A Roman Beggar Woman Edgar Degas Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Upon the artist's journey throughout Italy to incorporate his French style into the classic elements of Italian art, Degas witnessed an ordeal of events that influenced his work. The painting, A Roman Beggar Woman, is based on Degas's encounter with poverty throughout Italy.

The nation of fabulous paintings showcasing a rich history of art and luxury was paired with poor villages of Italian families barely able to obtain food. Degas had experienced much exposure to the hot sun, a religious experience, and first hand witnessed immense poverty. Degas felt strongly that he must illustrate the struggles of the common Italian people by depicting a roman beggar throughout his work. The woman is seated upright with her back leaning against a wooden frame along a wall. Degas showcased an array of fabrics covering the woman's body, adding small characteristics throughout the textures. A plaid pattern covers the head of the woman, against the sun and in modesty as a woman during the time.

The plaid fabric covers her head, breaking off into small strands and hitting her shoulders. Beneath the fabric, the viewer is able to witness another cloth covering the woman’s head as it ties beneath her chin. The woman is dressed in a calm brown blouse that is sewn into a long sleeve shirt. A blue fabric with small white cuticular details peaks out at the front of her attire, while a black plaid peaks near the back of her shirt. It is unknown what exactly these pieces of different fabric belong to. Yet, based on the poverty of the woman, if seems that these multicoloured fabrics may be torn pieces of cloth sewn together as one.

The Roman Beggar is seated upon her golden skirt falling towards the floor. The skirt holds small orange figures in a pattern. Degas has carefully illustrated this lush fabric by using linear brush strokes to showcase the folds in her skirt. Near the knees of the woman, another blue and turquoise fabric is uncovered. The woman's left hand holds the top of a wooden cane as she remains seated. The realist painting uses small detail to illustrate the fine lines of age on the woman’s face. This enables the viewer to witness the woman’s struggle as a beggar at old age. These fine lines continue upon the hand of the woman. Near the woman, a small piece of bread lays on the ground with bites taken out. Another object is placed near the left of the painting seeming to resemble a small bowl.

The background of the painting adds to the portrait of the woman. The different colour schemes and textures add a realist emotion to the artwork, yet not overpowering the muse. The woman leans against a wooden frame attacked to the wall. The wall is coloured in a light yellow shade that bleeds into a darker copper orange. It seems as if Degas has used a sponge technique in order to showcase the texture of the wall. The spongey surface of the wall holds a similar feel to the black background behind the woman.

The wall is covered in similar shades of black and red mix into one another. This background accentuates the facial features of the woman with her prominent nose framing the side profile of her face. The woman’s face is illuminated with the dark background creating a contrast. The Roman beggar is seated on a red surface that seems to resemble a floor. Degas continues to use the sponge technique to illustrate the surface of the ground. Light brown shades cover bites of the surface to manifest dirt.