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The fantasy that arrived from India

The fantasy that arrived from India

(Madame Rivière, detail, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1805. Oil con Canvas, 116,5 x 81,7 cm. Paris, Musée du Louvre)

A cursory glance at Ingres' portraits is enough to spot the distinctive presence of a certain women's accessory: the pashmina. To mark the Museo del Prado's exhibition on the French Master (from 24 November 2015 to 27 March 2016), we have created an exclusive pashmina, inspired by those appearing in such iconic portraits as Madame Rivière and Madame de Senonnes, on display in the exhibition. 

Behind what could seem to be no more than a beautiful anecdote is a nod to those who are au fait with the history of France and, what is more, a way of understanding art and women.

(Madame de Senonnes, 1814. Oil on Canvas, 106 x 84 cm. Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts)

The pashminas in Ingres' portraits reflect that world of luxury and comfort characteristic of the Napoleonic universe, dominated by ruling classes keen to show off the latest fashion or any detail invoking that imperial idea of luxury and fantasy - a phenomenon that would give rise to a reality which many fashion experts consider to be the origin of haute couture. In Ingres, this social code shines through even more brightly, thanks to his expertise in representing fabrics, gleaned in his constant visits to the Napoleon Museum, where he would study the work of the Primitive Flemish artists in detail.

(Ingres Cashmere Pashmina. Tienda Prado)

In Ingres' painting, flaunting a pashmina also conveys a message of power and independence: it should be remembered that in 1806 the importation of oriental pashminas was prohibited, as a protectionist measure to promote the national textile industry. In the imperial era, everything luxurious was perfectly standardised: a woman showing off with an imported shawl was above the law. Her decisions did not adhere to the common parameters of ordinary mortals. 

(Madame Rivière, 1805. Oil on Canvas, 116.5 x 81.7 cm. Paris, Musée du Louvre)

The Museo del Prado’s Ingres Pashmina is woven from 100% cashmere wool from the regions of Ladhakh and Leh, in Kashmir, where, at an altitude of between 3,000 and 4,000 metres, lives the Kashmir goat, capable of withstanding temperatures as low as 40 degrees below zero thanks to the wool that protects it. After being delicately hand-woven by craftsmen, this wool is transformed into the much coveted cashmere, for centuries one of the most highly valued and sought after fabrics, treasured by the upper classes of Imperial France, and which even today still fascinates us. With such an exquisite raw material and the skilful textile production of India, this delicate accessory reaches our hands, by way of homage to the French painter.

(A close-up of the hand weaving of pashminas © Pashmina Golden)

But the pashminas we see in the Igres' portraits do not only speak to us of the history of France. Beyond the connotations of power and luxuriousness that the shawls lend to the portraits, the painter finds therein an ideal resource to experiment with his conception of the curve as the quintessence of the female: for Ingres, all that is feminine has a circular form. This can clearly be seen in Madame Rivière, his first great formal model of portrait, where she herself traces a sinuous curve, surrounded by true serpentine lines: the veil, the dress (which draws a line different from that of her body itself) and, even more so, the pashmina wrapped round her arm and body. A fantasy brimming with circular forms which has inspired us at the Museo del Prado Museum to recover an original 19th century model, now transformed into a timeless accessory. 

(Ingres Cashmere Pashmina. Tienda Prado)

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