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La Grande Odalisque

© 2005 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

French painting

De Vergnette François

Ingres transposed the theme of the mythological nude, whose long tradition went back to the Renaissance, to an imaginary Orient. This work, his most famous nude, was commissioned by Caroline Murat, Napoleon's sister and the queen of Naples. Here, Ingres painted a nude with long, sinuous lines bearing little resemblance to anatomical reality, but rendered the details and texture of the fabrics with sharp precision. This work drew fierce criticism when it was displayed at the Salon of 1819.

Discreetly seductive

This woman lying on a divan is offering herself because she is nude and turns her face towards us. The painting's title, which means "harem woman," and the accessories around her conjure up the sensuous Orient. But the woman is also discreet because she shows only her back and part of one breast. The nude was a major theme in Western art, but since the Renaissance figures portrayed in that way had been drawn from mythology; here Ingres transposed the theme to a distant land. The subject of the odalisque fascinated Boucher in the eighteenth century and was later chosen as a theme by Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856), one of Ingres's pupils. Throughout his career, many of Ingres's works feature Orientalist themes, such as The Turkish Bath (Louvre), which he painted towards the end of his life. The female nude, historical scenes, and the portrait were Ingres's favorite genres.

A nude for a queen

Caroline Murat (1782-1839), Napoleon's sister and the queen of Naples, commissioned this painting in 1813. It was probably a matching piece to another nude, La Dormeuse de Naples, destroyed in 1815. La Grande Odalisque was painted in Rome, where Ingres had arrived in 1806 to complete a fellowship at the Académie de France. The artist remained in Italy until 1824 because his art was unpopular in Paris. The works he exhibited at the Salon of 1806 (Caroline Rivière and Madame Rivière, Louvre), and the paintings he sent from Rome (The Valpinçon Bather, and Oedipus and the Sphinx, Louvre) were criticized. The exhibition of La Grande Odalisque at the Salon of 1819 confirmed that the critics didn't understand Ingres's style. They admonished him for disregarding anatomical reality, which set him apart from his teacher, Jacques Louis David (1748-1825).

Abstraction and objectivity

Draftsmanship was very important to Ingres. He favored long, sinuous lines - for example, the woman's back - creating a work of great beauty and sensuality. The volumes of the nude, bathed in an even light, are toned down in a space without depth. Ingres was influenced by Mannerist painting and, perhaps, by Persian illuminated manuscripts. In contrast with the abstract lines, the rendering of the details, such as the fabrics, is illusionistic. The same paradoxical combination can be found in the art of the great sculptor Antonio Canova (Eros and Psyche, Louvre). The subtle economy of colors also sets this work apart. Ingres treated the sensual motif with a cold harmony set off by the blue drapery. The gold of the other fabrics helps make this odalisque a mysterious, captivating figure.


Ockman Carol, "A woman's pleasure : the Grande Odalisque", in Ingres's eroticized bodies. Retracing the serpentine line, New Haven and London, Yale university press, 1995, pp. 33-65.Rosenblum Robert, Ingres, Paris, Cercle d'art, 1968, pp. 104-107.

Technical description

  • Jean-Auguste-Dominique INGRES (Montauban, 1780 - Paris, 1867)

    La Grande Odalisque


  • H. 0.91 m; W. 1.62 m

  • Acquired in 1899 , 1899

    R.F. 1158

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Room 702

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Additional information about the work

Signed and dated in the lower right-hand corner: "I. A. INGRES P. AT 1814 ROM."