Jupiter and Thetis

7:00 AM

Jean-August-Dominique Ingres, Jupiter and Thetis, 1811

Few pictures have so thoroughly creeped me out as did Jupiter and Thetis. The way that Thetis looks up at the god just really scares me. The two look like they need to be separated. 

This scene depicting Jupiter and Thetis is not quite so explicit as Ingres’ depiction suggests. Thetis, the mother of Achilles, journeyed to Olympus to plead for support in her son’s battle against the Trojans. Jupiter acquiesces, and in a roundabout way, Achilles gets the battle that he wants (Achilles needed a military defeat to prove to Agamemnon that he was key to the fight). The furious goddess floating in on a cloud at the top left of the painting is Juno. Juno is not too happy to see Thetis back cuddling against Jupiter’s thigh; Jupiter is Thetis’s former lover.

Jupiter, famous for his carnal exploits, looks the part of the cold, unfeeling playboy in Ingres’ painting. He stares stonily straight ahead as Thetis tugs lovingly at his beard and Juno stares laser beams into the back of his head. I think that Ingres does a great job in this painting of depicting Jupiter as the essence of power. His body language is aggressive. He sits with his arms flung out to either side and his feet widely set, filling out his massive throne. He gazes directly at the viewer. I feel like he’s trying to stare me down. Juno, however, is another story. She seems almost unfinished—I know this is not the case, for he painted this at the age of 31 and submitted this to the Salon—but it is undeniable that he screwed her up.

That said, I like this painting. I like Ingres’s use of color, and I think his figures, though not anatomically correct, are pleasing to look at. This jibes pretty well with the picture history gives us of Ingres; it is said that when he saw a sick person with visible sores, his wife would throw her shawl over his face to shield his eyes. I love Ingres’ palette here too—the eggshell blue of the sky and the Jupiter’s rose toga dovetail nicely. Unfortunately, many contemporary critics did not agree with me, for they panned it. They hated the way Ingres had drawn Jupiter and Thetis, not to mention Juno. As I look at the painting more, I kind of agree with their complaints. Thetis’s left foot definitely looks pretty weird.

Apparently, Ingres never really got over the terrible reception this painting received. He continued painting, obviously. He continued painting well. But even late in his life he still talked about the terrible reception this painting got. I get that there are technical problems with the painting. I understand why that’s a problem. But I still think this painting’s got value. Jupiter looks incredible, and I think Ingres does a great job of showing emotion in Thetis’ face. Above all, this painting is beautiful.

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