12: Ingres and the Subversion of the Classical Tradition

In a century of rapid artistic change, it was the theory, the practice and the example of Ingres which defended and maintained the classical tradition. His heroes were Raphael and Poussin, his concern was always with the ideal and never with the realistic, and his position in the art world was diametrically opposite to that of his great rival Delacroix.

Such is the orthodox view of Ingres which, whilst admitting that he is a child of his Romantic age, claims a direct connection between his art and the style of the masters of the classical tradition—as Ingres himself often did. My purpose is to demonstrate how far removed is his whole attitude to art from orthodox classicism, and to suggest that his achievement (let alone that of his contemporaries) shows that the very idea of a classical tradition had lost its meaning by the mid-century. As is the case with Delacroix, Ingres's principles of art are often very far from his actual practice; we must beware of attributing too much importance to his opinions, and prefer to rely instead on the opinions of his contemporaries and on the evidence of the paintings themselves. 'He happened to be born with very limited imaginative powers, yet with very great artistic gifts', as Agnes Mongan has put it:794 this accounts for the dichotomy, particularly if we recall his notebooks, in which, rather than moulding his own theory of art, he laboriously copied out extracts from improving authors. The same applies to his visual sources.795'799 Delacroix's characterization of his art (seen at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1855) as 'the complete expression of an incomplete intelligence' is rather more than an unkind quip, for it is a judgement on the nature of Ingres's art which we can extend by reading Baudelaire's account of the same exhibition. Admittedly the champion of Delacroix, Baudelaire's criticism of others is nevertheless both fair and acute, as we can see by reading his review of an exhibition ten years previously at the Bazar Bonne-Nouvelle. This had shown important works by David and his school, and was an act of rehabilitation, as it were, of the classical school.

Baudelaire, in his review of the Exposition Universelle, writes of an impression gained, he claims, by many people in the 'sanctuary' reserved for the works of Ingres: 'an impression, difficult to characterise, and which, in the use of strange proportions, in the feeling of unease, of ennui, of fear, makes one think vaguely and involuntarily of the debility caused by a lack of oxygen, by the atmosphere of a chemical laboratory, or by knowledge of some other-worldly existence . . .' He sees Ingres's figures as automata, not human beings, and believes that the undoubted power of his art has in consequence a sickly quality about it: ... it would be puerile not to notice in his work a lacuna, a loss, a withering of the vitality of the spirit. The imagination which succoured those great masters [David etc.] when they strayed into their academic gymnastics—that queen of faculties has disappeared ... I know his character well enough to believe that . . . this represents an heroic immolation on the altars of those faculties which he sincerely considers more grandiose and more important than that of the imagination . . .


Ingres's dominant characteristic Baudelaire believes to be 'will-power or, rather, enormous abuse of will-power', and uses this idea to explain the unchanging nature of his art: that which he is, he has been from the beginning. Thanks to his internal fire, he will remain thus until the end. Since he has not progressed, he will not grow oldFONT>

This brilliant characterization is relevant almost to the whole of Ingres's achievement, and can help us to place his art in that current of primitivism which we have seen gaining strength in the arts as in literature since the middle of the eighteenth century. If Delacroix found some new Greeks and a new Homeric ideal in North Africa, then Ingres took his inspiration from medieval as well as from ancient history, and developed a linear style which could scarcely be called a sublimation of the manner of Raphael. He himself believed otherwise:

Looking through Montfaucon, I became convinced that the history of France . . . would be a new vein to exploit. . . beautiful heads, bodies, attitudes and gestures are of all time . . . From which I conclude that I should take this as the best road, and content myself with exploring the Greeks, without which there is no salvation, and amalgamate them, so to speak, with this new genre. In this way, I can become an adept spiritual innovator, and give to my works that rare beauty found hitherto only in the works of Raphael.789

