Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French, 1780-1867)
Property of La Salle University
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French, 1780-1867)

Virgil Reading from the Aeneid

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French, 1780-1867)
Virgil Reading from the Aeneid
oil on paper on panel
24 x 19 5/8 in. (61 x 49.8 cm.)
Painted in 1864.
The artist.
Delphine Ingres, née Ramel (1808-1887), the artist's second wife, by descent, 1867.
Albert Ramel, her nephew, by descent.
Madame Ramel, his wife, by descent.
Emmanuel Riant, her son-in-law, by descent.
Marquis de Salverte.
Anonymous sale; Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 24 December 1952, lot 101, as Virgile lisant l'Enéide devant Alexandre, ou, 'Tu Marcellus eris'.
with Wildenstein & Co. Inc., New York, acquired at the above sale.
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner, 1969.
C. Blanc, 'Grammaire des arts du dessin,' Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol. 19, July 1865, p. 79, as Virgile lisant l'Enéide.
H. Delaborde, Ingres: Sa vie, ses travaux, sa doctrine, d'après les notes manuscrites et les letters du maîtres, Paris, 1870, p. 223, no. 48, as Virgile lisant l'Enéide devant Alexandre, ou, 'Tu Marcellus eris'.
H. Lapauze, Les dessins de J.-A.-D. Ingres du Musée de Montauban, Paris, 1901, 'Cahier X,' p. 250.
H. Lapauze, Ingres, sa vie & son oeuvre (1780-1867), Paris, 1911, p. 380.
A. Mongan, 'Ingres and the Antique,' Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. X, 1947, pp. 9-10.
G. Wildenstein, Ingres, London, 1956, pp. 178, 232, no. 320, fig. 49, illustrated.
A. Mongan and H. Naef, Ingres Centennial Exhibition, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, 12 February-9 April, 1967, discussed in catalogue no. 93.
E. Camesasca, L'opera completa di Ingres, Milan, 1968, p. 94, no. 69c, illustrated.
E. Camesasca, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Ingres, Paris, 1971, p. 94, no. 70c, illustrated.
M. B. Cohn and S. L. Siegfried, Works by J.-A.-D. Ingres in the Collection of the Fogg Art Museum, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, 19 October-7 December 1980, pp. 106, 138.
R. Wolheim, Painting as an Art, Princeton, 1984, pp. 255-257, fig. 247, illustrated.
C. P. Wistar, La Salle University Art Museum Guide to the Collection, Philadelphia, 2002, p. 73, illustrated, as Virgil Reading the Aeneid before Augustus.
V. Farinella, Virgilio, Volti e immagini del poeta, exh. cat., Palazzo Te, Mantua, 16 October 2011- 8 January 2012, pp. 66-67, 82, no. 51, illustrated.
Toulouse, Musée des Augustins, Ingres et ses maîtres, de Roques à David, 14 May-26 June 1955, also Montauban, Musée Ingres, 6 July-21 August 1955, p. 95, no. 154, as Virgile lisant l'Enéide (as by Ingres and Pradier).
Louisville, The J.B. Speed Art Museum, In Pursuit of Perfection, The Art of J.-A.-D. Ingres, 6 December 1983-29 January 1984, also Fort Worth, The Kimbell Art Museum, 3 March-6 May 1984, pp. 29-30, 54-58, 166, no. 15, illustrated pp. 29, 55, 166, as Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus.

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Lot Essay

The subject of Virgil Reading from the Aeneid was one that obsessed Ingres throughout his career, beginning with the first version of the composition which he began in about 1811 (now in the Musée des Augustins), and concluding with the present painting, completed only three years before his death. Different versions of this composition by Ingres in different media are datable to every decade of the artist’s working life as the artist revised and reworked the complex composition in his search for a version with which he was finally happy. Robert Mesuret described Ingres’s complicated relationship with the Virgil composition: ‘Constantly reworked and constantly neglected, a work of love and a work of bitterness, the prodigal child of a too-steadfast god, this piecemeal product of a search of incomparable constancy charmed and crushed the master by turns’ ('Si Qua Fata Aspera Rumpas,' ou les disgraces du tableau préferé, Colloque Ingres, Montauban, 1969).

The subject of the painting comes from Aelius Donatus’s 4th century AD Life of Virgil, which is thought to have been based on an earlier Vita of the poet by the historian Suetonius. In book six of the Aeneid, Aeneas descends to the underworld and there encounters the shade of Marcellus, the murdered nephew of the Emperor Augustus. When Virgil was summoned by the Emperor Augustus to read to the Emperor’s family from this new work and he uttered the line ‘Tu Marcellus eris’ as Aeneas meets the spirit, Octavia, Marcellus’s mother, is said to have fainted. This dramatic moment is at the center of the composition. The Emperor, in a red cloak, supports his swooning sister with one hand, while raising the other to stop the poet from reading. Virgil, wearing the laurel wreath at left, touches his hand to his chest in surprise, his mouth slightly open, caught in mid-sentence. The other characters also react in surprise and concern to this drama with the exception of Livia, the emperor’s wife, who is said to have arranged the assassination of Marcellus in order to better secure her own son’s place in the line of succession. Placed centrally and wearing a red stola, she looks away from her stricken sister-in-law and stares impassively into the middle-distance, indifferent to the pain caused by her actions. Heightening the drama and tension of the scene is the statue of Marcellus, which towers over the figures at the center of the composition. His placement above Livia’s head not only serves to emphasize her connection to his death but also shows Livia physically separating the mother and her dead son.

