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Musée d’Orsay, Paris


Sarah Belzer suggests that Tepidarium can be interpreted as an image of female autonomy unusual for the mid-nineteenth century:

“Chassériau’s project, like [Théophile] Gautier’s [in his 1852 short story ‘Arria Marcella. Souvenir of Pompeii’], took off from the revivification of Pompeii as effected through the female body. But what is most obvious and most distinctive about Chassériau’s fantastic bringing to life is that it does not propose a narrative in which Pompeii, [considered] as woman, is viewed, and inevitably lost, by the male lover/artist. Instead, ‘Pompeii[ emerges in the Tepidarium as woman endowed with the warmth of living flesh, sensuality, and ‘her’ own desire. Like Gautier’s Arria MarcellaChassériau’s Tepidarium is riddled with mystery. But it is not the mystery of the ghost story, of the lost trace, the dream. It is instead the mystery of women’s sensual self-sufficiency : Chassériau’s Pompeii-as-woman is defined by embodied desire, female desire, directed in its literal hothouse (or rather warm house) setting toward other women.

Sarah Belzer, “Afterimage of the Eruption: An Archeology of Chassériau's Tepidarium (1853)," Art History, vol. 33, no. 3 (2010): 478.

About the Artist

Born: El Limon (now in the Dominican Republic), 20 September 1819
Died: Paris, 8 October 1856
Nationality: French