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Ingres, Princesse de Broglie

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Princesse de Broglie, oil on canvas, 1851–53 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art). Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris, Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano music playing) Steven: We're in the Robert Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and one of the most wonderful places to see art in New York. Beth: One can imagine oneself as a collector. Steven: Well, it's a ... It is a kind of a representation of his domestic environment where he put his painting collections. Beth: That's right. Steven: And we're standing in front of one of the real masterpieces in New York and certainly of this collection by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and it's a painting that's called the Princess de Broglie and it dates to about 1853. It's very late for Ingres. It's, in fact, I think it's his last society portrait and it's one of his most important and one of his most beautiful, I think. Beth: When I look at this, I feel like it's almost impossible to believe that this was made by hand. In the era of photoshop ... First of all, you can't see any brushwork. There's, like, total perfection to the surface. Steven: So let's take a look. Beth: Okay. Steven: What are the most striking aspects of the painting? From my eyes, it's that cool, icy blue dress. The textures of the satin are so brilliantly rendered that you get the sense that I could almost hear it as the cloth pulls against itself. Beth: Or if she were to move and walk, we could hear what that sounds like as it rustled. Steven: And it almost feels like she is moving a little bit. Beth: She's amazingly alive. Steven: What I think Ingres is up to, to some extent, is contrasting with the clarity and precision of that cloth against the softness of the skin, which has a kind of indeterminance. Beth: In a very characteristic Ingres way, there's something a little bit funny about the body and something a little bit funny about the way that the flesh is modelled. If you look at her left forearm, there should be more modeling there to indicate the arms, three-dimensionality. Steven: And there's no musculature. Beth: Right, there's no musculature. There's no sense of bone. Steven: No definition. Beth: Right. At first when you look at the painting, there's no sense of this, but when you start to really look more closely, there's something dislocated about the upper part of the arm from the forearm. Steven: And from the shoulder. Beth: And from the shoulder, something very elongated about the wrist and even though Ingres is so amazing, in terms of he's a craftsman. Right. Steven: He's a master of anatomy. He's really decided to take some liberties here in the pursuit to, perhaps, of some sort of ideal of perfection and beauty. Steven: So that's interesting for that body doesn't have to be in any other position. So he can actually idealize this particular position by very deftly and very subtlely transforming her skeletal structure, really. Look at the length of neck, for instance, right? I mean, it's just a little bit longer than one would expect. Her face is beautiful, but her eyes are just a little larger than what we would expect and she gazes out with a kind of intensity, a kind of forlorn poetic quality that speaks to her aristocratic position, because she doesn't look at us, I don't think. I think she almost looks past us. Beth: Or maybe a little down at us. Steven: Perhaps. Perhaps, even that. (piano music playing)