The present Virgil Reading from the Aeneid was painted by Ingres over the 1832 engraving (fig. 1) of the composition made by Charles-Simon Pradier after a drawing by Ingres. Though Ingres experimented with many different versions of this composition throughout his career, the version that was engraved by Pradier seems to have been the ideal conception of the major elements of the composition for Ingres. Indeed, the painting that might have given us the most insight into how much the composition evolved from its first to last versions – the 1811 canvas from the Musée des Augustins (fig. 2) that was commission by General Miollis, the then-governor of Rome – was purchased back by Ingres around the late 1830s and scraped down and reworked so that its composition could be made to conform more closely to the engraved version of the composition. The 1811 canvas was then overlaid with repaintings done by Ingres’s student Raymond Balze under his direction, and left unfinished at the time of Ingres’s death. Following Ingres’s death, his student Pierre-Auguste Pichon was given permission to finish the picture, also using the Pradier engraving as a guide, though an elaborate doorway rather than the statue of Marcellus appears in this version. Still, all the master’s early thoughts which might have been found in the Toulouse picture have now been irreparably obscured.

The works of the intervening years between the 1811 painting and the 1832 engraving do shed some light on the changes Ingres was making as he continued to think about the ideal organization of the composition. He made incremental changes to the positioning of the three central figures, refining the placement of Livia so that she was moved further from Augustus and Octavia and altering the direction of her gaze so that she was looking outward with indifference rather than toward in sister-in-law in feigned concern as seen in the monumental Brussels fragment, believed to have been begun in 1814 (fig. 3). He also came to the positioning of Augustus’s upraised arm over time, ultimately resolving the composition so that it centered around the moment of greatest action rather than before it. The authoritative gesture of the Emperor is the moment which brings all the action in the scene to a head. Because of this change, Ingres also altered the pose of Octavia so that she was already in full-faint, rather than in the middle of falling backwards (fig. 4), as this allowed the artist to further heighten the drama of the picture through the reactions of the other figures. The background of the composition underwent significant changes as well, with the doorway seen in the Toulouse picture being removed from the composition and the addition of the wall with drapery over it which helps better frame the central group. A statue first appeared as part of the composition in a drawing from 1815, but was originally represented as a lithe young man. The statue of Marcellus depicted as a warrior, with a shield and sword in hand, and the placement of the statue closer to the central group, were refined over time and had all been finalized by the time of the Pradier engraving.

For his penultimate return to the composition in 1850, the watercolor now in the Fogg Museum (fig. 5), Ingres again looked to the composition of the Pradier engraving as his ideal vision of the subject. This watercolor repeats almost every detail of Ingres’s 1830 proof drawing (now in the Louvre) that was made in preparation for Pradier’s engraving, and the measurements of the figures between the two works vary by less than a millimeter. This, and the fact that the watercolor has been applied over graphite on tracing paper which has been affixed to another sheet of paper, has led scholars to conclude that the basis of the Fogg watercolor was in fact a direct tracing of the Louvre drawing. It is perhaps not at all surprising then for Ingres to again return to the engraved version of the composition as the basis for the 1864 version, the present work.

For the present work, Ingres laid down an impression of Pradier’s engraving onto a panel to use as the base of the composition, but enlarged the work slightly on all four sides. While the single oil lamp beside the statue had long served as the only source of light in many earlier versions of the composition, in this painting Ingres plunges the overall scene into much greater darkness, creating a dramatic chiaroscuro effect which subordinates the background and keeps the focus of the painting directly on the central figural group. In the darkness, the drama of the story is heightened; the dark background and the deep shadows of the foreground create a spherical area of light which illuminates all the major characters of the story except for Livia, seated with her back to the light source, whose face is cast in darkness to further emphasize her treachery. While the major elements of the composition are retained, Ingres is still refining his composition in the present picture. The servant girl in green at the extreme left edge of the composition appears in no other known versions of the composition. Her presence creates a counter-weight to the figures of Agrippa and Mécène on the extreme right of the composition, and her visible alarm also helps to heighten the tension. Ingres also made significant changes in this version to the statue of Marcellus, adding both armor and drapery to the statue to disguise his nudity. This was likely done because this painting was made for his very conservative second wife, who kept the work in her collection until her death, after which it remained with her family.

In 1864, when the present version of the composition was made, the eighty-four year old Ingres was in the process of returning to the major subjects of his oeuvre, making smaller-scale versions in oil, as well as watercolor and drawing, in an attempt to produce the ideal examples of these important pictures with the little time remaining to him. In a sense, these late replicas reflect perhaps the purest translation of Ingres’ ideas into painting, as they were made without the intervention of studio assistants unlike most of the earlier versions of these paintings. Their more intimate scale, and the artist’s dedication to them after years spent thinking about how to perfect these compositions, gives them a unique and fascinating position within his larger oeuvre. The exhibition In Pursuit of Perfection, The Art of J.-A.-D. Ingres, held at the Kimbell and the Speed Museums in 1984 looked at these late replicas and examined Ingres’s obsession later in his life with perfecting the ideas of his major paintings. The exhibition concluded that while not all of these late works are successful, in the present painting Ingres did ultimately achieve his long-sought ideal oil painting of Virgil Reading from the Aeneid. The catalogue concludes that ‘for those able to overcome the traditional prejudices of scale, technique, and originality, the 1864 replica… remains the perfect realization of Ingres’ idea.’

(fig. 1): Charles Simon Pradier, engraving after Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Tu Marcellus Eris, 1832. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

(fig. 2): Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Tu Marcellus Eris, 1811. Musée des Augustins, Toulouse.

(fig. 3): Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Auguste écoutant la lecture de l'Enéide, c. 1814. Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels.

(fig. 4): Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Study for "Tu Marcellus Eris", c. 1812. Musée Ingres, Montaubon.

(fig. 5): Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus (Study for "Tu Marcellus Eris"), 1850. Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge. © Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop.

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