Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Louvre: Non-Sculptury Stuff

Two of the twenty-four paintings featuring the life of Marie de' Medici, commissioned by her and painted by Peter Paul Rubens between 1621 and 1624.

So many vast canvases. Little details hidden behind triptych panels. Art spanning four thousand years of history - it's impossible to see it all in one day, even if you're not delayed by driving wrong and driving rain. And dignitaries. And closed-off wings that make it even easier to get lost in the sprawling complex that is the Louvre. But go, and it doesn't matter where you start, because you're bound to find something fascinating that will make you say, "I could have spent the entire four hours just in this section alone." The third floor (or second floor, if you're using French terminology) of the Richlieu wing is a good example of this.
The Medici cycle incorporated a lot of allegorical references, and we probably would have benefited from using one of the audio guides to point out all the things we no doubt completely overlooked. The main theme is fairly obvious, however: "Yay, Queen! Marie de' Medici is awesome!" Rubens definitely earned his commission with this series. The meanings and symbolism behind Jan Provost's "Christian Allegory" (below, left) were more enigmatic and frankly pretty trippy. The eyes! The Holy Book and the holey Earth! The chest full of rubies, maybe? and rosemary for remembrance - wait, that's a lily - and the hands framing yet another eye, I think ... what was going on in the artist's mind 500 years ago, I wonder?

The Getty Museum website describes the paintings of Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Triosson as "coldly sensuous and atmospheric" and it is true that his 1806 "The Flood" (below, right) sent shivers down my spine. If I remember correctly, it symbolizes the attempt of a man to rescue the past (his aged father slung over his shoulder) and the future (the children clinging to his wife) but I don't recall from what, other than the obviously cataclysmic flood and weather which according to the explanation is not the biblical flood. Should have been taking notes, or at least pictures of the notes. But we were running out of time, and running faster, reluctantly, to squeeze in just one more gallery before the museum closed ...

And there were the paintings that were just lovely to look at, like Paris Bordon's "Flora" from 1540 (above, left) and Ingres' "Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière" (above, right) that was exhibited at a Paris salon in 1806. She died later that year, Caroline did; Ingres died in 1867 in Paris, where he is buried. Some of his major works, like "La Grande Odalisque" (below) are at the Louvre, but many more are at a museum in Montauban, south of here, where Ingres was born. I believe I will put that on my list of places to go before I leave France. It looks like an interesting place to visit, even without the museum.

Even in fairly simple canvases there were things that caught my eye that I could have spent much more time contemplating. The hands of St. Peter, for example, as painted by Gerard Seghers (Zegers) in 1625 or so, clasped in regretful memory of a moment of cowardice and betrayal fifty years earlier. I was so taken by the emotion in these hands that I completely missed the rooster in the upper left-hand corner of the painting, something that would normally have attracted most of my attention immediately.

Behind a wooden panel with a cheerful portrait of a man, a skull rolls around on the cold stone, reminding us of our eventual ends. There were other examples of this in the tomb-and-sepulchre section we'd gone through earlier, kind of startling, really - transi or "cadaver tombs" showing not only the (perhaps idealized) image of the person in life, like the graceful reclining young female figure I remember looking at, but also the realistic reproduction underneath of that woman's now-dead body, naked with sunken skull and rotting hair and withered breasts.

And when you talk about death memorials and tombs, naturally you'll eventually talk about the Egyptians. We didn't see a lot in this section of the museum, but I'm glad that we did walk through, because I liked the three-thousand-year-old model of a cat on the hunt for mice, and the even earlier diorama of people grinding grain.

And now I know the hieroglyph for cheese! On the left is the symbol square for plain fresh cheese ("curdled milk") called yat and on the right a variation that someone has translated as "milk curdled with beer" or possibly "beer cheese," proving beyond a doubt that Alexandria, Kentucky was founded by descendants of the pharaohs.

We had to stop in at the temporary exhibit containing the recently-discovered mosaic floor from Lod, Israel, which was in much better shape than the ones we had seen in central England at the Corinium Museum near Gloucester, although they date to about the same time period. As amazing as this work is, it's even more amazing to think of all the work it takes to move it around from museum to museum. I'm very glad we crossed its path in Paris, the last stop in its world tour before going back to Israel.

Mom and John had a few specific things they wanted to see, although due to room closings and dignitaries Mom didn't see the Vermeer exhibit she was looking forward to. And John wanted to see works by the Impressionists, but we were told that all of those paintings are elsewhere, not in the Louvre at all. We almost didn't bother going to the Mona Lisa because of the crowds, but by the time we got near that room it was getting close to closing time, and the mob had thinned a bit. Somewhere in my box of slides is a picture of the picture below, though back in 1985 when I first saw it the work was not behind glass, or in its own separate room, as it is now. And there's another slide that's nearly identical to the view I took of Nike of Samothrace, wandering dazedly through the halls of art, jet-lagged and sunburned after a weird lonely week in Sri Lanka, on my way home, eventually, from a year's study abroad (we won't go into the fact that I dropped out during that year, because "dropping out abroad" is an awkward phrase) in Tokyo.

Had I but worlds enough, and time, I would spend more of it at the Louvre and other museums, though I will admit I enjoy the visits more when other people are there to share thoughts and impressions and amazed wonder. But I think I'll have to fit at least one more trip to Paris into my schedule soon.

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