Humanities and Arts

Man in the Middle: Ingres’s Portrait of Louis-Franc¸ois Bertin at the Salon of 1833 and the Problem of the Juste Milieu

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Doi: doi:10.1093/oxartj/kcab013



In a corner of room 60 on the second floor of the Louvre’s Sully Wing, Ingres’s Portrait of Louis-Franc¸ois Bertin hangs adjacent to his study for Angelica saved by Ruggiero (1819) (Fig. 1).1 In the absence of Ruggiero, Angelica seems to look over her right shoulder, not at the hippogriff-riding knight who despatches a sea monster prior to rescuing her, but at a plump male figure resolutely oblivious to his neighbour and her peril. The juxtaposition of Bertin’s self-confident gaze and relaxed body with Angelica’s vulnerable nakedness could be read as an exercise in iconographical incongruity, if not a moment of curatorial mischief (Fig. 2). But whatever the explanation for the painting’s current display, it is hard not to regard this as a dramatic fall from grace for a work that had occupied the ‘place of honour’ when first shown at the 1833 Salon, and attracted voluminous coverage in the press. Bertin’s relegation to the upper reaches of the Sully Wing is consistent with the assumption that its standing as a work of art has been compromised by the received idea that it is, above all else, a social document: an archetypal image of the newly dominant bourgeoisie of early nineteenth-century France.2