Jean-August-Dominique Ingres
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Image courtesy of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Three Drapery Studies for a Man Pointing Forward, ca. 1824-1834
Graphite with black chalk on off-white paper
30.5 x 22.5 cm
Bequeathed by Dr. Grete Ring, 1954
WA 1954.70.16

A drapery study of the centurion Heraclius on horseback, this drawing is one of the over two hundred preparatory sketches that Ingres made for the painting, The Martyrdom of Saint Symphorian (Autun, Cathedral of Saint-Lazare, 1834).  Commissioned in 1824 by the Bishop of Autun, the work was not begun until late 1826, after Ingres had already completed The Apotheosis of Homer (Paris, Louvre, 1827).  In a letter dated 1824, the bishop carefully detailed the program that the work should take, delineating not only the subject and the figures, but the setting and costume, as well:

The chosen moment is that when the young Symphorian, dragged outside the gates of the city by the governor’s guards and mules, is led to the temple of Berecinthe to make a sacrifice to the gods under pain of death.  His mother, placed nearby at the top of the wall, encourages him to endure the torture they prepare for him with steadfast heroicism, and reminds him of the immortal reward that God is saving for him in heaven.  The young martyr turns toward his mother to say one final goodbye and shows her his heart, strengthened by faith and ready to brave the torments of death and that he burns to spill all his blood for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  A large crowd that follows him expresses various sentiments of astonishment and indignation, of pain and pity that this spectacle inspires in an almost still entirely pagan city.  The scene occurs outside and near the gate, that today is called the gate of Saint-André, which should occupy at least  part of the background of the work.  The gate should be rendered faithfully according to the work of M. de la Borde on the monuments of France.  A bit father, one should see the colonnade forming the peristyle of the temple of Berecithe.  This last bit is left to the choice of the artist.  As the city of Autun was at this time under roman domination, the costumes should be roman and of the Antonin period.[i]

 Ingres is faithful to all of these points in the finished work, with two exceptions.  First, he completely omitted the temple of Berecinthe from the composition.  And second, although he included the gate of Saint-André in the background, contrary to the bishop’s specifications, the view of the gate is not that of the engraving by de la Borde in Monuments de la France (1816).  However, Ingres has substituted another form of archaeological precision in place of the other, the perspectival view of the gate drawn directly from architectural renderings.[ii]

Ingres’s use of architectural renderings in order to depict the gate in the background suggests a desire for precision and truth to detail, a conclusion reinforced by the plethora of studies done specifically for this painting.  This interest in precision includes not only truth to historical accessories, but to form, as well.  It is telling that many of the preparatory sketches of the figures are characterized by a multiplicity of pentimenti, as Ingres draws arms and legs three or four times, searching for just the right pose and gesture to adequately convey his ideas.[iii]  In a similar fashion, in Three Drapery Studies for a Man Pointing Forward, Ingres redraws certain sections of the centurion’s tunic, trying to find the right texture and folds of the drapery, hence the three drapery studies mentioned in the title.  In the upper right-hand corner, he has enlarged the section of the tunic bunched up at the left shoulder and added minor changes.  One of the folds has diminished in size, while the shading is darker, indicating deeper shadows.  At the bottom of the drawing, Ingres has repeated the depiction of the folds of drapery at the waist, again modifying the folds and the shadows, juxtaposing it with the original for visual comparison.

Relating directly to this need for exactitude, Ingres’s drapery studies, like his nude studies, concentrate fully on the form in his exploration of just how to render the fall and folds of the drapery, but in such a way that it does not lose the relationship to the figure underneath that gives the costume shape.  Therefore, in order to arrive at the understanding of the fit of the drapery on the model, the artist would always commence, like his teacher Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), with nude drawings of the model.  Only after a thorough study of the pose and form of the human figure could the drapery be properly rendered to follow the shape of the body in every crease and fold.[iv]  As such, in conjunction with this drapery study of Heraclius, there are also found among the sketches for The Martyrdom of Saint Symphorian, several studies of the centurion in the nude.

