Tag Archives: Louvre

My Own Private Odalisque

"La Grande Odalisque," Ingres, 1814, Public Domain

“La Grande Odalisque,” Ingres, 1814, Public Domain

I have a special fondness for a particular painting in the Louvre Museum in Paris: “La Grande Odalisque,” painted by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres in 1814.  The original painting was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister, Queen Caroline Murat of Naples. (Early Popes invented “nepotism,” installing their nephews as Cardinals.  But Napoleon I took nepotism many steps further, installing family members on thrones all over Europe during the ten-year period when he was Emperor).

There is something a little off-kilter about this image.  Scientific analysis provided the reason, shortly after the painting first appeared in public: too much backbone. The painter Ingres defied all the known laws of anatomy and classical beauty in order to create a romanticized exotic image from an imagined Sultan’s harem. In order to enhance the sensuous curves of the woman’s body, Ingres painted this lady with at least five extra vertebrae. I guess she is alluring, if a little disconcerting. If you ask me, she looks quite a bit like a weasel.

Photo by Keven Law, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike2.0

Photo by Keven Law, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike2.0

I prefer my own Odalisque, a lady I rescued from a garage sale one fall afternoon.


The artist who painted this very good copy was one M. Feste, signed in red in the corner. The copy shows just the Odalisque’s head and shoulder. I found her canvas leaning against a wall, in danger of being stepped on. My private Odalisque doesn’t suffer the indignity of having a ridiculously elongated backside. Now she just gazes calmly back over her shoulder at anyone entering my bathroom, confident in her exotic beauty.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!




Nurturing Genius

One of my most unforgettable sights in a museum was a young child crouched on the floor of the Musee Picasso in Paris.  As her mother waited nearby, the little girl moved from one Picasso painting to another, intently drawing in a notebook. She was oblivious to anything around her, and people respectfully stood back to let her work.  What she was doing WAS work, not play.  Was she a budding genius, or just a kid going through a stage, as kids will?  Hard to tell, but I applaud her mom for patiently spending the day letting this child pursue her passion.


In his essay on Gianlorenzo Bernini, Simon Schama describes what happened when Bernini’s father, a sculptor himself, took the boy to visit the Pope:

Brought before the Borghese Pope Paul V, the eight-year-old did a shrewdly ingratiating lightning sketch of Saint Paul “with free bold strokes” that moved the astonished Pope to hope that he was looking at the next Michelangelo. To nurture his talent, Paul V appointed Cardinal Maffeo Barberini to watch over the young Bernini and shape his education.

Years of what all sculptors had to do – study and draw from classical models – followed. Even boy wonders had to learn the rules.


Art education is not just for boy wonders.  It’s for all of us. Imagine being a child lucky enough to take art classes at the Louvre!  It happens every day, there and at other centers of art.


And every day, in every great museum, aspiring artists old and young set up their easels in front of masterpieces, in order to learn from the masters. This artist is copying The Peasant Wedding, painted in 1567 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.  It’s in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.


We all have just a little touch of genius inside us. Maybe I’d better get out my own easel and paints today!

The Musee Picasso, located in a 17th century mansion in the Marais district, is under renovation.  Its long-anticipated reopening is in summer of 2013.

Join me next time for more adventures exploring the art and history of Europe.