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Ingres, Raphael and the Fornarina

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Raphael and the Fornarina, 1814, Oil on canvas, 64.77 x 53.34 cm (25 1/2 x 21 in.) (Fogg Art Museum) . Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano music) Man: We're at the Harvard Art Museum. We're looking at Ingres' Raphael and the Fornarina. Woman: It's a strange painting but Ingres paintings often are a kind of strange mixture of coldness and distance and simultaneously intense sensuality. You don't see that? Man: It's so true. No I completely agree. Woman: Everything is painted with an amazing degree of precision so that green velvet is just perfect and there is no sign of a brush stroke so it just seems like it is truly green velvet. Man: Even the way the drapery folds has been absolutely idealized, so even the aspects of the painting where we expect the artist to allow for a degree of informality, even that is the most formal. Woman: This is actually a genre that emerges in the 19th century of artists depicting other artists in their studio with their model. Man: Which is sort of appropriate for the 19th century, especially as we enter into the academic realm where even the quality of the paint, the style of the paint is very often a kind of quotation of an earlier period. Woman: Also in this period of romanticism where we have a kind of emerging self-consciousness on the part of the artist. Ingres is painting Raphael and Raphael is [?] here right? Raphael the great Renaissance artist is shown here in his studio. He's just painted a portrait of his mistress, a very famous portrait. Man: Or is in the process. Woman: Right the portrait is unfinished. In his studio he takes a break from painting. He's still got his brush in his hand and wraps his arms around his mistress who sits on his lap but instead of looking at the real woman, he turns his head to look back at his unfinished creation. Man: But he has her look at us. Woman: Yes. Man: And he has her look at us from the portrait that he has depicted himself, having just painted. Woman: Right so there are two of her looking at us. Actually there are three of her looking at us. Man: And where is the third? Woman: The third is in the painting on the back wall, which is a famous painting by Raphael called the Madonna della sedia, the Madonna of the chair, which Raphael's mistress was said to have posed for. She kind of looks out at us from that back corner too. Three versions of the same woman. Man: So this is really sort of triangulation. Because we have Ingres depicting Raphael looking at his depiction of his mistress, who in turn looks out at us as we look back at her and catch her gaze. Woman: To me it's about Ingres himself and his need to paint that feeling of being in the middle of something and even when your mistress comes to you and insists on you taking a break and sitting on your lap, you keep the brush in your hand and you turn back to look. The act of painting is so engaging and so wonderful, and the process of creation is so wonderful that nothing can and should disturb it. Man: See, I disagree. Woman: Really? Man: Because I think it's not about the act of painting although that's really close by, and so actually I agree with a lot of what you're saying. Woman: What do you think it's about? Man: I think what really trumps it is the act of seeing because it's Raphael's seeing what he has rendered. And it's us seeing and it's in a sense Ingres trying to create in a sense the world of Raphael for us. Woman: It's a funny thing because we're looking at a painting of a painter looking at his painting. Man: And actually looking at his painting within it. (piano music)