I went to the Louvre. Two months later, I’m still trying to get out.
It helps me to think of it as several museums, as Museuminsel in Berlin—which owes Musée du Louvre plenty in the spirit of what it wishes to become. You can run through both in a single long day; I’m not sure that’s especially healthy though.
I went to the Louvre, and saw slightly less than two-thirds of it. On any day, various salles in rotation are closed, something to do with lack of staff. So I missed some important northern European art on the second and first floors of the Richelieu and Sully wings; saw entirely nothing of any of the Antiquities Collections on any of the three floors; pretty sure I missed the Arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas, buried as it is down some stairs 500 metres along the Denon wing; also none of the Islamic Arts. And besides the mediæval sculpture—which obviously I saw, why else do I go to museums?—roundly ignored the rest of the sculpture collection (with five exceptions below).
All of which magically consumed 731 clicks of my camera. On a single, well-used battery. (I was turning it off between each shot. Amazement!) And has since magically consumed scores of hours while I edited those images down to something not so ridiculous. Approximately half: 312 images.
I really didn’t know how to deal with Aéroport du Louvre, so I looked for the furthest corner from the chaos under the pyramid and started there: 2nd floor Richelieu wing, old northern European stuff. It just goes on and on and on; it’s fucking massive. Any one of the wings on any one of the floors is bigger than plenty of museums I’ve been in, but the Louvre has to have three wings and three floors. I do a good run in museum endurance and there’s no possible way anyone could have a meaningful experience and see everything even on a Friday with 12 hours up your sleeve. I was slayed by the end, limping and claggy-mouthed, it ruined me for the next couple of days, and two months later I’m still dealing with it.
In vaguely the order I saw everything, and trying to split stuff up into manageable posts, here is Frances visiting Musée du Louvre:
Almost two months since I wore my heels out over nine hours in the Louvre. Still editing the images; narrowed down the 730 to 220—if you can call that narrowing. I spent some of the weekend getting through a quarter of them, and more time trying to get coherent in my head what came from which wing and which salles. I’d decided a while ago to think of it as visiting several museums, so the question has been, which images go in which museum, and in the end what will be six separate blog posts. Yup, I got quite significantly overambitious here.
Until that happens (maybe in the next week or two, depending on other stuff), here’s the weekend’s work.
The left wing of Musée des Beaux-Arts de Valenciennes continues the right’s 18th century works first, more heavy glazing and daylight through uncovered glass. More assembling images from multiple shots. Quite a few didn’t make it. All of the riotous close-ups of Francois-Louis-Joseph Watteau’s La Bataille des pyramides didn’t either. Check your focus, Frances.
We get into a kind of post-mythological orientalism around here. Works like Jules Vincent Rigo’s Le Baptême de Clovis and Félix Auvray’s Socrate détachant Alcibiade des charmes de la volupté play with this, using elements of Baroque art—the theatrical, heroic settings, an indulgence of exoticism, and sliding into the explicitly orientalist in Antoine Jean’s Cheval arabe, when North Africa and the Levant became the subject of an anthropological documentary style of painting.
More Romani in Félix Haffner’s Halte de bohémiens, 1848, then the exquisite rendering of the woman’s clothing in Jean-Victor Schnetz’s Religieux secourant une pauvre pélerine, and then I’m spat out of the permanent collection into the temporary one, Rêveries italiennes: Watteau & les paysagistes français au XVIIIe siècle. Pretty much couldn’t photograph anything here because of dim light, shadows and glare—and no, I have no answer to how to light works that are glazed and dark tones. I do know using un-diffused spots for lighting is idiotic. The exhibition centres around a recently rediscovered work of Watteau, La Chute d’eau and northern European artists’ attraction to Tivoli.
There are goats.
One a Titian, Paysage à la chèvre, and one after him by Anne Claude Philippe de Tubières, comte de Caylus (and that’s the shortened version of his name).
Back into the permanent collection. A small bronze statue by Degas, Femme sortant du Bain, which because it’s him naturally looks like a dancer—which I like seeing in art and make an exception for him despite his right-wing personality and skeevy perving on young girls.
Finally, two 20th century artists from Valenciennes and surrounds, Pierre Bisiaux’s Saint-Tropez and Jules-Henri Lengrand’s Baigneuses. I just like these both, that’s all.
