Somebody at the DeviantArt (that's where I publish my "art") commented on "excellent posing of the characters", and this was the starting point for this post.
First, though it doesn't matter much, to the subject of the painting. It was inspired by a short scene from the Inferno, set in the eighth circle of Hell (the circle for falsifiers and counterfeiters), where Dante, accompanied by Virgil, watches a fight between two damned souls: Capocchio, a heretic and alchemist is attacked and bitten on the neck by Gianni Schicchi who had usurped the identity of a dead man in order to fraudulently claim his inheritance. (What!? Identity theft sends people who do it to the Eighth Circle!)
OK, let's now look at the Bouguereau's original:
We can see the faces of both Capocchio and Schicchi and their bodies are in the same plane (not at the angle, as in my rendering). What is going on here?
In 1850 William Bouguereau was a young man of 25. Having failed on two occasions to win the Prix de Rome (1848 and 1849), Bouguereau was hungry for revenge. His early submissions to the Salon reveal this fierce desire to succeed. He put forward this huge (281 x 225 cm) painting at the 1850 Salon. He shows the great boldness: exaggerating the muscle structure and the poses to the point of distorting it, contrasting color and shadows. It might be not obvious at the first glance, but no amount of morphing the bodies anatomy and turning anatomical positional limits off in my software let me to reproduce the pose. The same with lighting.
The painting failed miserably at the Salon. The public and critics hated it.
He started to paint the the religious topics and (female) nudes. Had great commercial success, became member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, professor at Académie Julian (where he taught Henri Matisse, e.g.). He was popular in Europe and US (there is a painting in our de Young Museum Bouguereau’s Atelier at Académie Julian, Paris). He was staunch opponent of Impressionism and the modernists hated him back. Degas and his associates used the term "Bouguereauté" in a derogatory manner to describe any artistic style reliant on "slick and artificial surfaces". Paul Gauguin loathed him, rating him a round zero in Racontars de Rapin and later describing in Avant et après (Intimate Journals) the single occasion when Bouguereau made him smile on coming across a couple of his paintings in an Arles' brothel, "where they belonged".
And, at the same time, who knows? - may be the neck position of Capoccio have inspired this:
In 1974, the New York Cultural Center staged a show of Bouguereau's work partly as a curiosity, but since 1975 prices for his works have climbed steadily, with major paintings selling at high prices: $1,500,000 in 1998 for The Heart's Awakening, $2,600,000 in 1999 for Alma Parens and Charity at auction in May 2000 for $3,500,000.