THE GRAND ODALISQUE
THE GRAND ODALISQUE, JEAN-AUGUSTE-DOMINIQUE INGRES, 1814, OIL ON CANVAS, LOUVRE MUSEUM, PARIS, FRANCE
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s nudes represent a shift toward engagement with the sociopolitics of Orientalism, using timeless styles adorned with updated accessories. The Grand Odalisque (1814) draws on Renaissance precedents, but Ingres’s use of color delineates a different sort of narrative surrounding her nudity. Indeed, the odalisque, an exotic harem girl, was a popular subject in 19th-century French paintings.1 Ingres’s Grand Odalisque’s foreign sexuality can be enjoyed from a healthy distance—the props and color within the painting position her as a creature of alien and unknown sexual practices. As Alyce Mahon writes in Eroticism & Art, Ingres’s images of the “Orient” reveal the Western erotic imagination unleashed, while simultaneously “revealing his desire to control matter, from the female body to the very paint he works with, in the name of high art, and at the service of imperialist ideology in a century of extensive colonial expansion, led by France and Britain.”2 The painting thus contains an overwhelming accrual of Western fantasies that position the Near East as the entrance into a set of forbidden sexual possibilities—a dynamic that is, once again, to be enjoyed by men looking down at the female nude.
1. Meghan Dailey, Sarah Valdez, and Jane Harris, Curve: The Female Nude Now. New York: Universe, 2003, 15.
2. Alyce Mahon, Eroticism and Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 43.