Saturday, 3 October 2009

Lingering at the Louvre

For an Art teacher, there is simply no other place to experience some of the most wonderful and iconic artworks of the past than in Paris. There are just so many great galleries, but of course one immediately springs to mind … ‘The Louvre’ (or the Musée du Louvre to give its official title). With our friend Daryl in town, it was high on his list of places to visit and although Jules and I had been before, we had truly only begun to scratch the surface of its vast collection of fine art. This former royal palace that hugs the right bank of the Seine is a lavishly ornate 16th century building that houses one of the largest collections of fine art and antiquities in the world.

Walking through Tuileries Garden late in the afternoon, we couldn’t help but be impressed by the grandeur of its architecture that domininates the Parisian streetscape. Yet in more recent times, it is the modern glass pyramid entrance (designed by I.M.Pei in 2002) that has certainly become the most recognizable external feature of the museum. Despite its initial controversy for not being in keeping with the renaissance style of the building, it is now claimed that since its construction, annual attendance to the Louvre has actually doubled. Its notoriety was further enhanced in 2003 when it emerged as a significant element of the ‘Da Vinci Code’ book and subsequent movie. This has further added to the huge number of tours that seem to centre around the Louvre on a daily basis. In fact, if you’re not careful it’s quite easy to be trampled by bikes, Segway vehicles and tourist groups led by flag carrying guides who constantly pass in and out of the area. If all this can be avoided, it’s possible to admire a most impressive view of the city directly through the Place de Concorde, along the Champs-Élysées toward the Arch de Triomphe and beyond…quite something!

Upon entering the Louvre by heading down through the glass pyramid, we were faced with the big decision of what to view. There is just so much to see that an initial plan of attack seemed the best way to make use of our limited time, as you could quite literally spend days in the museum and not see it all. The works on show in the Louvre cover everything from the cultures of Egypt, Greece and Rome through to the great works of pre and post Revolutionary France and beyond. Yet there is one particular piece of Italian renaissance painting that dominates the entire collection of 35,000 works, although in comparison to many pieces on show, it is a relatively diminutive piece of 77 x 53cm. Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ is the one they all come to see and crowds of two or three deep can be seen around the work at any given time. While it’s debatable whether the hype behind the piece matches the reality, it was certainly nice to see it up close, although I was equally impressed with other nearby works by Leonardo that seemed to get very little attention. Another popular piece was Greece’s most famous sculpture, ‘Venus Di Milo’ which is probably more famous for her lack of arms than the artist who created it (believed to be Alexandros of Antioch). It is possibly one of the most parodied artworks ever and as a result, has become a favorite of the general public. We ended up spending much of our time looking at the enormous paintings (both in scale and number) from the 19th century French revolutionary period, which included the ‘Coronation of Napoleon’ (1807) by David, which is a massive 5.2 x9.7 metres in size. However, I particularly enjoyed Delacroix’s smaller but more iconic work of ‘Liberty Leading the People’ (1830), which is believed to have provided the inspiration for Victor Hugo’s classic novel Le Miserables.

While there were some late 19th century works that hinted of the birth of the ‘Belle Epoche’ (the ‘Beautiful Era’ from 1890 -1914), the Louvre essentially continues to display the ‘Royal Collection’ and earlier works. Most of its 20th century pieces moved to Musée d'Orsay in 1986 and such was the vastness of it’s collection that today it still seems endless. It is certainly one of those places that you can explore again and again and never really quite see it all.

' Liberty Leading the People' by David

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