When you enter Musée des Beaux-Arts de Valenciennes the central Rotonda atrium and salon Carpeaux behind it are the first thing you see. It’s all symmetrical here, old stuff to the right; new to the left.
Never heard of him either. But! If you’ve been in the Napoleon III apartments in the Louvre, and I have, then you’re in the right era, and probably seen some of his works there too. And if you’ve seen the Fontaine de l’Observatoire in Paris’ 6e arrondissement Jardin du Luxembourg, you’ve seen his work.
Of which, the busts here of La Négresse and Le Chinois are two of the quartet who make up the monumental fountain. I was considering blogging the former separately, but I gotta keep things under control here, so: the fountain is also known as Fontaine des Quatre-Parties-du-Monde, which is a theme since the Baroque of four individuals representing Asia, Europe, Africa, and America—though often it seems to me that quartet is Asia, Persia, Africa, and the New World—usually holding up something large and heavy, either a white man, or something signifying the unifying force of science, reason, European stuff.
This work is from 1874, barely preceding the Scramble for Africa, New Imperialism, the Great Game in Central Asia, and the woman of La Négresse is bound with rope. (In a surprising verisimilitude of a Takate Kote, with one breast pulled bare. It’s very Japanese shibari porn.) Representing Africa as a bound wild slave isn’t outside what I’ve seen in art from the 17th to 20th centuries. A bust of a woman though, is the first I can recall.
Presumption led me astray. Another name for this bust is Pourquoi naître esclave! (Variously punctuated on the base inscription as Pourquoi! naître esclave! or Pourquoi naître esclave? and so on), which can be translated as “Why? Born a slave” and refers to both France’s history of slavery (abolished in its occupied colonies 1848) and the United States’ Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, three years before Carpeaux began work on the fountain.
It’s still a difficult portrait to look at, despite her strong, defiant, loathing gaze. Comparing with the fountain itself helps to reframe though obviously not erase what was going on at the time. And on that, at the opposite end of the long plinth with a small model of the quartet in the middle is the figure representing Asia: Le Chinois. He has a queue. In the fountain, he’s a woman, still with the queue. Well disconcerting. Carpeaux, do you understand hair?
One of the only non-Carpeaux sculptures is Scipione Tadolini’s orientalist piece, L’Esclave. Behind that are Carpeaux’s paintings, his interpretation of Rubens’ Le martyre de saint-Etienne, the highly proto-expressionist Deux études d’une jeune Transtévérine at a time the rest of France was going mad for impressionism, the Jeunes gens dansant la Tarentelle just for dancing, and then …
Off we go with mediæval art in Valenciennes. And the very first thing is an a winged altarpiece by Pieter Coecke Van Aels of L’Adoration des mages, and guess who’s there? Nah, don’t, just look at that beautiful left wing.
A sad theme throughout the smaller salles was heavily varnished works like this facing outwards to uncovered windows. There were diffusing blinds, but only drawn three-quarters of the way down. Works like this I had to assemble from multiple images, or in this case, photograph from the side, above, or combination of unflattering angles and fix the mess in Photoshop. There’s only so much fixing of specular highlights and distortion software can do, so call these approximate.
And directly to Hieronymous Bosch. Never easy to call a favourite (because of all the mawkish adoration—kinda like the Mona Lisa, except the Mona Lisa is actually crap), but fuck me if he wasn’t on some strong acid. It’s some Salvador Dalí-shaming levels of freak.
Opposite that, and this gives an idea of how small the museum is, how quick it moves through epochs—we’re covering about a century in these three works—one of those Le banquier et sa femme pieces which I love cos it’s actually The Banker and her Employee. I’m all for historical revisionism right here. There were plenty of successful female merchants and guildswomen in the middle ages and renaissance, and reframing the possessive if nothing else helps regard works with slightly lesser unconscious contemporary bias. And I like she being all boss, “Count my money while I read important shit.”
Into the main hall. It’s called the salle Rubens for a reason.
Let’s divert and do some context: the outer wing salles are about 35 metres long, 12 metres wide, 8-10 metres high to the roofline, topped with steep glass atrium. The whole place was reopened in September after a two-year renovation, concurrent with quite a few restorations. There’s 400 paintings and 160 sculptures on display, of which I stupidly committed to blogging ninety-nine. But we’re talking size here. Both of those 12×8 metre end walls are filled to leaking with a single Rubens each.