Drawing thus occupied a critical role in Ingres’s œuvre.  Not only was it a means of developing ideas and refining the composition, but also necessary to the understanding of form.  Several times, in fact, he affirmed the importance he placed on the process of drawing itself, stating at one point that “Drawing is everything, except for color,” and at another, that

To draw does not simply mean to reproduce contours; the drawing does not simply consist in the idea: the drawing is even the expression, the interior form, the plan, the model.  Look what remains after that!  The drawing is three fourths and a half of what constitutes painting.  If I had to put a sign over my door [to the atelier], I would write: School of drawing, and I’m certain that I would create painters.[v]

 Furthermore, he accorded significant value to the actual drawings.  While some served as preparatory sketches, this was not their only purpose, for he believed that drawings, in addition to a form of preparation, were also an art form unto themselves.[vi]

Nowhere is this embodied more clearly than in Ingres’s renderings of dress and costume.[vii]  Even in preparatory sketches, such as Three Drapery Studies for a Man Pointing Forward, the artist’s overriding concern for the artistic aspect of drapery is evident.  As with other drapery studies, the human figure has been only faintly and partially rendered, the subject of the drawing not the figure, but the material itself.  Ingres has paid particular attention to the areas of light and shadow created by the folds of the drapery, modulating the shading of the graphite to create the different tonalities of shadows, ranging from the deep and dark creases on the centurion’s left sleeve to the light and subtle folds on his right.  Because he has so thoroughly rendered the two sleeves and the right side of the tunic, that he has left the middle section virtually undeveloped, is rather surprising.  The dark, hard lines used to create the folds on the right side of Heraclius’s waist taper off into faint squiggles.  Moreover, Ingres has not even bothered to draw the centurion’s left side.  A comparison between the drawing and the painting however, quickly makes clear why this is so.  The undeveloped areas—which range from below the centurion’s left hand up to his right sleeve—are precisely those that are covered by Symphorian’s outstretched arm in the painting, so there was no need for Ingres to render this part with the precision of the rest of the study.

Despite the harsh criticism that Ingres received when he exhibited The Martyrdom of Saint Symphorian at the Salon of 1834, he continued to think it one of his best works throughout his life.  In 1842, he remarked that “It’s a work whose value will be reconsidered.  Frankly, the Parisian public was iniquitous, ignorant and cruel; later they will better appreciate my efforts and, I hope, will come to better value my greatest painting.”  And much later, when asked about his habit of going back to earlier works he had done and reworking them, he replied, “There are also some works which cannot be reworked, and without pride I would be absurd to want to make another Saint Symphorian.”[viii]

