Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Days 21, 22 & 28: The Louvre

The Louvre Museum is the most famous and best attended art museum in the world.

The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as a fortress in the late 12th century under Philip II.  During the Renaissance, François I tore down the fortress and started the Louvre palace in the mid-1400s. Every subsequent French king added onto the structure: if you pay attention, you can spot several different architectural styles.

Internet grab
The glass pyramid in the center was added in 1989 as a skylight for a new underground entrance hall. It was designed by I.M. Pei, a renowned Chinese American architect. It is part of an installation with three smaller glass pyramids and a layout of reflecting pools and fountains. The water features were dry during our visit because of some renovations being made to the Pyramid entrance hall. We had admired them immensely during previous visits.

The exterior has ornate decoration. Here's the street entrance near the subway station that we used for our visits.

Jan's iPad photo.
All photos in this report are from my iPad
unless otherwise noted.
Here's an early morning view of the courtyard.

In the late afternoon, we left the museum through a tunnel in this building.

Here's a view of the exterior from the entrance hall under the pyramid.

Some rooms of the palace have grandiose ceilings, worthy of royalty.

The art collection was begun by King Francis I during the sixteenth century. The collection grew steadily thanks to donations and purchases by the kings.

In 1682 Louis XIV moved the court to the palace at Versailles, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection.

The Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture was established there and began holding salons in 1699. For the next hundred years, to have a painting accepted for exhibit at the Royal Salon was considered a major honor, and a springboard to success.

In 1793, during the French Revolution, the Louvre was turned into a national art museum so that the private royal collection could be opened to the public.

About 35,000 works of art are on display in eight departments.

There is a Department of Egyptian Antiquities.

Seated Scribe, 2600-2350 b.c.

There is a Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities. This popular sculpture is prominently displayed at the top of a staircase.

Winged Victory of Samothrace, 190 BC

The Room of the Caryatids houses Roman copies of Greek sculptures that have long since disappeared.

The Three Graces, 2nd C. 

The Room of the Caryatids is named for an entrance that was carved during the Renaissance in imitation of classical temple architecture.

The Caryatids, 1546
Photo by Dan L. Smith

Roman sculptures were also placed in niches in the hall of Italian painting.

Hercules, 2nd C.

The extensive sculpture collection is arranged around two glass-covered courtyards.

The floor space dedicated to Decorative Arts is vast.

Contemporary Art

For the most part, the Louvre exhibits old stuff, art dating before the 1800s, but three important works by contemporary artists have been installed.

Cy Twombly, an American who has spent most of his career in Italy, painted this ceiling for the Salle de Bronzes, which displays artifacts such as helmets and rings made of bronze and other precious metal. Against a deep blue sky, where overlapping circles suggest planets, the greatest sculptors from the Hellenic period in Greek script are listed. It was one of Twombly's last works.

Cy Twombly, 1928-2011
Ceiling for Salle de Bronzes, 2010

Anselm Kiefer, a German artist who lives in southern France, created a painting and two sculptures for an elegant stairwell linking the Egyptian and Mesopotamian antiquities. Over 30 feet high and almost 15 feet wide, the painting is a 'self-portrait' of a naked man flat on his back, immersed in a starry nighttime sky.

Anselm Kiefer, b. 1945
Athanor, 2007

The sculptures use obscure symbolism. One shows a de-petaled sunflower emerging from a pile of lead books. Even though it looks somber, books and sunflowers are positive symbols in Kiefer's work.

Anselm Kiefer, b. 1945
Danaë, 2007
The other sculpture shows an earth-like mound spiked with dead sunflowers. “Hortus Conclusus” is Latin for enclosed garden.

Anselm Kiefer, b. 1945
Hortus Conclusus,

A temporary exhibit in the Pyramid entrance is a neon bolt of light by artist-in-residence Claude Lévêque. It is only moderately effective during the day, but at night it is spectacular.

Claude Lévêque, b. 1953
Under the Big Top of the World, 2014-2016


The Louvre has a wonderful cafeteria in the Pyramid section with lots of healthy and tasty selections. We ate lunch there twice.

Captain Dan at lunch in the Louvre


The reason we went to the Louvre was to study and record its collection of legendary paintings. Of course, French art from the 1500s to the middle of the 1800s gets the most extensive coverage, but the Italian collection is also fairly comprehensive for the 1400s through 1600s. The collection of Dutch and Flemish art is about a third that size, but includes several masterpieces. Hardly a dozen works of Spanish art are exhibited, and the gallery for British art is hardly worth mentioning.

The painting collection is difficult to photograph for several reasons: the museum is huge; it is crowded; and skylights cast photo-wrecking glare on many of the paintings.

Many masterpieces are obscured by centuries of scum that any self-respecting museum would have removed decades ago. Considering how much money they rake in, the Louvre is greatly to be faulted for not having a more active restoration program.

It took us three visits to cover the painting departments at the Louvre. I'm going to break my coverage up into three articles that follow: Italian Art, Art of the Lowlands and Spain, and French Art.