The Daily Pic

Old Master as Ax Murderer?

Around 1817, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres scattered body parts across a canvas.

12.13.13 7:35 PM ET

This strange image by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres instantly grabbed my attention, one recent day during a quick tour of the lovely museum at the Rhode Island School of Design, in Providence. John Smith, the director, told me that his curators had nabbed the picture for a song a little while back, after it went unsold at an auction. (So much for the wisdom of collectors.)  The little canvas is a study for  "Christ Offering Saint Peter the Keys to Paradise", a major altarpiece commissioned in 1817 for a church in Rome. The study includes hands and faces from different characters in the final picture, each painted with the canvas turned 90 degrees, so as to interfere less with viewing the other details. Of course, the result is a wonderful modernist assemblage that has an almost Surrealist flavor. So maybe what I've really got here is an Old Master discard being used – by me, the museum visitor – as a modern objet trouvé. This might not have won the out-loud approval of Ingres, the avid Academician, but I think his eyes would have understood.

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