Author : CHASSERIAU Théodore (1819 - 1856)
Creation date : 1853
Dimensions: Height 171 - Width 258
Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas
Storage location: Orsay Museum website
Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot
Picture reference: 99-012629 / RF71
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot
Publication date: April 2011
A neoclassical representation of the ancient bath at the dawn of the Second Empire
A pupil of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, but also influenced by Eugène Delacroix and Paul Delaroche, Théodore Chassériau (1819-1856) was quickly recognized as one of the greatest painters of his time. Exhibiting at the Salon in 1836, he brought about a certain synthesis between academicism, neoclassicism, Orientalism and Romanticism, acquiring great renown for his portraits, genre paintings and historical scenes.
In this regard, Tepidarium is without doubt his most famous and characteristic work. Presented with great success at the Salon of 1853 and acquired shortly after by the State, it perfectly represents a genre and style highly prized in the beginnings of the Second Empire.
Through the chosen theme and the aesthetics of the representation, this canvas also tells us about a certain vision of baths and hygiene characteristic of the "new era", between classical reference and modernity.
In the center was the bath
On a trip in the 1840s, Chassériau discovered Pompeii and the remains of the baths of Venus Génitrix. Designed by its author as a veritable "ancient fresco stolen from the wall of Pompeii", Tepidarium therefore clearly presents an ancient scene where many women of the city indulge in the pleasure of bathing in the part of the thermal baths where lukewarm baths can be taken (tepidus), rest and dry off.
The structure of the composition allows you to quickly grasp the whole work. Richly decorated with paintings and wall engravings, the upper room tepidarium shelters many women: seated around a basin on feet, those who come to the baths, naked or dressed in light fabrics; behind them appear those who, standing and dressed, serve them, carrying dishes or amphorae. In the center of the canvas, a young woman stretches and dries herself off, while another sits talking to her.
The ancient lesson in the "modern" era of the Second Empire
The Antiquity of Chassériau is also a little oriental, evoking both the exoticism and the sweetness of a North African harem. While the slightly erotic atmosphere, the nonchalant and sensual postures, the languor, the whiteness and the pure line of the bodies unmistakably recall Ingres and his women in the bath, the use of color and the sensuality of the whole must be more to Delacroix.
Peculiar to neoclassicism as well as to romanticism, which also influenced Chassériau, this mixture of both artistic and historical references to ancient times and to the East is very characteristic of the vision of the time. In fact, we consider that the refined uses of Roman civilization in terms of hygiene continued in the Arab world, which is confirmed in Paris by the accounts of wealthy French travelers, more and more numerous to taste the joys of the baths on site. . The success of both public and official Tepidarium would then express and help spread the idea that hygiene, which precisely became a public health concern under the reign of Napoleon III, can also be perceived and experienced as a delight. The relationship with the body and its cleanliness as well as the emerging awareness of the need for hygiene would then take on a double face, like other elements of this "modernity" of the Second Empire.
Alain CORBIN [ed.], History of the body, vol. II “From the Revolution to the Great War”, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "L’Univers historique", 2005.Christine PELTRE, Théodore Chassériau, Paris, Gallimard, coll. “Monographs”, 2001.Alain PLESSIS, From the Imperial Festival to the Federated Wall. 1852-1871, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "Points", 1979.
To cite this article
Alexandre SUMPF, "The" antique bath ""