Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More Ingres distortion

Above is an Ingre painted in 1811. The subject Jupiter and Thetis is taken from Homers Illiad. Thetis a nymph ( I love those!) begs Jupiter to spare the life of her son, Achilles, who is fighting in the Trojan war. The painting was done in 1811 and shown at the Academy to poor reviews. His stylized form was unacceptable to the critics and Ingres kept the painting until 1834 when the French Government bought it. The painting is immense, over eleven feet high. Below is a closeup of Thetis.

Notice how Ingres has flattened the figure into a cameo. Thetis is a bas relief only a couple of inches thick. This is a deliberate distortion in imitation of ancient Greek decorations such as those on the Parthenon. Below is our John Flaxman cameoware plate. It has the same stylization.

Below is a Grecian coin from about 450 BC. The Greeks represented an idealized nose often in their work, the line of the nose is the same as the brow, the two are continuous. Compare that to Ingres head of Thetis and you will see where he got that. The low relief of the Thetis figure is also like the coin.

Thetis's elongated and tubular arm reaching across the lap of Jupiter is sexually suggestive in it's positioning and Ingres has reduced all of the anatomy to the minimum. Everything within the outline of the figure is almost ignored. His intention is, like I showed you in the drawings last week, to keep the thing as linear as possible. Ingres is again subordinating nearly everything to his line. He believes that line is beautiful, so he is presenting the picture in line, a convention. Below is a portrait showing his capability of rendering in a more conventional manner.

Ingres is able to juxtapose insanely tightly painted passages with Strange flattening of form to give a very convincing yet unreal image. There is an interplay between those two opposites, it is so real yet so strangely distorted.That helps the viewer understand that we are not in a real world here, this is not two actors posing on a stage, but a story being told about mysterious gods in Mt. Olympus. Think about how unconvincing the cinematic scenes of the gods were in those sword and sandal epics the Italians produced in the early 1960's. Too much realism weakens a story like this one. It needs to be both real and unreal.

I hope I haven't bored you too tears with all of this on Ingres stylistic conventions. It interests me and I can't see over the footlights to see if it interests you too. I think that it is important in that it shows the abstract qualities that existed in painting even in the early 19th century. Many modern theorists would assert that abstraction and distortion appeared in painting only as a reaction to photography. They gave argued that the photograph replaced the role of the artist and painting had to shift to new ground to justify it's existence. But the Jupiter and Thetis were painted in 1811, but not until 1839 was the first photograph of a person taken by Daguerre. In that image, a street scene, a man stopping for a shoeshine was still long enough to register in his long exposure. From that, I conclude that Ingres was little influenced by photography.


Michael said...

It has been very interesting and thank you!

I have been wondering for awhile if you are going to cover Charles LeBrun. Given his huge influence in the French Academy he seems surely a shoe-in for a mention in the top 100? I know theres a lot of people to cover, but his influence in the early modern period had big influence on what you've been discussing. I'm thinking of the hierarchical order of the painting genres and the debates about idealization vs. say Baroque painting and narrative vs. immediacy. Seems he was very important in setting the stage for those later French Modern dealings...almost a critical pivotal figure? And he has some damn fine paintings!

Philip Koch said...

Stape, excellent post again. As you so well point out, the best painters of the past were supremely sensitive to the abstract qualities of their work all through history. If they hadn't been, nobody would still be looking at their work and it would have died with them.

Oh and I loved the comment about you being unable to see past the footlights to see if your audience had grown bored. Any of us who teach can relate to that comment.

Silvio Silvestri said...

Dear Stape, Thanks again for a great post. After following you these last few months, my competency at figure placement, especially dominant and subordination has improved dramatically. I was arranging a new composition and found I quickly, suddenly and easily rearranged all my subjects. The only thing I can attribute this to is all the excellent art you have presented lately. Want you to know it is rubbing off, sinking in with someone. Let start a Kearns Foundation!! Grazie,

Clem Robins said...

you ain't boring me one bit, Stape

Martha said...

I think these posts are absolutely fascinating. They open a whole world to me. Thank you.

Mark Heng said...

Seriously fascinating stuff. Don't stop if you don't want to!

You could probably write a months worth of posts on Ingres alone, I'd imagine. Some things I've noticed about Ingres (who was a big influence at B.U.): The divergent gaze, extremely frontal lighting which creates the cast shadow line around the form as you wrote about, luminous female nudes, swooping rhythms which make stationery subjects dynamic, elegantly distorted tapered fingers, etc..

billspaintingmn said...

Stape! You bring stuff to the table
I always enjoy.
I know it is helping me to make a better painting. Thanks always Stape!

JonInFrance said...

Great! So basically this is earlier epoch science fiction - Ingres is a concept designer, right?

Thetis' little finger is something!

Barbara Carr said...

What a fabulous portrait! It's one I hadn't seen. Stape, your posts are more fun than any of my art history classes ever were. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi Stape,
Just keep on "keepin' on" I always find something "useful"!!
Thank you, Terry

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't kn ow, I only have a hundred and I have spent fifty, should I leave out Alex Katz?

Stapleton Kearns said...

You are a real teacher though, I am just dabbling.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Then I must be useful!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Then I must be useful!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks.I don't want to get too rarefied.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am going to write a months worth of posts on Ingres alone!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I do think it makes us better painters to know a little art history.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't know what a concept designer is but I know they visit this blog.

Stapleton Kearns said...

My art history classes in school were a sick joke!They knew where it was at, but not what it was!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I do so want to be useful!

William Meijer said...

Your views on Ingres have been very interesting. Especially on the distortions of Ingres it might also be interesting to read "Secret Knowledge (New and Expanded Edition): Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters" by David Hockney, in which he tries to link the work of Ingres with early photography techniques.