Les Grandes Odalisques of the 20th century

I found this 2006 remake of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ painting La Grande Odalisque in the textbook for my Cultural Anthropology class, Advertising & Society.

Keri Lotion Ad
from the Boston Globe

The authors of Practices of Looking not only discuss the colonialist gaze of orientalism in Ingres’ original work but also draw attention to the fact that the lotion ad appeared “during the American and British ‘war on terror,’ in which Islamic peoples and cultures have been invoked as the source of a political threat to the West” (Sturken and Cartwright 118). They argue that “the gaze on the exoticized female figure is thus also invoked as a gaze on the other as a means of negating its threat” (118). Further, they note with great interest that this exoticized, nude female figure is presented as “a generic and seemingly timeless signifier of classical female beauty” at a time when in France, England and the US, “Islamic conventions of femininity, such as veiling and covering of the body, have been a subject of intense public political debate, fascination, misunderstanding, political harrassment, and even derision” (118).

The book also includes a 2004 billboard produced by the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist activist art group that utilizes contemporary perceptions of Ingres’ orientalism to comment on gaze and spectatorship in art.


Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. Practices of Looking. New York: OUP, 2009.

One thought on “Les Grandes Odalisques of the 20th century”

  1. This is a very interesting ad in comparing it with the original work by Ingres, specifically in what has been changed and what has been kept. Ingres took some of the icons of the Orient and applied them to what was, in the late 18th and early 19th century, considered pure beauty in the mainstream art world. This includes the long curve of the back, the pure white (almost ghost paleness) of the woman, and the lack of muscular definition. This ad has updated the figure in order to adapt her to mainstream ad beauty: a more toned and tanned figure. However, the eastern icons remain in the picture. Maybe they stay in order to pay more homage to the original than just the posture, but I think it may also be to still link the product to a continually eroticized East.

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