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.