Dominique Ingres was inspired by this medieval theme recounted by the Italian poet Petrarch. And it is that Ingres, despite being a painter who we have to define as a master of Neoclassicism, had no qualms about accepting certain elements of Romanticism, and some of them were even advanced by him, given his extraordinary artistic worth.
Paolo and Francesca de Ingres
For example, it was very romantic to paint scenes of the troubadour genre, and this one by Paolo and Francesca is it. And not only that, but Ingres represented her on several occasions. The first one in 1814.
In it we see Francesca, Giancotto's wife, who is in the company of her literature teacher, Paolo. Both met every afternoon to study, read and recite, but according to the legends that ran, there was an afternoon that that reading was replaced by kisses. Something that sooner or later the scorned husband was going to discover and of course he was going to take revenge for such an affront.
Taking into account Ingres's extraordinary capacity for drawing, in this case he opts for a certainly anachronistic style, with excesses and deformations in the figures that are not related to classical art, but rather to medieval art. With the moment in which this event is located. But the truth is that at his time, this style was not very popular, since this painter represented other idealsaesthetic.
However, this stylization allowed the figures to have very curved, malleable limbs, ideal to give the feeling of touching and sensuality that these two secret lovers have to convey. Something that is also sinful, and that is why the whole figure of Paolo can remind us of a snake that ste althily approaches the woman's body to kiss her.
In total, Ingres painted this legendary episode from medieval Italy at least seven times. The first in 1814, when it was commissioned by Napoleon's sister, Caroline Murat. A work very similar to this one that is preserved in the Museo Condé de Chantilly. Later, in 1819 he painted it twice more. One of them is the version we see here that is currently kept in the Museum of Fine Arts of Angers. And a few decades later, around 1846, he painted the scene again. While another image of his Paolo and Francesca, today is shown in Museo Soumaya de México, where we see his last painting on the subject, made from 1855, for which he chose a stronger foreground and stronger color as well. And apart from those versions exhibited in museums open to the public, there are two more documented in private collections. In other words, without a doubt this theme of love, jealousy and revenge was something that attracted this great French painter throughout his life.