I had a moment of vertiginous comprehension right then of art in Europe. In Australia seeing a Rubens is the province of special Once-In-A-Lifetime touring exhibitions in the National Galleries—Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra—and of shelling out $30 or more for the privilege, probably a camera ban too, extremely unlikely to be these massive, monolithic almost 100 square metre pieces. In Europe, I wander into the equivalent of Albury–Wodonga, pay 4.50€ and have a hall where each of the works has the surface area of a room and they’re all fucking Rubens or Maerten de Vos or Caravaggistis or you know, like digging up your backyard and finding a Roman burial chamber.
The first and smallest is a de Vos, another L’Adoration des mages and it’s a charmer. And cos photography doesn’t tell you anything about how big or small a work is, in this case the figures are about lifesize. You’re probably thinking, “But Frances, it’s all religious shit right there. WTF?” (Coz I see your eyes glaze over when I talk about this shit, just like they do when I go all Nürburgring 24h on you.) And you’d be right. But you’re wrong. Ignore Mary and the Holy Family for a second and look at the crowd scene. Look at the clothing, the headdresses, the people. Look at the camels. Look at the elephants!
Next to that, another de Vos, La Sainte Parenté, which I love for its wall-to-wall women.
And opposite, Rubens’ Le martyre de Saint Etienne. The brushwork, movement, light, photos don’t really convey this, especially with its size. And for size: his Le Triomphe de l’Eucharistie, one of those end wall pieces. We’re talking not quite double life-size here. And check out the babes at the bottom. Totally, “That’s my Fetish!” right there.
Out of the salle and into the small ones. Jean-Baptiste Vanmour is a very interesting guy, as his name indicates. Portrait d’un dignitaire noir is the size of a large book, buckets of glaze and subdued tones and requisite naked window lighting glare. It’s a full-length piece, his clothing is sumptuous. This is about the best I could do, and even then the colour balance is iffy.
And then a goat. Any museum without goats, I am not interested. This one had at least three.
I’m whipping through some rooms here, until we get to Jan Cossiers’ La diseuse de bonne aventure, which I realised in the Louvre is a bit of a northern European theme (pretty sure I’ve seen this subject in Gemäldegalerie). The rich young fop who has his purse cut on one side while getting his palm read on the other. I’m not sure if the message is, “Gypsies. amirite?” or “LOL Fop!” slash “Doin’ it for teh lulz.” Anyway, Baroque memes.
Approximately next to that, drunk family and bagpipes. Thank you very much, Jacob Jordaens and your Les Jeunes piaillent comme chantent les vieux, quite a bit for the pleased woman on the right and her glass. You know you’d get your drunk on with her.
In the same chamber—I think, one of the smaller quartet ones anyway—is the brilliant Architecture animée de personnages by Jacobus Ferdinandus Saeys. He was seriously into painting architecture, but it’s personnages here, the women in their mad clothing, hats and parasols, and the principally the prancing guy filling up the empty lower left quarter, tripping gaily with two dogs and a red parrot matching his boots and scarf, dressed in black and yellow stripes, a feather in his turban … in all my museuming I’ve seen none finer. None. Finer.
So I’m just going to stop this first part here, and let you wander through the remaining pieces.
The day before I went to the Louvre, I visited Musée de Cluny: musée national du Moyen Âge Paris, cos this is where the mediæval art was. Turns out it was also in the Louvre, but I’m a little slow sometimes. And had I known what to expect in the latter would have probably given Musée de Cluny a miss. It must be hard to compete with that behemoth in Paris for any museum, that and Pompidou.
By comparison, it’s similar to Berlin’s Märkisches Museum, or the mediæval part of Stockholm’s Historiska museet. The centrepiece is undoubtably the six tapestries of La Dame à la licorne, but there’s also pretty good collections of tapestries, stained glass, stone sculpture, Islamic and Islamic-influenced ceramics, enamelled metalwork, gravestones, and the civic architecture of the 14th century building itself. From the point of photographing and in some cases adequately viewing, it was all a bit patchy, with often crappy light, or badly positioned works. I’m talking about the gravestones specifically here, massive stone objects mounted in a narrow corridor so you could never really see them properly. Contra that, the stone heads from Notre-Dame are displayed in a section that was far better organised, possibly more recently updated. So the photos aren’t representation of the entirely of the collection, mostly what I could photograph easily—there’s a complete absence then of the enamel pieces, ceramics, gravestones, and smaller statues mounted behind glass. I’m also not going to recount every work in detail.