Montfaucon's book was not the Antiquite ex-pliquee . . ., that repository of illustrations of antique objects, but rather the Monuments de la monarchic francaise (1729-33), a pioneering volume on the French Middle Ages matched by this time by the great detail of Lenoir's catalogue of the Musee des Monuments Francais (6 vols, 1800-3). That institution, and the wide range of pictures looted by Napoleon and displayed in Paris, allowed Ingres to develop a primitivism which invaded all the genres in which he worked (compare the selective primitivism of Flaxman, or David).779'793

Ingres, always an awkward provincial in the sophisticated Parisian art world, won the Prix de Rome in 1801 with The Ambassadors of


Agamemnon at the Tent of Achilles (Paris, Ecoles des Beaux-Arts). This frieze composition with Poussinesque landscape has a very flat perspective and vigorous linear forms which imitate the outline style of Greek vase painting which his master, David, had tried with the Sabines. David's intentions were explained, in a booklet of 1799: 'I want to make something which is pure Greek; I feed my eyes on antique statues, and I intend to imitate some.' In his frieze Ingres did likewise, presenting the spectator with a collection of statue-like figures, some taken from the life, some from antiques, in a work of carefully researched antique detail.783'797 That this picture was admired by Flaxman when he visited Paris in 1802 is no more surprising than the fact that Ingres used Flaxman's prints for several of his compositions.

Ingres was to receive little admiration for his work of the next five years, and public hostility made him, perhaps because of his awkwardness, adopt an over-zealous public mien which must have aggravated the factitious opposition of classic to romantic. The Bonaparte at Liege (1803^1, Liege), and particularly the Napoleon on the Imperial Throne (1806, Paris, Musee de 1'Armee) were regarded by the critics as archaic. Similar horror greeted the three portraits of the Riviere Family, shown at the Salon of 1806. 'Gothic', 'like Diirer', 'like Van Eyck' were the commonest epithets and, indeed, they are fully justified. The landscape background to both the Mademoiselle Riviere and the Bonaparte at Liege is Early Netherlandish in style, and the enamel brightness of tone and profusion and intricacy of detail all point to sources that have little to do with Raphael and his rounded forms occupying airy space. Certainly, the Napoleon on the Imperial Throne is necessarily exact in detail, for it depicts the Emperor in his robes. Certainly, the arrangement of figure and throne reflects Ingres's interest in one of the most famous statues of Antiquity, the colossal chryselephantine statue of Zeus in his temple at Olympia. This work of Phidias was known only from reconstructions made from ancient literary accounts: Ingres would have sought advice from his friend Quatremere de Quincy,


Ingres: Napoleon on the Imperial Throne, 1806. Paris, Musee de 1'Armee.

whose archaeological studies are also the source for Ingres's stylistically similar Jupiter and Thetis of 1811 (Aix-en-Provence, Musee Granet) which does represent the lord of the gods. Yet is the Napoleon, with its Byzantine hieraticism and geometrically rigid frontality, a logical descendant of The Oath of the Horatii and hence of the tradition of Raphael and Poussin ? Baudelaire, reviewing the exhibition at the Bazar Bonne-Nouvelle in 1846, remarked that the Stratonice (1840) would have astonished Poussin, that the Grande Odalisque (1814) would have tormented Raphael, and that Ingres's style of painting was as flat as a Chinese mosaic. The works mentioned above demonstrate that such qualities were in fact evident in his art from the beginning.

Ingres increased the range of his visual and literary sources during the course of his long stay at the French Academy in Rome, from 1806 to 1824. Another important commission during this period was his immense Romulus, Conqueror of Acron (1812, Paris, Ecole des Beaux-Arts) which celebrates Napoleon once more. He was expected to enter Rome in triumph that year as Romulus (likewise the founder of a civilization) had done. The work, closely related in some details and in general



Ingres: The Bather of Valpincon. Paris, Louvre.

