Ingres achieved unanimous acclaim for his Vow of Louis XIII in which he presented at the Paris Salon in 1824. It was a monumental work depicting the French king kneeling before a majestic Madonna holding the Christ Child. The king offers his crown and sceptre, pledging his undying allegiance to the Holy Family. Following his success, Ingres was commissioned to paint several solo images of the Virgin that were based on his Raphaelesque treatment of her in the larger painting. These smaller works were designed for private devotion. This version of The Virgin of the Adoption, with its much later date of 1858, introduces a number of alterations from his original model, transforming his initially grand Madonna of the Vow of Louis XIII into the more private and humane Virgin of the Adoption.
The notion of ideal beauty exudes from this painting as Ingres deploys the purest forms of line and colour to compose a classicising image of silent sanctity. Yet, she is not presented in a frontal pose typical of Renaissance Madonnas. Instead Ingres paints her with a slight three-quarter stance that allows her head to incline gently. Ingres hints at a more sensual image of the Virgin and disturbs the purity of her features by lifting the eyelids and parting the lips. The more ‘palpable’ rendering of this portrait provides an archetype of the tone sacred art in France adopted during the nineteenth century.
This Virgin of the Adoption was not intended for public display and it is most likely to have been commissioned for private use by the collector Roland-Gosselin. Although there is no theological text specifically referring to a Virgin of the Adoption, the title of this painting, given by the artist himself and twice referred to in his Cahier X, may hint at a commemorative occasion behind the request for the commission. On another level of interpretation, it may refer to the Virgin adopting her son’s sacrifice of suffering for humanity. The lilies indicate the notion of purity associated with the Virgin but may also refer to the Virgin of the Annunciation.
Text by Dr Ted Gott
© National Gallery of Victoria, Australia