In the first room, the retable Scènes l’Enfance et de la Passion du Christ, tapestry Tenture des Arts libéraux: L’Arithmétique, and stone sculptures Sainte Barbe, Saint Eustache au milieu du Nil, and Annonciation are varying degress of spectacular. The stonework most of all, and of those Annonciation and Saint Eustache, in completely different styles are glorious pieces of art.
Later, there’s a stained glass piece of Saint Maurice. Which is kinda confusing because there’s a French Maurice Duault, who’s known as Maurice de Carnoët, and saint Maurice. And given the date of this piece, it’s far into the period of the Madgeburgian St Maurice, but this one’s not holding his usual, recognisable standard, but his headpiece is completely different to the other saints, so I have no idea. I did some poking around the internet and it could be the Saint Maurice, seeing a lot of French representations I saw are of the blonde haired, fair skinned type, which this one may be based on the similarities with the other three pieces of this quartet, but really, someone who knows this stuff better is needed to explain what this piece is and who this St Maurice is.
This is a museum for a particular set of audiences: locals and frequent visitors to Paris who’ve seen the Louvre, specialists who want to do particular research, and people like me whose approach to museums is singularly enthusiastic. Even then, the presentation of the works—especially perennial lighting and glass problems, but also the inadequate choices of where some works are placed make it kinda hohum.
A slight diversion away from my Louvre adventures. The day before that nine hour stint, I bussed part-way then walked in completely the wrong direction. Turned 90º, walked, found myself in the rain by Notre Dame, backtracked for one last shot, saw a gap in street façades that looked like it might contain a museum, found myself in a side street off a side street and took myself into Musée de Cluny: Musée national du Moyen Âge. Mediæval art here we come!
The rest of the museum is for another post. In one extremely dim room were six large tapestries—not huge acreages, but pretty bloody big. The images of the tapestries you can see on the museum’s website, and their known history and restoration you can grab as pdfs. My images are probably fairly approximate when it comes to colour, and the lighting created hot spots in the centre and murky vignetting. I imagine when they were first created the colours were rich and vibrant, the patterns like optical illusions.
La Dame à la licorne. Five tapestries devoted to the senses, and the remaining sixth to “Mon seul désir”. Which is suggested is either a metaphor for “the ‘inner’ sense, the Heart, in both a philosophical and human understanding, as either a call to the viewer to rise above material pleasures or as a coded tribute to physical love.” I think it’s pretty obvious it’s all about the Dame’s fetching Lady-in-waiting. Or her toy dog. Or her freaky getting-it-on with her unicorn friend. Nope. It’s definitely her companion. I like to believe that this woman five hundred years ago was so fond of her consort that she had these tapestries made as proof of her love—maybe only for those who could properly decipher the broad hints. Courtly love. Whatever love. Sure the Dame is throwing her jewels in a chest held by this other, but the only place either of their eyes are looking is into each other’s. And the flaps of the pavilion of Her Heart’s Desire are certainly being held open by the lion and unicorn for them to enter, then to be released, so what happens within is hidden from view—from all the viewer’s senses. Look at the unicorn’s expression, it’s totally jubilant and the only time the lion is mouth open in excitement is when Lady and Companion are in a mirroring situation when they’re feeding the parakeet in Le Goût.
Serious-serious now (I am being serious in hoping this is a sextet of two babes in love, but also know I’m likely in the minority on this one, despite the above quote from the museum) the work is splendid and rich in detail, almost magical with the background of millefleur, floating as they are, untethered on their small circle of land with only a lion and unicorn for company—and the multitudes of birds, animals, flowers, fruit, trees … and their small dog … each day enjoying the senses together. Definitely they are getting it on.
Two sculptures that are in Denon Wing’s Salle A, the hall that’s flanked on one side by Maure, called Le Moro, and is half antiquities and half mediæval stone sculpture. As with Le Moro, both of these are classical pieces that were somehow reworked or restored during the Baroque 17th century.