form to the Sabines of David, dispenses with oil paint in favour of the flatter and cooler tempera, which accentuates the reduced space and the outline frieze arrangement of the massive figures. Yet the majority of the works executed in Rome (and in Florence, where he was from 1820 to 1824) are not in the least like the work of David. From Ingres's prize work, we might reasonably have expected a continuation of the austere ideal of the male nude as advocated by Winckelmann and as seen in Flaxman's outlines. Instead, he preferred to look at the work of Canova, and to combine that artist's frigid sensuality with almost photographic detailing. The realism of such details, which make us believe we can touch, for example, The Bather of Valpincon (1808, Louvre), argues with the sinuous abstraction of the lines and the equivocal space construction. The source for this work is Canova's Venus Italica rather


than Raphael's Graces in the Farnesina. Its style, however, is almost anti-Renaissance: the lack of any firm ground on which the composition can build, and the rail-less curtain on the left, help to suspend the figure in silent space—or, rather, to make of it a pattern the lines of whose body and the realism of whose flesh evoke sensuality, but whose pose frus-tratingly conceals it. In La Grande Odalisque (1814, Louvre) the same characteristics are in evidence. Like the later odalisques, and like The Turkish Bath of 1862/3, this work evokes a romantic exoticism because of its harem overtones, but its formalism, linearity and air of detachment (the ennui of which Baudelaire writes) prevent that evocative participation by the spectator which is an essential feature of Romanticism. And it is the line, not the col-oristic description of sheen and texture, which is the vehicle of Ingres's sensuality. To find the sources of the work, we should need to examine reclining figures from Antiquity to Gior-gione, Michelangelo, Parmigianino and Bron-zino. Only the Mannerists approached the complications and peculiarities of physiognomy which Ingres describes in his sweeping arabesques. If we follow any of the lines in La Grande Odalisque, we find others which echo them and which emphasize surface pattern at the expense of depth. The mattress is flattened by Ingres's signature into a two-dimensional signboard; the drapes hang from nowhere; the nude, not of this world, is suspended in luxury like The Bather of Valpincon.

The vision which Ingres offers us in his paintings of female nudes underlines his idealism which, as we have seen, subsumes realistic details quite happily. He was violently opposed to all that works like The Raft of the Medusa represented: 'Is that what sane, moral painting is about? . . . Art should be concerned only with beauty . . .'79° His hero was, naturally, Raphael, 'who laid down the eternal and incontestable limits of sublimity in art'. Ingres was captivated by the power of his drawing and the harmony and balance of his compositions. Yet his works look very different from those of Raphael, even when they are close imitations. This is partly because Ingres always drew from the living model where possible, if necessary in the pose of the source,800 and partly because his imitation is tinged with that admiration for Flemish detailing which he himself had admitted as early as 1806. With his standard academic belief that 'by becoming familiar with the inventions of others one learns to invent oneself he attempts to couple the imitation of the masters of the past with a studio practice which tends towards exactitude of realistic detailing. The nature of his relationship to Raphael can be seen in a Government commission for Christ giving the Keys to Peter (1820, Louvre) and another for The Vow of Louis XIII (1824, Montauban, Cathedral). The former derives from Raphael's Tapestry Cartoons, the latter from a combination of The Madonna of Foligno and The Sistine Madonna. Neither is in any sense a transcription or a copy of either Raphael's drawing style or his characterization.780 For The Vow of Louis XIII, Ingres has borrowed the idea of heavenly and earthly realms, but instead of suggesting a forward movement, his pyramid is in icy stasis. The holy figures avoid the world of Louis and the putti by deliberate distinctions of drawing style, composition and colour—high against low, soft against brittle, warm against cold— and exude 'an unforgettably arrogant and sensual majesty'. Much to Ingres's surprise, this work of historical realism was well received at the Salon of 1824; it attracted praise as extravagant as the odium heaped upon Delacroix's Massacres at Chios*®2 Christ giving the Keys to Peter, commissioned for the church of Trinita dei Monti in Rome, remained there until 1842, although Ingres himself wished it to be shown at the 1827 Salon. It is even more assertively realistic than The Vow of Louis XIII, and the gentle sentiments and graceful poses and draperies of Raphael are replaced by an uncompromising frontality, a forceful characterization and a monumental stiffness of poses and drapery. In the words of Jacques Foucart, the work is 'd'une fadeur terriblement saint-sulpicienne'—that is, it looks forward to the painstaking historical realism of the second half of the century which, as we shall see, Ingres had a large hand in creating.


