Memento Mori

Wednesday, November 16th, 2005 | Art

One of my favorite works of art is a very tiny one; a daguerreotype made by D. F. Millet, documenting a painting in Ingres’ studio. The photograph, taken around 1852 was discovered in a drawer in Ingres’ desk about 12 years ago, and was exhibited for the first time in the Met’s 2003 Daguerreotype show.

The painting in the photograph sits on a easel, and depicts Ingres’ first wife. The picture of her was painted sometime in the 1820’s. She died in 1849, and Ingres remarried in 1852. Behind the portrait hovers another painting of a woman, but whose cold brightly lit presence contrasts with the Rubenesqe voluptuary in the foreground. I like to imagine that Ingres commissioned the photograph to document a portrait that perhaps his new wife didn’t like to look at, that perhaps was even destroyed. The painting is so realistic, almost like a photograph itself, and so sensually rendered. Due to the cropping, it seems like she’s in a shadow box and not contained within a canvas. I can imagine Ingres sitting alone at his desk and taking out this little image and thinking about his past love. It’s a memento mori not only of her, but of Ingres representation of her, evidence of her beauty and existence and his continued private relation to it.

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