Ingres’s figures, the nude as a subject, is often conceived so narrowly today and carries a lot of baggage. Not so in his day! In contemporary art the nude appears infrequently or in very narrowly conceived ways. Ingres, on the contrary, reminds you how beautiful the body simply is, how beautiful its parts. Hands and feet are incredibly beautiful and capable of such range of expression. The shape of an ankle, the hollows, particularly in certain kinds of light, is wonderous.
Et ils se trompent étrangement s’ils pensent que quand ils ont écrit: un pied ou une main, ils ont donné à mon esprit la même émotion que celle que j’éprouve quand je vois un beau pied ou une belle main. [Delacroix Journal, 21 Oct 1853]
Ah, there was something they agreed upon!
I guess contemporary photographers can be exempted from what I’ve just said. They often really explore the body as form. But artists have gone slack and have quit seeing and imagining. I cannot fathom the extent to which the nude is neglected. Even in life class, what we generally pass over in the way of ideas; it’s staggering. And how Ingres was filled with ideas about the body and endlessly carried away by its beauty and strength. Its potential, its multivarious aspects, and no part too small: the placement of a finger becomes subject of many explorations and adjustments, and even (as Degas noted) the “indication of the fingernails” came under his ardent scrutiny. He was affected by the body, continually alive to it. He revisits certain poses that evidently touched him particularly. They recur in myriad forms over time.
And his simplifications of the body are like a mythic geometry, or a logic that renders spirit into line as though the body were a dance or a melody or a mathematical statement of surpassing grace. He plays out body as a riff on his violin. He makes the flesh into signs and precepts in an encomium of being.