There are many similarities between Ingres’ “La Grande Odalisque” and Manet’s “Olympia”. Both paintings depict nude women in a sensual way, with Olympia reclining on a couch and La Grande Odalisque lying on her back. Both women have their legs slightly apart, revealing their sexual availability. And both women have an African servant attending to them – in La Grande Odalisque’s case, a black eunuch, and in Olympia’s case, a black cat.
However, there are also some significant differences between the two paintings. For one thing, La Grande Odalisque is shown in full-length, while Olympia is cropped at the waist. This difference reinforces the idea that La Grande Odalisque is an object to be looked at, while Olympia is a subject who is looking back at the viewer. La Grande Odalisque is also presented as an exotic Other, with her turban and bracelets marking her as different from the Western viewer. In contrast, Olympia is very much a Parisian woman of her time, with her fashionable clothing and hairstyle.
These differences between the two paintings reflect the different attitudes of Ingres and Manet towards the nude female body. While Ingres idealizes and eroticizes his subject, Manet presents a more realistic view of womanhood. This difference can be seen as a reflection of the different values of Neoclassicism and Realism respectively.
The reclining female nude has been a recurring motif in European art history. Each artist approached the topic differently, with their own distinct style. Giorgione’s “Sleeping Venus,” completed around 1510 (see fig. 1), is an earlier example of the reclining nude. His nudes were produced using the clair obscur technique, which uses soft, blurred lines to make her fair skin gradually merge into the dark backdrop.
She is shown in an idealized manner, looking asleep and unaware of the viewer. There are no signs that she was ever aware of the viewer’s presence. In La Grande Odalisque, Ingres depicts a nude in a more realistic style than Giorgione. She is less idealized, and her body proportions are not perfect. She is shown with elongated fingers and toes, which were considered to be erotic at the time. Olympia, on the other hand, is a more controversial painting. Manet shows a nude who is very aware of the viewer’s presence.
She glances directly at the viewer, and there is a cat at her feet that seems to be looking directly at the viewer as well. Olympia is also shown with flowers that have been brought to her by a black servant, which was considered to be highly controversial at the time. Olympia is shown in a more realistic style than La Grande Odalisque, and she is not idealized in the same way that the other nudes are.
She appears to be sleeping, giving her a look of innocence since she is unaware that she is being observed. Giorgione also seems to be experimenting with background in the painting. When looking at the entire painting, one does not just see the reclining figure; rather, the unusual and diverse backdrop draws your attention. The fact that the background is open is a strong evidence of classical influence on this Renaissance artist.
In Manet’s Olympia, the setting is entirely different. Instead of an idyllic and natural landscape, we see a stark interior. Olympia is situated on a chaise lounge with a sheet partially covering her body. She stares directly at the viewer, unapologetically and challengingly. The flowers that have been placed near her are wilted, as if they have been there for some time. This painting was quite controversial for its time because it challenges traditional ideas about beauty and propriety. Whereas La Grande Odalisque seems to idealize the female form, Olympia presents a more realistic view.
When comparing these two paintings, we can see that Ingres was influenced by classical ideas about beauty, while Manet was more interested in realism. La Grande Odalisque is a more idealized and romantic view of woman, while Olympia presents a more frank and honest portrayal. Although both paintings are quite different, they are both excellent examples of French art from their respective time periods.
Goya’s original reclining figure, “The Nude Maja,” was completed two years later, in 1798 (see fig. 2). This painting was ahead of its time in that the Spanish society was not yet ready to view this “obscene” image. Because of her threatening posture of frontal nudity and because this is the painter’s first opportunity to paint a nude with attention paid to him; her gaze is directed outward.
Olympia is also considered to be an Olympia because of the flowers that have been placed around her, as if she were a goddess. This nude, however, was not met with the same criticism as La Grande Odalisque; in fact, it was so well received that Goya was asked to produce a second version for King Charles IV.
The two paintings, “La Grande Odalisque” and “Olympia”, both depict women in positions of recline. La Grande Odalisque is set apart from Olympia, though, due to her more submissive position and lack of awareness towards the viewer. Additionally, La Grande Odalisque’s nudity is more apparent due to her darker skin tone. In comparison, Olympia appears more confident and in control due to her direct gaze and the flowers that surround her. La Grande Odalisque can be seen as a more traditional painting of a nude, while Olympia represents a more progressive view.
In 1814, Ingres paints “La Grande Odalisque” (see fig. 3), which is now considered one of his greatest works. Unlike Goya’s “Maja,” she was initially rejected by society for different reasons. She was not banned because she was “obscene,” but because her back is excessively long when compared to her tiny head; three vertebrae too many, according to one detractor.
La Grande Odalisque was actually inspired by a real person, that being a slave Ingres saw in Turkey. Unlike Goya’s “Maja,” La Grande Odalisque is not looking back at the viewer with a haughty expression, but instead is looking off into the distance with an almost bored look on her face. She seems lost in thought, and unaware of our scrutiny.
Manet’s Olympia (1863, see fig. 4), was also met with criticism when it was first shown. It caused an uproar because it depicted a nude prostitute lying on a bed with a black servant bringing her flowers. Critics said that the painting was immoral, and some even compared it to Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque.
However, there are some significant differences between the two paintings. First of all, La Grande Odalisque is based on an idealized view of beauty, while Olympia is meant to be a realistic portrait. Secondly, La Grande Odalisque is shown in a hazy, dream-like setting, while Olympia is shown in a starkly realistic manner. Finally, La Grande Odalisque’s pose is based on classical prototypes, while Olympia’s pose is completely modern.
Despite the fact that they were both met with criticism when they were first shown, La Grande Odalisque and Olympia are now considered to be two of the greatest works of art ever created.
The nineteenth-century Realist artist Honoré de Balzac was inspired by Titian’s painting “Ninfa” and produced a nude portrait of the same name, which is now in the Louvre. In response to this, Ingres copied Titian’s female nymphs exactly into his own composition. The subject of nature vs culture appears again here.
Because the body of “La Grande Odalisque” is painted in a more modest way, her awareness may have had a reduced influence on Ingres’ culture; it is facing away from the viewer. It was also more acceptable in Ingres’ culture since it was created following Goya’s work’s shock. The passage of time has allowed Europe to broaden its vision and become more tolerant to the stringent rules of painting nudes.
Olympia’s nudity, on the other hand, was highly controversial.
Some people may argue that Olympia is not completely nude; she is wearing a bracelet and a flower in her hair. However, these items are not actually covering her body; they are strategically placed so that the viewer’s attention is immediately drawn to her breasts and genitalia.
In “La Grande Odalisque,” the strategic placement of objects draws attention to the buttocks, which were considered to be very erotic in Ingres’ time. Olympia’s direct gaze also contributes to her brazenness; she does not look away or down in shame like La Grande Odalisque does. She stares directly at the viewer, as if daring them to find fault with her.
The two paintings also differ in their treatment of the setting. La Grande Odalisque is set in an idealized, romanticized view of the harem. It is a place where women are kept for pleasure, and the viewer is given a glimpse into this world of luxury and excess. Olympia, on the other hand, is set in a plain room with very little furniture. This emphasizes her nudity, as there is nothing else to look at but her body.