The Turkish Bath by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Posted by on Feb 14, 2014

The Turkish Bath (Le Bain turc) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1862)
Louvre, Paris

“All around her… women sat, knelt, and walked with a majestic grace that made her think of Milton’s Eve, clad in nothing but proud honor. They were beautiful in face and slender of body, and their long, lustrous falls of hair were unlike anything she had seen among the rarely washed, oft powdered and pomaded heads of Europe. But what entranced her more than anything else was the shining expanse of smooth skin, all of it unmarred, as she was all too aware that hers was, by the red pits and twists of smallpox scars.”


The Speckled Monster


On her way across war-torn Europe to Turkey in 1717, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu deemed the women’s bath in Sofia a scene worthy of Titian’s brush and wished that her friend, portraitist Charles Jervas, could have joined her. “It would have very much improved his art,” she wrote, “to see so many fine women naked in different postures.” But Titian was long dead, Jervas was in far-off London, and in any case the place was off-limits to men. So she painted the scene herself, with words rather than a brush, admiring so much “skin shiningly white” — without a trace of smallpox scarring.

A century later, an exquisitely talented young French painter took notes on what was the most erotic and no doubt most read of Lady Mary’s “Embassy Letters.” As an 82-year-old man, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres at last returned to the notes of his hot-blooded youth and delivered her scene in paint.


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