moitessier, Seated, whose grandiose pose evokes Arcadia from the Roman fresco Herakles Finding His Son Telephos. The small scale and suggestive eroticism of Antiochus and Stratonice turn history into historical genre, in spite of Ingres's reliance on literary sources (Plutarch [46–120 c.e.]), classical statuary (the pose of Stratonice is that of the Roman statue Pudicity), and debates about ancient polychromy in the 1830s.

Perhaps the most influential legacy of Ingres's tendency to eroticize classicism is found in the female nude, whose serpentine forms lack skeletal structure, joints, and musculature. Ingres's anatomical and spatial distortions have come down to us most visibly in the work of Henri Matisse (1869–1954) and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) but they have also engendered a critique of modernist production that deforms female bodies and naturalizes a male heterosexual maker and viewer. If Achilles Receiving the Ambassadors of Agamemnon, for which Ingres won the Prix de Rome in 1801, pictures the homosocial world so prominent in the work of David and his school in the 1790s, it is Ingres's subsequent, almost exclusively female nudes—The Bather of Valpinçon (1808), The Great Odalisque (1814), Odalisque with Slave (1839), The Source (1856), and The Turkish Bath (1862) among them—that transform conceptions of the genre for the next two centuries. Expanding the paradigms of connoisseurship, biography, and psychobiography, Ingres scholarship around the turn of the twenty-first century has turned its attention to patronage, identification, and desire in female as well as male viewers, and modernity and mass production, enriching our understanding of Ingres's complicated legacy in the process.

See alsoDavid, Jacques-Louis; Painting.


Condon, Patricia, with Marjorie Cohn and Agnes Mongan. Ingres In Pursuit of Perfection: The Art of J.-A.-D. Ingres. Louisville, Ky., 1983.

Ockman, Carol. Ingres's Eroticized Bodies: Retracing the Serpentine Line. New Haven, Conn., 1995.

Rifkin, Adrian. Ingres Then, and Now. London, 2000.

Rosenblum, Robert. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. London, 1967. Reprint, New York, 1990.

Siegfried, Susan, and Adrian Rifkin, eds. Fingering Ingres. Oxford, U.K., 2001.

Carol Ockman