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Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, La Grande Odalisque, 1814

by Gabi Kennedy


October 18, 2018 | Arts and Culture


La Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1814) Oil on canvas

La Grande Odalisque depicted by Ingres, is a representation of impossible and alienating beauty standards as well as the conception of male dominance and control. In La Grande Odalisque, the inherently inaccurate depiction of a woman in a harem is a representation of a Western male’s fantasy. The concept of fetishization and hyper-sexualisation of “exotic” cultures and women and an entitlement to reduce them simply to an object of pleasure is greatly explored in this painting. The misrepresentation of this woman’s life and culture and her innate sexual representation in an inaccurate manner reduces her to a toy for Western male enjoyment. She has no identity other than as a colonized object of pleasure for her colonizer. This shows how french culture saw itself as above the culture depicted, enough so to distort and misrepresent it shamelessly and be applauded for it. Also, she represents an impossible standard of beauty. This is visible in the shape of her body, particularly in the extended length of her back and the impossible placement of her left leg. Ingres endorses sensuality over anatomical accuracy and in doing so, inspires a sense of impossibility in beauty for women. Again, the lack of body hair only further vehiculates a notion that the perfect woman is the one imagined by men.

This toxic notion follows women into the modern day with impossible standards and a constant yearning to change themselves to respect and adhere to an image that pleases men and appeases society. Reducing this woman’s entire existence to that of a distorted and “perfected” version of a fetishized exotic woman for the pleasure of men is indicative of an inherently misogynistic societal way of thinking.

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