[i] “Le moment choisi est celui où le jeune Symphorien, entraîné hors des portes de la ville par les satellites du gouverneur et par les bourreaux, est conduit au temple de Bérécinthe pour y sacrifier aux idoles ou recevoir la mort.  Sa mère, placée près de là, sur le haut des murailles de la ville, l’encourage à souffrir avec une héroïque constance le supplice qu’on lui prépare, et lui rappelle l’immortelle récompense que Dieu lui réserve dans le ciel.  Le jeune martyr se tourne du côté de sa mère pour lui dire un dernier adieu et lui montre que son cœur affermi par la foi est prêt à braver les tourments et la mort et qu’il brûle de verser tout son sang pour l’Evangile de Jésus-Christ.  Une foule nombreuse qui le suit exprime les divers sentiments d’étonnement et d’indignation, de douleur et de pitié, que ce spectacle inspire dans une ville presque entièrement encore païenne.  La scène se passe au-dehors et près de la porte appelée aujourd’hui portail de Saint-André, qui doit occuper au moins en partie le fond du tableau.  Elle sera rendue fidèlement d’après le dessin qui en est gravé dans l’ouvrage de M. de La Borde sur les monuments de la France.  On doit apercevoir un peu plus loin la colonnade formant le péristyle du temple de Bérécinthe.  Ce dernier morceau est laissé au choix de l’artiste.  La ville d’Autun étant à cette époque sous la domination romaine, les costumes doivent être romains et de l’époque des Antonins.”  Mgr de Vichy, bishop of Autun to the minister of the interior, 23 October 1824. All translations are mine unless otherwise noted. Quoted in Petit Palais, Paris, Ingres, exh. cat. (Paris: Petit Palais, 1968), 226.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] In this regard, see especially the Nude Study for the Mother of Saint Symphorian (Montauban, Musée Ingres, 1824-1836), in which her arm has been drawn four different times, as well as Nude Study for Man Grabbing a Rock (Montauban, Musée Ingres, 1824-1836).  Ingres’s habit of drawing the limbs a multiple number of times recalls the anecdote recounted by his student, Amaury Duval: “ ‘Messieurs, nous dit [Ingres], je vous demande la permission de mettre votre modèle dans une pose dont j’ai besoin et que je cherche….’  La pose était évidemment celle d’un jeune homme lançant une flèche, un Amour sans doute.  Alors, devant nous, en un instant et en quelques coups de crayon, pendant que l’enfant posait sur une jambe, il fit un croquis de l’ensemble ; mais, comme la jambe en l’air changeait naturellement de place à chaque mouvement que faisait le modèle, M. Ingres en dessinait une autre, de façon que, dans le temps assez court que cet enfant put tenir la pose, il eut la merveilleuse habilité d’en achever l’ensemble et deux jambes de plus.”  See Amaury-Duval, L’Atelier d’Ingres, (1868; reprint, Paris: Arthena, 1993), 113-4.

[iv] Avigdor Arikha, J.A.D. Ingres: Fifty Life Drawings From the Musée Ingres at Montauban, exh. cat. (Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1986), 8.  For a discussion of Ingres’s depictions of drapery and costume, see Aileen Ribeiro, Ingres in Fashion: Representations of Dress and Appearance in Ingres’s Images of Women (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).

[v] “Le dessin comprend tout, excepté la teinte. ”  “Dessiner ne veut pas dire simplement reproduire des contours ; le dessin ne consiste pas simplement dans le trait : le dessin c’est encore l’expression, la forme intérieure, le plan, le modèle.  Voyez ce qui reste après cela !  Le dessin comprend les trois quarts et demi de ce qui constitue la peinture.  Si j’avais à mettre une enseigne au-dessus de ma porte, j’écrirais. Ecole de dessin, et je suis sûr que je ferais des peintres.”  Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Ingres raconté par lui-même et par ses amis: pensées et écrits du peintre (Geneva: Pierre Cailler, 1947), 56.

[vi] The high degree in which Ingres held his drawings is evident in a conversation between him and his student, Amaury-Duval, in which Amaury-Duval remarks to his teacher that Ingres should hang some of his croquis above the paintings at his upcoming exhibition, to which Ingres responds “Non…on ne regardait que cela.”  Amaury-Duval then elaborates: “ Je crois que M. Ingres, en disant ce mot, se rendait bien compte de la valeur de ses croquis, qui sont supérieurs, à mon sens, à tout ce qu’il a fait en peinture, ou du moins qui le mettent à part de tous les artistes passés et présents ; il n’y a rien d’analogue dans aucune époque, et ces dessins innombrables et merveilleux constituent en grande parti son originalité.”  Amaury-Duval 336.

[vii] Ribeiro 2.

[viii] “C’est là un ouvrage sur le compte duquel on reviendra.  Je le dis franchement, le public de Paris a été inique, ignorant et cruel ; plus tard il appréciera mieux mes efforts et saura tenir pour ce qu’il vaut, je l’espère, mon maître tableau.”  Quoted in Henri Delaborde, Ingres: sa vie, ses travaux, sa doctrine (Paris: Henri Plon, 1870), 184.  “Il est aussi des ouvrages qui peuvent ne pas être redits, et, sans orgueil, je serais absurde de vouloir refaire le Saint Symphorien.”  Ingres 38.

Isabel Suchanek

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