Ingres: The Vow of Louis XIII, 1824. Montauban Cathedral.

The Apotheosis of Homer, which hung in the same 1827 Salon as Delacroix's Death of Sarda-napalus, is the largest of Ingres's Raphaelesque paintings, but is no nearer to pastiche than any of the others. This modern version of Raphael's Parnassus not only proclaimed the stylistic values of the classical tradition but also tried to equal the iconography of The School of Athens in its reunion of great men of ancient and modern times in the realms of literature and the arts.781'798-801 Only Raphael, his hand held by Apelles, is placed with the full-length figures of the ancients. Dante, befriended by Virgil, appears three-quarter-length, but all the other moderns are shown only half-length. Ingres expended much thought on who should figure in this programme for his contemporaries, and from about 1840 he was planning an extended version which would explain the tradition further. In the first version, he weighed Goethe and Tasso in the



Ingres: The Apotheosis of Homer, 1827. Paris, Louvre.

balance, and found them wanting: they were replaced by Mozart and Chenier. In the second version, which got no further than a drawing, Shakespeare is excluded, but David is there, Winckelmann, and the young Ingres himself. If the iconography of The Apotheosis of Homer approximates to Raphael's intentions, the style is very different; it is hieratic in its stiff organization, correctly realistic in its archaeological research. Raphael might have been unaware that Plato and Aristotle could not have known barrel vaults similar to those in The School of Athens; conversely, Ingres's work always makes a virtue of historical accuracy. Perhaps this aspect of his work parallels the contemporary ideology of the Romantic theatre: Stendhal's Racine et Shakespeare (1823/5) protests against the rarified stylization and the conventions of the unities of time, place and action adopted by Racine and advocates the techniques of Shakespeare which, because they conjure what Stendhal calls 'perfect illusion', can bring a play to life


for a nineteenth-century audience. In painting, as evinced by Stendhal's comments on the 1824 Salon, such an attitude implied opposition to the classicism championed by De-lecluze, which he characterized as stiff, heavy and lacking in imagination: 'What are antique bas-reliefs to me? Let's make some good modern painting.' By 1828 even Delecluze was forced to admit that the momentum of Dav-idian classicism had been dissipated, and that 'for several years now, in France, the word "classic" has been applied to every painter without imagination who makes it his task to imitate mechanically antique sculpture or the works of the sixteenth-century masters/

The problem lay in finding a manner suitable for history painting now that the types seen in the works of David were discredited. It has been affirmed that 'apart from Delacroix, the French Romantic movement failed to produce a single painter of stature because it never managed to evolve a distinctive historical style'.804 It was, in fact,-to be Ingres to whom some critics looked in the late 1820s and the 1830s because they believed that his art, being neither classic nor romantic, could provide just such a distinctive historical style. His manner was patently different from that of Delacroix, and it may be that he felt a certain estrangement from David who, in 1806, had described his work as German and Gothic, and not like that of Raphael; certainly, he left his master out of the first Version of The Apotheosis of Homer. David's remark, and his prediction already quoted that 'in ten years ... all those gods and heroes will be replaced by knights and troubadours' was fulfilled in a series of paintings which Ingres executed between 1815 and 1825. These included subjects such as Francis I at the Deathbed of Leonardo da Vinci (1818, Paris, Petit Palais) and Paolo and Fran-cesca (1819, Angers), and formed part of a style troubadour785 which had previously aroused interest in the later eighteenth century in both literature and art. Ingres joined medievalism of style to medievalism of subject-matter to produce works which might reasonably be called genre pieces, since they lack the high purpose and moralistic tradition of the classical history piece.

