Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Louvre

I. M. Pei's glass Pyramids must have been very controversial at the onset of their construction at the Louvre. To say they are striking is an understatement, but in the evening they become almost mystical as they glow in the darkness of the palace courtyard. During the day they become contrasting design elements in relationship to the palace turned museum. They also make the most fascinating skylight hovering above the main concourse of the museum, where patrons scurry to and fro from ticket booth to museum shops, to the major wings of the museum itself. One could devote days to this world renowned art collection, but I think working one section per visit is the most beneficial to the visitor.
I've only visited twice, but both times ended up in the European wing for painting and sculpture. I didn't realize it the 2nd time until I saw her, an image forever emblazoned on my memory, the Winged Victory of Samothrace. This ancient Greek sculpture was mesmerizing the first time. As a newly graduated fine arts student, I would have recognized her anywhere, but I hadn't realized  she was in the Louvre collection.
DSC07066DSC07065 DSC06996 DSC07067 As I stood there, remembering my first time seeing this statue at the Louvre, it was obvious that she was mesmerizing another group of visitors. Some experiences are timeless and universal. This is where it occurred to me that this visit might be the time I finally see Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. It was on exhibition in Japan at the time of my 1st trip to the Louvre. I decided to walk briskly through the galleries in order to find it, but along the way I found other masterpieces that could not be ignored.
DSC07017 DSC07057 DSC07018   Could these three paintings be attributed to anyone other than Leonardo Da Vinci? The first painting of St John the Baptist is so reminiscent of the Mona Lisa expression, you'd expect them to be siblings or at the very least, first cousins. He sets a mood that is unmistakably his own. Madonna of the Rocks could not have been painted by anyone else.
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Napoleon crossing the Alps by Paul Delaroche was recognizable, and the El Greco's with their typical elongated imagery were easy to spot, but the lovely and tender Madonna and Child were familiar, but not easily identifiable. The first to the far left is a Bellini and after looking carefully at it, the image of St John is much like the image of San Sebastian in the Church of SS Giovanni e Paolo in Venice, another Bellini masterpiece. A very close look at the later two Madonna images shows a detail that we've see many times before in paintings by Sandro Botticelli. Take a look at the delicacy of the veils in these two paintings. Now compare that to the draping of clothing in his Primavera or the sleeves on the image to the right in his Birth of Venus. After several hours of research, it is quite apparent that Botticelli studied under Fra Filippo Lippi who also created delicate features on his Madonna images along with transparent veils and the lack of a halo. Here is a photo essay of some of the lesser known works I found along the way on my search for the Mona Lisa:
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These two paintings were perhaps my favorites of the day. The young Italian on the left of the lower painting looked eerily like our nephew who just happened to be traveling with us on this trip and was in fact in another Louvre gallery as I was snapping this photo.
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If you're wondering about the number of paintings, consider the size of the galleries. Here's a photo taken close to the end of one of them. What appears to be natural lighting through skylights was an illusion that I bought into while there. It's clear through this photo that the lighting was not natural at all, but it didn't interfere with one's perception of the colors in the paintings. Perhaps the bulbs were halogen.
Here's our girl, the Mona Lisa or La Gioconda in all her plastic coated glory, with reflections of the glut of tourists surrounding the portrait, served up like a day old deli item in Saran Wrap. It's a sad day when one realizes that we must protect art with bullet proof glass or acrylic as the case may be. When I first ventured to see her, I found a bare space on the wall and was shocked to see how small the framed painting must have been. This time my shock was at the crowd and their behavior.
I was thrilled to be allowed to photograph in the Louvre in the first place, because so many museums wouldn't consider allowing it at all. When their signs clearly indicated that no flash was allowed, I saw no problem in obeying the rule. As I walked into the room where the painting is displayed, I was almost blinded by the sheer number of cameras clicking away with their flash attachments being fully utilized and reflecting off the painting. Two guards were talking to one another and didn't even bother trying to reinforce the no flash rule. Everyone's disregard for maintaining the integrity of this masterpiece of Renaissance painting was appalling. Does everyone really need a photo of themselves standing in front of the painting?  That's the image I took home from this experience. I hope to one day replace it with this serene and subdued image:
Walking through the European wing took several hours at a fast clip, so on my upcoming trip I'll work on another wing and add to this post after I've done that. Until then, here are some sculptures that were on the lower floor and some other photos of the building itself.
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