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Despite their ubiquity throughout his career, Ingres's portraits of women are generally understood to stand outside of, and in opposition to, the artist's academic practices and priorities. An examination of Ingres's Portrait of Madame Moitessier (1856) suggests rather that the portraiture lay at the crux of Ingres's particular relation to ‘nature’ and the ‘ideal’. Portrait-making, with its attendant demands for verisimilitude and the insistent presence of the sitter's own body and desires, presented a challenge for the history painter, whose work was based upon a process of distillation from the studio model. And, while the portrait genre had long been haunted by the imagined threat of artistic servitude, Ingres responded to the problem of invoking the specificities of the sitter by simultaneously effecting her translation towards the general and by painting the portrait as history. In painting the portrait of Madame Moitessier in such terms, Ingres demonstrated how artistic practices and commitments which are generally understood to be mutually exclusive were instead, for Ingres, profoundly imbricated. Through an excavation of the processes and techniques used in the creation of the portrait of Madame Moitessier, this article argues that portraiture is the place to understand Ingres's notion of ‘history painter’ as something other than simply ‘painter of history‘.