The other side of Romanticism



We are used to think that French Romanticism is mostly based on the appraisal of antique motives and aesthetics. It is true, but not the whole of it, by the way. Another great source of inspiration were oriental ideas and elements, dreaming about them. This essay focuses on oriental motives in oeuvre of two very well-known romanticism painters: Ingres and Delacroix.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres is considered by some amount of art historians to be a neoclassicist. However, I would argue with that. First of all, classical motives were not his only source of inspiration, they were more like a basis of his style, partly subconscious, derived from years of studying in academic way. Secondly, the ease with which he alters the proportions of human body, the variety of epochs and cultures which he transforms in his paintings point out some significant distance between him, Academy and neoclassicism. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres created paintings based on mythology for Academy, portraits in order to earn money and a great deal of the art left was inspired by oriental motives, includes them (at least, in the beginning). The interesting fact is that the painter himself had never been to Middle or Far East, all he had were stories about travelling there (documentary or fictional), little objects that were brought from there and, of course, a great deal of his own imagination.

The illustrative example for that may be The Grande Odalisque created by Ingres in 1814. The painter creates quite typical late-Renaissance composition and figure, enriching them by insertion of little oriental details. The woman herself has a European kind of beauty changed by elongation of her back and neck, creating the appealing sense of eastern mystery. The viewer feels that something is wrong but he cannot stop admiring this woman, her intriguing beauty, trying to solve the mystery.

The latter example, which I would like to present here, is Odalisque with slave, finished in 1842. Clearly, the Ingres’s connoisseurship of eastern cultures has broadened, which results in the amount of objects included. Nevertheless, the basis remains the same: the figure and posture of odalisque is quite similar with women on Venetian Late Renaissance paintings. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres strives to learn more about the culture that fascinates him. He creates a very interesting mix of carefully copied eastern details, professional academic training and his own imagination.


Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix is often opposed to Ingres (even in Wikipedia), but they have a lot of common. Both of them were highly influenced by both Venetian Late Renaissance paintings and oriental motives. They both changed classical canons of interpretation, each one on his own way. The greatest difference between them within the topic of this essay is that Delacroix actually did visit Eastern countries and had the opportunity to base the works on the memories and experience of his own. His early oriental works, such as Woman with a parrot (1827), resemble those of Ingres, lacking his intrigue and sensuality. The eroticism in early Delacroix works is more open and visible. For the painter the oriental details are more like an external frame of naked woman and her beauty.

Women of Algiers painted in 1834 were influenced by the personal experience the painter had in eastern countries. Of course, there was no possibility for him to see the harem inside, but the painter observed the type oriental beauty, depicting it in women. He also inserted more details, which show his connoisseurship of eastern world, its habits, culture and style.

As we can see, oriental motives are an important part of the Romanticism paintings. The East lured dreamers by its mystery, another culture, style of life and mind, producing a great deal of art objects inspired by it.


The individuality of Renaissance



The sudden and expansive burst of individuality marked the Renaissance. It could be traced by the amount of autobiographies, non-theological texts, and, of course, portraits. People felt urge to study the world around them, find their place inside it and to present themselves to society from a winning side.

Renaissance (it. Rinascimento – revival) was considered to be the bright and prosperous time after barbaric Middle Ages. After wild tribes wiping out the remains of the Great Roman Empire, Rome managed to resurrect even stronger than it was. The blood of great emperors, councils and commanders of it was thought to be running through veins of Italians, making them proud of their ancestors, history and culture. I consider it important to point out that back then Italy was not the same as it is now. Not remotely the same. It was divided into many principalities, some of them bigger and more powerful than the others were. The same language did not unite them, what makes this separation more evident.

If we were to find a moment in the history, when did the fashion start, it would be the Renaissance. The significant proof of it is the fact that during this time the word “fashion” (it.“moda”) was first used and then rapidly widespread across the Europe. The fashion, need to show the individuality and intelligence, enhance the beauty was of utmost importance. Fashion was the way not only of presenting the status, but also of highlighting the individual qualities of a person.

The cradle of Renaissance is, without any doubts, Florence – the flowering city, according to the legend told by Machiavelli in Florentine Histories (it. Istorie fiorentine) and Benvenuto Cellini in his Autobiography. Under the patronage of Medici, the city was enriched with the great masters creating masterpieces in it, adding to the glory of the notable families. One of such masters was Domenico Ghirlandaio, the contemporary of well-known Botticelli and teacher of Michelangelo. Domenico Ghirlandaio was valued among the nobilities as master with the great gift of portraiture, who could capture every tiny detail and present it later in a decent way.


I would like to draw the attention to the portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni (dated 1488), member of one of the most important Florentine families at that time. Her profile reminds viewers of ancient Roman coins, thereby strengthening the link between noble Florentines and great romans. High forehead, golden wavy hair and long neck – these all are beauty standards of the High Renaissance. As flowing hair was still inappropriate for women, as a sign of loose morality, hair of Giovanna Tornabuoni was braided. The variety of layers, richness of fabrics and expeditious embroidery – that is the heritage of Middle Ages, which thrived in the Renaissance. All the accessories on the painting present us different sides of Giovanna’s personality: brooches indicate her social life and status, prayer book and coral rosary her devotion and Latin inscription her intelligence.

During the Renaissance, fashion was born as a combination of personal and common, indicating that person could stay himself while being a part of society. And this bond still stands.

Victoria Ventonni,

Historic of Art and Fashion


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