Diane, La Zingarella or Petite Bohémienne is a 4th century BC Roman copy of Artemis, which was remade in Louis XIV reign in Italy. The body is original marble, but the hands, feet, and head are newer bronze. This addition transformed Artemis into La Zingarella, a Romani woman. As Florence explained to me, ‘bohémien’ or ‘bohémienne’ in French retains the meaning of Romani, as they were thought to come from Bohemia. Turns out there’s a lot of works in the Louvre with Romani subjects, in Berlin museums, and other places I’ve visited in the last couple of years. It’s also a really beautiful statue, more than my photos convey.
The second work is Vieux pêcheur, called Sénèque mourant, 2nd century AD from Rome in black marble, reimagined in the Neoclassical era, between 1778 and 1784. The first, assumed original title is Old Fisherman, his lower legs missing as if he is standing in the ocean. The reimagining changed him into Seneca Dying, the pool in which he stands of red marble to signify his blood. (I think the ochre toga wrapped around his hips is also a new addition, though the whites of his eyes are original according to the caption.) A later discovery of a statue of Seneca changed him again to the fisherman.
Both these works and Maure are part of the Cardinal Scipione Borghese collection, and stylistically typical of Nicolas Cordier’s use of contrasting materials. Along with Hermaphrodite endormi, they’re also the best examples of this Baroque reworking and reimagining of classical sculpture I saw in the Louvre.
I asked @medievalpoc if she had any requests while I was in Paris. Museum requests, that is. Louvre! Somehow I’d not even thought of going there, in that kind of, “Yeah, Paris … Paris stuff … Doin’ it …” vacuity I’m sometimes hit with. She also had a link for Louvre stuff already on her tumblr, and so Maure, known as Le Moro was one of the two pieces I was determined to not leave before seeing and getting quietly desperate to find around the 7th hour.
Found. Photographed. Oogled.
Flanked by two mighty pillars at the entrance to the Denon Wing’s B Salle on the ground floor in case you wanna go directly to the awesomeness. For scale, it’s around 4 metres high including plinth, so he’s more-or-less human-sized. As for who he is, he’s a fragment in black marble from Classical Rome, recut and completed in 1611-12-ish in Rome by Nicolas Cordier during the Baroque craze for the Classical Era and accompanying ‘improvements’ on old sculptures. (The bed of Hermaphrodite endormi is another example of this.) The poet F. Francucci (who I can find nothing about) noted its existence in 1613 while she was in Palazzo Borghese outside Rome. It was located in Villa Borghese, built for Cardinal Scipione Borghese and gives its name to the Moor Room. In the 18th century, it was moved to the new ‘Bohemian’ Egyptian Room. It’s been in the Louvre since 1807. All that from the caption plus some poking around the internet.
It’s also one of three sculptures I saw which broadly were called “Bohemian’—along with La Zingarella which I’ll blog shortly. I asked Florence (with whom I’m staying) about this, and she said the term ‘bohémien’ in French refers explicitly to Romani people, despite its parallel use as a term for shabby artists living their beatnik lifestyles. My French is just terrible enough to set me off repeatedly on the wrong track, so I’ll leave that discussion of politically loaded terms for now. Just to say there were a lot of works in the Louvre using various terms like this for works with Romani subjects.
Unlike most previous museum blogging, I’m not going to attempt all nine hours in a single hit. I have no coherent plan of how I’m going to organise the hundreds of photos of art works, but probably a bit at a time over the coming weeks. Firstly then, the Louvre itself. A very, very small amount of it. I could easily have spent a few hours just photographing the museum itself, ceilings, rooms, halls, voids and courtyards. The upper floors are sparse, stripped architecture, like parts of the Pergamon in Berlin—especially with the vast interior stair salle. It’s only on the first floor, really in the Sully wing with Napoleon III’s apartments that things go all stupendously Baroque and Neoclassical. (Which is why I have to come back to Paris: to finish seeing the Louvre, to visit Pompidou and to visit Versailles.) The architecture turns again in the Denon wing, and again in the stumps and remains of the mediæval fortress which I ran through just as everyone was getting kicked out, empty of people after the rush hour of the Italian collection.