Ingres also turned his interest in historical realism in the direction of antique subject-matter. The most influential painting in this mode is the Stratonice (1840, Chantilly), commissioned as a pendant to Delaroche's Assassination of the Due de Guise, and painted during Ingres's Directorate at the French Academy in Rome. It is minutely detailed, as archaeologi-cally correct as he could make it, and sharply linear; Ingres called it 'my big miniature'. When it was exhibited in Paris in 1840 some critics hailed it as a successful attempt at blending archaeological accuracy with historical subject-matter. One commentator welcomed Ingres as the man who had rejuvenated art, and, rather ominously, noted that 'in the past a painter read the poets: now he must translate the antique learned commentaries'.805

Such a remark emphasizes the impact made by the Stratonice, and the gulf which separated it from works like The Testament ofEudamidas or The School of Athens. From the grand generalization of the classical tradition to the intricate realism of the Stratonice, from the morality of the former to the picturesque troubadour a la grecque ('Greek medievalism') of the latter is a distance too great to be explained away by positing a slight change of direction in classicism itself, particularly since the work tells such a touching tale of finally requited love. That distance is a function of the vogue for a different kind of history painting and of the development, the increased pace and the public popularity of archaeological scholarship in the earlier nineteenth century.

I have already outlined the interest of painters in modern history, the Middle Ages and the primitive past that was prevalent from the time of Napoleon onwards. Does not the realism of the Stratonice merely transport a genre subject into the distant past to produce a work of what might be called archaeological genre? The contemporary attraction of this picture, which would have delighted Quat-remere de Quincy even if it would have shocked Poussin, is to be seen in the popularity of the archaeological style among Ingres's pupils and other academically-minded artists in England as well as in France. How, in a century which glorified in the achievements of its historical scholarship, could artists who wished to paint the antique possibly make do with the traditional classical manner?

The first half of the nineteenth century is a period of great confusion in the arts. That confusion is by no means clarified by dividing artists and literary men into classic and romantic camps, for few are so considerately un-subtle as to belong wholly to either side. Just as Delacroix has elements of classicism in his style and opinions, so Ingres is in a similarly equivocal position. The main reason for the confusion of the period is perhaps the widening of permissible sources of inspiration, whether geographical, historical or spiritual, some of which we have traced to the middle of the eighteenth century. That sense of difference and interest in history which had been such a powerful stimulus in the production of a classical style in the art and literature of the Renaissance was, from the eighteenth century, to exert a pressure toward modernism. The Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns had


shown that the ancients were by no means the only source of knowledge or, indeed, of aesthetic achievement. Anthropologists travelled over the face of the globe and saw very different civilizations from which the eighteenth century, in love with the idea of the primitive, was willing to learn; evidence brought back showed that the Eastern civilizations were at least as sophisticated as those of Greece and Rome. Montesquieu, in his Lettres Per-sanes of 1721, had two Persians examine French society as if France were, herself, an ethnographic objet trouve. In his L'Esprit des lots (1748) he expounded a similar theory of relativity. Indeed, Descartes and Pascal had preceded him in this by a hundred years. In the field of art, Greece and Rome held their attraction until the beginning of the nineteenth century, as a telling anecdote about Ingres makes clear. One day Jules Laurens, a musician, was talking to Ingres about Persian music as he had heard it at Isfahan:

... I explained as best I could the irregularities and mistakes which, to our Western ears, its rhythms and tonality possessed. I explained that Persian music had its own method, its own aesthetic, its own virtuosity and its own classicism—its own emotion and charm . . . Such words made Ingres stiffen into recalcitrance, then become troubled and piteously uneasy. Almost in tears he exclaimed, 'Then where does that leave our sensations and our scale of values ? Where are we in relation to Bach, Gluck, Mozart and Beethoven? Are they deceiving themselves and us, or are we all deceiving ourselves?'. . . And he remained dispirited . . ,803

