In July of 1856, Degas went to Italy, where he stayed for the next three years. The artist was in search of himself and history painting then became an impetus for a new creative period. As a student, he was interested in historical literature, examined ancient frescoes in the Louvre and admired the image of Semiramis — legendary queen of Assyria, who built Babylon. Many sketches were created during this period, and “Woman with Ibis” was one of them.
While creating a painting of the same name, the artist also painted a fresco, as well as a copy of it, depicting a young woman standing on a terrace above the city, caressed by two ibises — the sacred birds of the Egyptians. The original idea was to depict a pensive woman, but when Degas added the imaginary cityscape of the Middle East, pink flowers and two red ibises, the picture became an enigmatic mystery. Around the same time he considered adding these amazing birds to his great history painting “Semiramis Building Babylon” (Musée d’Orsay, Paris).
’’Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.’’ Edgar Degas