Enter the Harem

Hello darlings! Neither my tired art model’s body nor my dread over another impending snowstorm and frigid temperatures will stop me from presenting a Valentine to my readers on this Valentine’s Day. And it ain’t chocolates or a bouquet of flowers. That’s kid stuff 😉 For us it is the scandalous, seductive, come-hither gaze and frank nudity of Jean Auguste Dominque Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque. Painted in 1814, this iconic masterpiece of Neoclassicism predictably shocked the uptight sensibilities of the Salon art establishment. Were they shocked because it was risqué and erotic? Or because the figure is anatomically disproportional? Both actually.

Jean_Auguste_Dominique_Ingres,_La_Grande_Odalisque,_1814 In the ruthless shredding this work of art received, censorious critics concluded that the model, as concubine, was given “three vertebrae too many” and that she had “neither bones nor muscle, neither blood, nor life”. The then 34 year old Ingres was accused of ignoring anatomical accuracy and having fallen victim to his wild, erotically-charged imagination. Perhaps he did. To that we can say, “so what?”. Surely there was a method to his madness. The female body is unique in its longer lines which create visually appealing curvature. Ingres clearly took it to the next level with his elongation. Proportionally, the figure is indeed strange, with some even claiming that the particular flexure of the spine with the rotation of the pelvis is physically impossible. But as an art model I’ve done some nearly impossible poses, so I’m not so sure. Although I don’t have any extra vertebrae that I’m aware of 😆

But Ingres had a vision in his mind and he went for it. His subject is a nubile sex slave after all, and he wanted to heighten that purpose to maximum effect. Sensuality was priority number one. I’d say he succeeded, don’t you? She’s an enticing woman and she’s on view at her permanent home in the Louvre, keeping company with the Mona Lisa.

10 thoughts on “Enter the Harem

  1. Bill says:

    Ah, yes — who needs the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, anyway! Seriously, I don’t think that anyone should allow the apparent presence/absence of a stray vertebra or two to interfere with the enjoyment of a beautiful painting like this.

    • artmodel says:


      Amen to this! Vertebra, shmertebra 😆
      It’s such a beautiful painting indeed. And I hope you clicked on the image as it is a large file and she’s stunning to view up close and personal.

      Thanks for commenting!


  2. artmodelandrew says:

    Ingres’ peers would have had a conniption fit if they lived long enough to see Modigliani’s elongated necks. Apparently they didn’t get the memo about artistic license.

  3. Grier Horner says:

    She would be courted by ever college basketball coach in the country if she lived today.

  4. Dave says:

    Maybe she can do that pose BECAUSE she has the extra vertebrae. Maybe Ingres wasn’t trying to make scandalous art at all; au contraire, maybe he just wanted to advance science by accurately depicting a wonan he happened to know who had a rare mutation. Or maybe not.

    Thanks for the fascinating post, Claudia.

    • artmodel says:


      Wouldn’t that be a trip? I don’t know if Ingres had any intimate personal knowledge of the model, but then again … 😉

      Glad you enjoyed the post!


  5. I actually really adore this painting when I saw it for the first time back in high school. At the time we learned of the controversy of it– but then again, what’s art without controversy? I love the sensuality of the elongated back– and I’m sure at the time not showing too much of the “naughty bits” in a rather sultry painting, you had to work with what you had! It makes the spine and the suppleness of the skin more alluring and provocative, if nothing else.

    • artmodel says:

      Vintage on Tap,

      Your appreciation of this painting is wonderful! Indeed, both the controversy and anatomical exaggerations work superbly. It’s just so beautiful and and sexy and, to you use your word, “alluring”.

      Thanks so much for your comments! And welcome to Museworthy 🙂


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