Ingres apparently felt his whole view of life and of the nature of art to be under attack. At the very least, his remarks show the narrowness of his mind and the naivete of his dependence upon the classical tradition which he believed he was defending in practice as well as in theory. Preault's characterization of him as 'a Chinaman astray amongst the ruins of Athens' strengthens the irony of Ingres's alarm at the possibility of other, equally valid aesthetic


systems. By a possibly subconscious recourse to styles of art before Raphael, and to aspects of mannerism so evident in his portraits, Ingres subverted the classical tradition by seemingly misunderstanding its nature and aims—as a Chinaman might have done. Classicism displays a healthy mind in a healthy body within an imagined mathematically constructed space. Ingres knows nothing of aerial perspective, writes Baudelaire in his review of the exhibition at the Bazar Bonne-Nouvelle, and he continually emphasizes the aura of debility which surrounds his figures. Classicism (and, in his theory, Ingres himself) vaunts drawing as the probity of art; but Ingres's paintings are, writes Baudelaire, as flat as Chinese mosaics, and his love of colour 'like that of a couturier'. In a classical painting, line describes and delimits form; in Ingres's works, the line has its own vigorous vitality independent of the form, the strength of which it saps.

In his Salon de 1846, written a year after the exhibition at the Bazar Bonne-Nouvelle, Baudelaire surveys with frustration and distaste the chaos of contemporary art, which he attributes to a 'debilitating and sterile liberty', to self-doubt, and to a lack of divine naivete.792 Only strong artists like Delacroix and Ingres are capable of keeping their heads above water; the rest, like monkeys, are the republicans of art, and the present state of painting is the result of anarchical liberty which glorifies the individual, no matter how feeble he may be, at the expense of the group, that is to say the schools of art ... Individuality, that jewel of small price, has devoured collective originality . . . The painter himself was killed painting . . .

From our twentieth-century perspective, we read Baudelaire's words with the knowledge of the present emergence of Courbet and Realism—a development nearly as distasteful to Baudelaire as it was to Ingres. Courbet was the first artist to paint what had hitherto been considered genre subjects on a scale large enough to endow them with the monumen-tality and significance usually reserved for history paintings. The trend toward the acceptance of any subject-matter as worthy of the artist's brush had begun even before the Romantics, but it was Courbet's example which pointed the way toward an art which was popular, relevant and modern. With the complex demands of the art market, and the gradually changing tastes of patrons, haw could classicism maintain its position? Embalmed in the aspic of the academies, and preserved by official commissions, classical history painting continued, but became more and more out of touch with modern trends.784 History painting tended to descend to the level of high anecdote and picturesque detail to ease its acceptance in the market place. The success of Gerome, Delaroche or Bougereau proclaims their unerring touch, but their works are not classical in any traditional sense. Classical elements, of course, are to be found in the work of many nineteenth- and indeed twentieth-century artists, who continued to find inspiration in the themes and motifs of Greece and Rome.786'796 Artists like Puvis de Chavannes, Seurat, Degas, Cezanne and Picasso, however, no longer partook of an unbroken classical tradition which formed the model and the raison d'etre of their work. Today we are no longer willing to accord a hierarchy of excellence to artistic objects: an African mask would seem to deserve sympathy and reverence equal to that devoted to a madonna by Raphael. As a refuge from self-doubt, we reject nothing. The origins of such an attitude are to be found in that broadening of intellectual horizons which is a feature of eighteenth-century rationalism.782'791

The classical tradition cannot assimilate such free thought, because it is firmly wedded to Renaissance forms of art. Did the Renaissance in Italy ever make an effort to understand and assimilate those very different forms of art in the rest of Europe, let alone in the East or the Americas ? Even Diirer seems to have considered the treasure of Montezuma as a collection of curiosities, but not as art. Self-confidence such as that evinced by Vasari in his Lives is an essential element in the security and vigour of any tradition, as Baudelaire recognized. In the case of the classical tradition, it was sustained by a belief in the values of Graeco-Roman civilization which survived the translation from Renaissance Italy to France in the seventeenth century and was indeed strengthened by an authoritarian ardour. A last glorious revival on a European scale preceded collapse in the nineteenth century under the pressure of more eclectic intellectual, emotional and aesthetic values.