Musée du Louvre, Aile Denon 1er étage: Italian & French Painting 13th-16th Centuries

There’s people everywhere, all rock concert like and selfie-sticking the shit out of everything. It’s getting into shove-a-rama territory and I’m trying hard to hold onto the luminous calm I had wandering all the mediæval stuff upstairs. Trying. And then I spot this guy. He’s so appropriate, wearing saffron robes with lynx fur trim and an ultramarine cowl, tranquil in all the hysteria, catching my eye and pointing in the direction of Art, all “Yo, check this shit out.”

Bernadino Luini’s L’Adoration des Mages, the best introduction to thousands of metres of art in any museum anywhere.

What a difference the Alps make. On one side, Northern European art upstairs on the second floor of the Louvre. Ghost town. On the other. Italy. Mayhem. Louvre Denon Wing, busier than an international airport. Ok, there’s spectacular and famous stadium rock art of the Delacroix kind, so French too, but everyone’s here for the Italian shit like it’s the last and only word in the history of the universe. And let’s be clear. Botticelli is some mediocre shit—even in Italy, there’s plenty of artists at the same time who are far more interesting; he wasn’t doing anything different to the rest of the peninsula, other than being not as good. And in the north, I’d take Hans Baldung der Grien or Meister des Aachener Altars over Botticelli. He also whitewashed Adoration of the Magi, so fuck him.

As for that painting, the one everyone goes to the Louvre for, it’s some seriously insipid crap. There’s nothing mysterious or unique about Mona Lisa‘s smile, it’s standard Mediæval / Renaissance. Look at any International Gothic Virgin and Child and you’ll see the identical, slightly beatific distant look. It’s small, dull, metres away behind thick glass, and surrounded by braying fools with selfie sticks, who thankfully never look left, right or behind at the truly spectacular art that is forced to share a room with her.

Getting ahead of myself anyway. Past Mr Magi turn right and here’s 500 metres of art. I don’t need to exaggerate with the Louvre, look on a map, the Denon Wing is long enough to land a plane in. And oh! the mediæval art! It is glorious. Giotto di Bondone’s La Crucifixion so similar to what was happening in the north, yet so dissimilar with the palette of blues and those crimsons. Then there’s Bernado Daddi’s L’Annonciation and I know I go on and fucking on about “Islamic influence in European mediæval art” but look at geometric tapestry handing behind Mary and look at how that’s built around the solid block of colour of her robes and cowl, and the two-dimensionality of her side of the work. Nearby is Giotto di Bondone’s La Stigmatisation de saint François d’Assise. I have a bit of an attention focus for Saint Francis, sharing a name and all, also cos Dasniya plays him in Das Helmi’s Große Vögel Kleine Vögel. Here it’s the weird laser beams shooting from the angel’s hands and feet, pinning down our St. Francis, and all the use of browns and muted greens.

Speaking of little birds, Paolo di Dono, dit Uccello’s La Bataille de San Romano: la contre-attaque de Micheletto da Cotignola probably I should not have included, not good photos, but it’s such an odd one, particularly obvious in the closeups. If I was sure to be visiting the Louvre again soon, I’d save this and others for the next time. Contemporary of Botticelli, Francesco Botticini’s La Vierge et l’Enfant en gloire, entourés de sainte Marie-Madeleine, de saint Bernard, d’anges, de chérubins et de séraphins; Liberale da Verona’s L’Enlèvement d’Europa; Giovanni Francesco da Rimini’s Douze scènes de la vie de la Vierge; Guido da Siena’s La Nativité; Vitale da Bologna’s Le Couronnement de la Vierge; Marco d’Antonio di Ruggero dit Lo Zoppo’s La Vierge et l’Enfant entourés de huit anges. These span about 200 years from mid-late 1200s to 1485, and are in the small salle off to one side before those 500 metres.

Le Couronnement de la Vierge dates itself with the woodcut like golden folds in Mary’s black robes. When I see this technique I always expect to be looking at one of the earliest works in a museum, which in the Louvre, excluding mediæval sculpture (and all the antiquities collections) is about it. L’Enlèvement d’Europa, about a hundred years younger is one of the earliest examples of mythology I can recall seeing, it’s also pretty different in composition with its isolated groupings of women. Back the other way a hundred years, Le Couronnement de la Vierge has traces of the gold on black woodcut effect but already presaging high mediæval art with the tapestry behind pinned up by angels, and the overlapping heads and circular halos of the onlookers, also starting to see the emergence of luxurious embroidered fabrics in the guy on the right. And La Vierge et l’Enfant entourés de huit anges, just look at those angels, they’re either all drunk or have been hit on the head with planks, or really don’t want to be there. Even Mary is all, “We fukken done yet?” and Jesus is slurp-slurp-slurp. It’s achieved naturalism and depth though, without going all soft glamour focus.

Somewhere around here I veered out of the old stuff into the 16th to 19th centuries French and Italian art before careening back, I think it was just before Lambert Sustris’s Vénus et l’Amour, where there’s plenty of can’t miss it symbolic things stabbing into other things.

And then I’m in the room with the most overrated painting in the world. But look to the right! Paolo Caliari, dit Véronèse, et atelier, the same Caliari and atelier who painted Les Noce de Cana, which if you turn around… but before that, on the right, also nicely folded along the middle is Esther et Assuérus. Another photo I’d gladly have a better copy of, which I kept at until it was halfway presentable all for the guy in the space in the middle. Who is a dwarf, of African descent, wearing a chest plate with the banner of Saint Mauritius, has a sword, a medallion around his neck, and is lounging one hand on the old guy with the beard to his right. Striped leggings also. I know nothing of Véronèse, so have no idea if he’d think sticking Saint Maurice in a painting would be a good idea, but kinda leaning towards that’s what we’re meant to think. And this is a painting of a woman who’s a Jewish exile in Persia.

Turning back, his Les Noces de Cana. Massive does not help to comprehend how big this is. It’s almost 10 metres wide by 666 (heh) cm high. And was sliced in two when Napoléon plundered it in 1797. There’s also a guy by the table on the left with a parrot who might be the same person as in Esther et Assuérus. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered the extremely involved, high-tech recreation of Les Noces de Cana by Factum Arte. Totally worth an afternoon reading how they did it. On that, compared to most photos I’ve seen of this work, mine looks muted, almost dirty, dim, lacking in contrast and saturation. Some of that’s the difficulty of photographing such a huge work in the busiest museum room in the world, but as much as possible, I rely on my camera being accurate-ish in reproducing colour, exposure, contrast, and I think this is pretty faithful to what Les Noces de Cana looked like on November 20th under natural light in the Louvre. I also resist for all I’m worth the hegemony of Saturate All The Photos! that’s the visual equivalent of remastering albums by compressing the fuck out of them.

So, Les Noces de Cana, it’s difficult to say anything about such a work. I suppose it’s like being in the Sistine Chapel. For what it’s worth, if you wanna see good representation of what was normal for a European city like Venice in the mid-16th century, Véronèse is it.

A last painting before bailing on this part of the Denon Wing, Biagio d’Antonio’s Le Portement de croix. Besides being a fine, large-scale work, something I noticed in French and western European art was the presence of a black guy pulling Jesus and the cross. I’m used to seeing people of African, Persian, Semitic descent in Adoration of the Magi, but it struck me as something new or really infrequent in Germanic art. So, this is one of the best and clearest.

By now I’d been at it for close to seven hours and was getting footsore and delirious, just as I am now, having been writing solidly for eight hours. I swear I’ll never museum like I museumed in the Louvre again. But first, all the Italian & French Painting in the Denon Wing from the 16th-19th Centuries.