We arrived at our assigned time in line for the opening of the Musée de Louvre at the entrance to I.M. Pei’s grand pyramid (1986). The line wasn’t too bad as it was still early.
Outside the entrance there was a series of interesting photographs of the outside of the pyramid’s excavation and its construction – which was a massive undertaking. The story of French president Francois Mitterand personally asking I.M. to take the project on is quite compelling. Apparently, I.M. kept the commission a secret from the rest of his office for months, while he surreptitiously visited Paris and the Louvre site to decide on approach and finally accepted the president’s commission.
We soon entered through the grand pyramid and headed into the great underground hall, connecting the two great wings of the huge museum – which is the largest art museum in the entire world. The light coming in from the ground-level clear glass pyramid was very beautiful.
Personally, I used Rick Steve’s Europe audio guide app on my iPhone to navigate through the huge museum to the highlights first. This approach led me to original Greek sculpture “Winged Victory of Samothrase or Winged Nike,” set at the top of the monumental Daru staircase. The sculpture dates from 200 B.C. “The art historian H. W. Janson has pointed out that unlike earlier Greek or Near Eastern sculptures, Nike creates a deliberate relationship to the imaginary space around the goddess. The wind that has carried her and which she is fighting off, straining to keep steady – as mentioned the original mounting had her standing on a ship’s prow, just having landed – is the invisible complement of the figure and the viewer is made to imagine it. At the same time, this expanded space heightens the symbolic force of the work; the wind and the sea are suggested as metaphors of struggle, destiny and divine help or grace.” (Source: wikipedia.com)
From “Nike,” I walked down monumental skylit hallways lined with magnificent paintings. It was here that I encountered Delacroix’s monumental painting, “Liberty leading the People (1830).” “The painting inspired Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi‘s Liberty Enlightening the World, known as the Statue of Liberty in New York City, which was given to the United States as a gift from the French a half-century after Liberty Leading the People was painted. The statue, which holds a torch in its hand, takes a more stable, immovable stance than that of the woman in the painting.” (Source: wikipedia.com)
I finally arrived at the room housing Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the “Mona Lisa” or “La Giocanda.” “The Mona Lisa’s famous smile…is a visual representation of the idea of happiness suggested by the word “gioconda” in Italian. Leonardo made this notion of happiness the central motif of the portrait: it is this notion which makes the work such an ideal. The nature of the landscape also plays a role. The middle distance, on the same level as the sitter’s chest, is in warm colors. Men live in this space: there is a winding road and a bridge. This space represents the transition between the space of the sitter and the far distance, where the landscape becomes a wild and uninhabited space of rocks and water which stretches to the horizon, which Leonardo has cleverly drawn at the level of the sitter’s eyes.” (Source: wikipedia.com)
There were so many people crowding around the painting and one’s time in the somewhat rushed line and the thick reflective glass over the painting made it hard to truly appreciate the masterpiece.
Next, I was led to a fantastic model of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens (completed in 432 B.C.) with a cut-away roof with a giant seated Greek god, Athena (goddess of war), at the head of the interior space. “The Parthenon is regarded as the finest example of Greek architecture. The temple, wrote John Julius Cooper, “Enjoys the reputation of being the most perfect Doric temple ever built. Even in antiquity, its architectural refinements were legendary, especially the subtle correspondence between the curvature of the stylobate, the taper of the naos walls and the entasis of the columns.” (Source: wikipedia.com) There was also a good 3D model of the sculptures on the frieze of the pediment.
Next up was the fabulous Greek sculpture of Aphrodite, known as the “Venus de Milo. (from 100 B.C.)” Aphrodite, as seen here, is nude from the belly up, with her arms broken off and never recovered. The fabric is falling away on her lower half. Her stance, one foot forward, is the epitome of beauty.
Next I came across some Roman nude sculptures. Some heads and arms were missing. One is sculpted kneeling with his leg up on a rock, while he is reaching down to adjust and put on his sandals – such amazing detail!
I especially liked the Roman sculpture of Dionysus, God of the vine, grape-harvest, wine-making, wine, fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, theatre – who has a staff with grapes and is depicted reclining.
“Wine played an important role in Greek culture, and the cult of Dionysus was the main religious focus surrounding its consumption. Wine, as well as the vines and grapes that produce it, were seen as not only a gift of the god, but a symbolic incarnation of him on earth. However, rather than being a god of drunkenness, as he was often stereotyped in the post-Classical era, the religion of Dionysus centered on the correct consumption of wine, which could ease suffering and bring joy, as well as inspire divine madness distinct from drunkenness. Performance art and drama were also central to his religion, and its festivals were the initial driving force behind the development of theatre. The cult of Dionysus is also a “cult of the souls”; his maenads feed the dead through blood-offerings, and he acts as a divine communicant between the living and the dead. He is sometimes categorised as a dying-and-rising god. Dionysus is shown to be an Agriculture and Vegetation deity. His connection to wine, grape-harvest, orchards, and vegetation displays his role as a nature god. As the god of Viticulture and Grapes, he is connected to the growth and harvest of the fruit. In myth, he teaches the art of growing and cultivating the plant.” (Source: wikipedia.com)
There were also huge Roman busts in which the eyes had no pupils. At this point I looked back out at the massive courtyard between the huge wings of the Louvre, with the glass pyramid and mini-pyramids, reflecting pool and fountains. This is such an ornate palace.
Next, Rick Steve’s Europe audio tour app lead me to Michelangelo’s evocative two slaves. “The two chained slaves express entirely different emotions. The one known as the Dying Slave is superbly young and handsome, and apparently in a deep (perhaps eternal) sleep. The other, called the Rebellious Slave, is a coarser figure whose whole body seems engaged in a violent struggle.” (Source louvre.fr)
I had had enough of the exhausting Louvre after four hours and the completion of the audio tour of the highlights. (Mandy stayed all day) So, I headed out to the enfronting Jardin des Tuileries with its beautiful green spaces, round ponds and high spurting fountains. There were people everywhere in the provided lawn chairs, enjoying the cool and clear spring morning, reading, visiting or looking at their phones.
I went up through the trees and off to the side and up the large staircase to my second-favorite Paris Museum, the Musée de l’Orangerie! (My first is the Rodin Museum) This is where Claude Monet’s massive water lily panels were installed after he spent years painting them. There are 8 massive panels in all in two specially-constructed, naturally-lit elliptical galleries.
I was able, at this viewing, to get very up-close and personal with the paintings. I examined the use of color, the brushstrokes and the amazing techniques employed by Monet.