Musée du Louvre, Aile Richelieu Rez-de-Chaussée & Entresol: French & Northern European Sculpture 12th-16th Centuries

I wanted badly to see Hermaphrodite endormi. I left the Denon wing and miraculously it was right around the corner. From there, somehow back into the Richelieu Wing and into the 12th-16th centuries French and Northern European Sculpture collection.

Utterly empty.

Not a soul.

Just me and deliriously beautiful mediæval sculpture. Anyone who is not moved by the beauty of Charles V and Jeanne de Bourbon just fuck off right now. Quite a few pieces were behind glass, so these photos are skewed heavily towards works that weren’t or like La Vierge et l’Enfant en majesté, closeups. I can truthfully look at her for hours. And Le Christ décloué de la Croix reminds me so much of similar pieces I saw in Stockholm. I really want to see more art from this period, say 10th to 13th centuries, I feel like I’m missing something huge with the rarity of pieces from then.

Running forward a bit, I round a corner and here is the most Metal, most Doom mediæval object I have ever seen. It’s completely SunnO))). The Tombeau de Philippe Pot (1428-1493), grand sénéchal de Bourgogne with its life-size figures, it’s deeply scary and I would absolutely fly back to Paris right now if SunnO))) was playing in the same chamber. I’ve never seen a tomb like this. Plenty of large stone relief funerary art, some of it masterful, but this, I’ve never seen anything even resembling it.

It’s baffling to me people horde to see unremarkable paintings (Mona Lisa and Botticelli, thank you very much), yet disregard Northern European painting from the same time, and sculpture, it’s like it doesn’t even exist unless it’s Antiquities, Roman or Greek. So here I am, alone, with one of the finest pieces in the Louvre. Ok, maybe it’s a metal thing.

Metal in a Goth kinda way: Jeanne de Bourbon-Vendôme, comtesse de Boulogne et d’Auvergne. I showed this to Sarah-Jane and she went, “Yeah … Wait! WTF Frances? Are they maggots? What the Fuck??” Maggots. Yes. I forget the details on her, I don’t forget her entrails bursting from her stomach, nor her anorexic grinning face. As with the tomb, there seems to be representation going on in sculpture that doesn’t have comparable examples in painting, or perhaps it’s the enduring solidity of stone that makes such imagery—the brief interval of rot after death—so profound.

Further on—and I’m barrelling through stuff now, I’d love to have the time to write properly about some of these—is a hilarious La Vierge à l’Enfant, attributed to Maître H.L. Untouched by woodworm, it would be unremarkable, I’ve seen hundreds of these, 16th century swaying sculptures with baby Jesus nearly flying from Mary’s arms. This Jesus is more at the pudgy rolls of Michelin Man end of the scale, which assists greatly in the coming horror. His arms, feet, most of one leg, and from chin to halfway back through his head, along with Mary’s right hand have been eaten away by woodworm, leaving a surface that seems to be dripping with maggoty tendrils. With Mary’s beatific smile, I looked at this in terrified, it’s complete Lovecraft, Unholy Things from Beyond Time and Space, end of humanity and the universe. And if Charles Stross was ever to combine his Laundry Files and Merchant Princes Series, this is what it would look like.

Of course there were retables with L’Adoration des mages, one in wood, one in stone. Slightly before those and Nameless Horror, I whizzed through the Decorative Arts collections (no idea how, it was on the floor above and I was determinedly going down, and somehow I was swapping back and forth between Richelieu and Denon Wings), and snarfed some photos of Narcisse, dit Hermaphrodite Mazarin ou le Génie du repos éternel, Diane, dite La Zingarella ou Petite Bohémienne, and Vieux pêcheur, dit Sénèque mourant, and Maure, dit Le Moro before guttering in the basement for the last few pieces.

L’Annonciation and Le Descente de Croix are simply beautiful. Their framing, careful lighting, attention to mounting, all just emphasise how sublime these two pieces are. I’m reminded of Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu, which is still one of the finest mediæval collections I’ve seen in Europe (yes, in small and gorgeous Wrocław).

From here, last push into the bowels of the Louvre, the original castle, wound round in a tightening circle then ejected at closing time, into night and rain, the Pyramid empty and glowing in darkness.