Art History: The Virgin Adoring the Host

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One of the significant artists of the 18th and 19th century is Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, a French painter that contributed to classical arts through his neoclassic characteristics. An example of one of his famous pieces is The Virgin Adoring the Host, it is dated to 1852 and measures 40.3 by32.7 cm. it is an oil on canvas painting which is currently being displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The description provided under the painting states that it was a gift to Louise Marcotte, a good friend of Ingres. Marcotte was his friend who introduced him to Delphine Ramel, who he later married in that same year he made the painting. There was a prior version of the painting which had two Russian saints, but in this version, Ingres replaced them with French ones. Ingres went on to create four more variations of the same painting and another variation done in watercolor instead of oil, which presented to Madame Ingres (Ingres, & Fleckner, 2000).

The most notable part of the painting is the virgin. Her lit face and bright blue and clothing pop out of the shadows where the two Spanish saints lurk. The virgin has a calm face with rosy red cheeks, and she is holding her hands together in an almost prayer gesture while staring down to a silver coin placed on a golden candle stand. There are small golden lamps on both sides of the candles. The saint on the left has a golden crown on his head. His facial expression also displays calmness; his left hand is placed on his chest while he holds a big partially shown wooden cross close to his chest with his right hand. The saint on the right is half smiling holding a long black staff which has a golden tip. And on his left hand, he has a golden crown held towards the virgin. The dominant elements in the painting are the blue color in the virgins’ garment and the exceptional use of shapes, light, and texture (Mahoney, n.d.).

Art that subscribed to the neoclassical movement had certain characteristics that were different from other widely used styles such as the Baroque style of painting. The Virgin Adoring, the Host, utilizes art elements in neoclassical ways. There is a substantial use of solid lines in the painting creates definite borders between elements in the painting. Solid lines appear on the halo above the heads of the three characters. The virgins’ garments detach from the background and the other characters by the border lines. Also, there are solid lines in the background which create more definition, depth, and detail in the painting. Thick lines separate the maroon background in the back and on top of that, there are several curved lines that separate the walls from the ceiling. There are thick golden horizontal lines that are on the far right and left of the background that adds detail to the painting (Mahoney, n.d.).

The use of light and value is constant with similar neoclassical paintings. Most neoclassical paintings are portraiture, and in such, the face of the subject should be in perfect lighting which illuminates the subject and make them stand out from the rest of the painting. In The Virgin Adoring the Host, the main subject is the virgin, and she stands out in the image because of light and color. She is the most well-lit character in the painting, and this creates a contrast between her and the other characters and the background. At a first quick glance, the painting looks like a portrait.

The painting has a warm tone and colors, except for the red and blue on the virgin’s garments. The most used color in the painting is gold. There’s gold in the holder with the coin, two lamps, coin holder, the virgins garment, the saint’s clothes, the two crowns, the halos, and the stripes in the background. The use of gold gives the painting a warm general tone which depicts prestige and luxury. Red and blue complement each other and feel like they belong on the garment. In addition to the above art elements that characterize the painting into the neoclassical art movement, there are neoclassical principles of used in the creation of the painting.

The painting has a symmetrical balance which adds a timeless quality to the art with a central focal point. Everything falls into symmetrical harmony with each other.The positioning of the Virgin and the coin at the center of the composition creates symmetry. The center of the coin aligns perfectly with the center of the virgin’s face. The coins’ pillar is at the center of the two golden lamps. The placement is exactly as the positioning of the Virgin between the two saints. The striped pillars between the two saints are identical to each other making the composition of the painting symmetrical (Ottani Cavina, & McEwan, 2004).

Neoclassical art usually has closed structure; this means whenever a person looks at the painting, they will often find themselves back at the central focal painting. In the case of this painting, that is the Virgin and the coin in the middle. An observer’s eyes will always lead back to them. Finally, the shape of the background where the image is composed has the form of a dome strongly associated with the classical architecture usually depicted in neoclassical works of art (Mahoney, n.d.).

The golden halos on the characters represents holiness. The gesture that the Virgin has illustrated in more detail, there is a cross engraved on the coin, which suggests that the virgin is adoring Christ. The saint on the right offers his crown to the coin, which suggests that he does not find himself worthy to wear a crown and that the crown is deserving to Christ. Like many neoclassical paintings, The Virgin Adoring the Host is a Christian-inspired painting.

There are additional works done by Ingres that similarly convey characteristics and elements of art in the neoclassical movement. First, Baronne de Rothschild which is a portrait of Betty de Rothschild who was one of the most influential women in Europe at the time. The painting has a central focal point similar to Ingres’ neoclassical paintings. The second painting is the Portrait of the Princesse de Broglie which he completed in 1853. In the painting, color only plays the role of defining the forms. Finally, Madame Moitessier a portrait commissioned in 1844 but completed in 1856. The evenly lit portrait uses shade used to define forms within outlines. Throughout his long painting career, Ingres has been consistent in creating exceptional works of art at par with the neoclassical movement (Ingres, & Fleckner, 2000).

Cited Works

Ingres, J., & Fleckner, U. (2000). Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Köln: Könemann



Ottani Cavina, A., & McEwan, A. (2004). Geometries of silence. New York: Columbia University Press.

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