Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Am I a Lover of the Louvre?

Mona Lisa. Mona Lisa. You're so like the lady with the mystic smile.
Monday was Louvre Day.  Two things to note about Paris's Louvre.  It's huge.  And it's absolutely packed with tourists.  And you will swear that every one of those hundreds of thousands of tourists are packed into the room to see the Mona Lisa.

Did I say "see" the Mona Lisa?  Hardly anyone actually looks at the Mona Lisa, except through their cellphone camera.  Sometimes snapping the picture straight on, sometimes snapping a selfie.

The advice we were given about going to the Louvre was this:  Get there when it opens.  And head for the Mona Lisa first, because the room in which they have the Mona Lisa (Room 6 on the Second Floor of the Denon wing, I believe) gets more and more packed as the day goes on.  So, yes, the picture snapped up top is the Mona Lisa room BEFORE it got really crowded.

We entered through the pyramid-shaped blotch on the Louvre's architectural integrity.  And soon after entering, we encountered our first Major Work of Art(TM):  Winged Victory.

A classic of ancient statuary.  Continuing into the Italian Renaissance section which, appropriately, is where Mona is housed, I encountered this:

Cimabue.  Virgin and Infant with Six Angels.  I remember this work being prominently discussed in the Great Courses lecture series video on "How to Look at and Understand Great Art," which I bought specifically so I go to a museum such as the Louvre (there truly are no other museums "like" the Louvre) and have a sense of what I'm looking at.  Cimabue is considered the greatest painter of the medieval period.  This work is from the 1200's, pre-dating the Italian Renaissance.

A whole lot of the hordes in attendance had the same idea: rush to see Mona.

And the Mona room was packed, as advertised.

Everybody was taking her picture, but nobody seemed to actually be looking at her.

I elbowed my way to the front -- literally -- politeness never would have gotten me close -- for my peak.  You know what she looks like, so do you really need me to crop the photo to get a better look?

Just in case you do.  The one I noticed from seeing her live and "in the flesh," so to speak, was that the background seemed to pop out more than it does in reproduction.  It is much more part of the painting.  Mona having been seen, it was time to enjoy the works of the Italian Renaissance.  Such as this:

Paolo Caliari's Wedding at Cana.  This depicts the miracle of Christ changing water into wine, his first public miracle which was "coming out" as the Son of God.  What I really liked about this was the dog, front and center, staring at the jug from which wine was being poured.  You just know the dog is thinking, "What the h***?  That's a water jug.  What's wine doing coming out of there?"

Speaking of being sacrilegious around great Renaissance art:

This is from Signorelli.  Come on.  Admit it.  You saw this and thought "Jesus on a rocket-powered cross," too, didn't you?

And this one, from Sassetta, you would run in terror too if a jet-powered saint was flying above your head in your town, too.

And this triptych from Carlo Braccesco.  The middle frame depicts the Annunciation.  That is when an angel came to Mary (and, no, the angel was not on a rocket-powered toboggan) and told her that she not only was pregnant, but was carrying the baby of God.  I love Mary's reaction in this painting.  She's 13 and a virgin.  She's just been told that she's pregnant with the Lord's child, and her reaction is:  "Whoa."  Probably, "Whoa.  I know not a man."  I totally see it.

Continuing on in a less blasphemous vein:

They had some Raphaels, such as St. John the Baptist, above.  And, as I learned in my lectures on "How to Look at and Understand Great Art," Raphael is one of the three artists that are considered to be "High Renaissance."  He's on the same plane as di Vinci and Michelangelo, which is impressive company.

And the one above (again demonstrating the knowledge I gleaned from the "How to Look at and Understand Great Art" series), this one by Luca Giordano shows we have moved from the Renaissance into the Baroque period.

But it is difficult to appreciate great art in such a crowded and loud environment.  Although some people managed quite well:

There were a few places where there were painters painting reproductions of the works on display.

And here's an Easter Island head, from when we had to go from the Italian section to the Dutch Masters.  Venice, weirdly enough. was up with the art of the Netherlands and Germany, rather than the Italian Renaissance works.

This one by Sebastiano Ricci appears to be St. Anthony of Padua visiting a podiatrist.  Sadly, it's St. Anthony of Padua about to get his foot amputated.  I prefer my take.  So would've St. Anthony.

This one intrigued me:

Bergognone.  Presentation in the Temple.  Circa 1494.  The human figures look like they're in black and white while the rest is in color.  It's like that bad Tobey Maguire/Reese Witherspoon movie.

Some of the halls holding the art were particularly impressive.  Oh and here is another one of these:

Weyden.  He's Flemish.  The Annunciation.  Again, Mary is doing that "Whoa" hand wave.  Apparently that was a thing all across the European art world in the 15th Century.

Dashort.  Dutch.  Circa 1550.  Le Nain du cardinal de Granvelle tenant un gros chien.  Translation: the something-something of the cardinal of Granvelle with a big dog.  My photo does not do the above painting justice.  The child, Le Nain, looks like a painting.  Un gros chien, the Big Dog, looks like a photo.  This was amazing.

And at this point I was starting to realize that photographing the paintings was silly and useless.  None of these paintings will look anywhere close to how they look in person or an art book or even the internet.  So why compete?  Then I saw:

Corot!  Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot.  My favorite painter.  Une soiree.  Not only that, I was in a whole room full of Corots!

I like Corot's landscapes best.  This one is Souvenir de Castelgandolfo.  In the next room I see a Delacroix:

Nature morte aux homards.  The Corot show was nice while it lasted.  But then:

More Corot.  Le pont de Mantes.  In all, two more rooms and a hallway all filled to the brim with Corots.   The Louvre indeed is lousy with Corots.

By the time I'm all Louvred out.  I've been in the place for four hours and I feel like I've barely dented the collection.  Time to head for one last superstar attraction before heading for the sortie.

She's got it.  Yeah, baby, she's got it.

Venus de Milo.

Overall, I would say that I was a little disappointed in the Louvre.  It was too loud and too crowded to really enjoy the art.  It had too much construction going to see things in an organized fashion.  And, this is what surprised me, I didn't see as many "major" pieces as I expected.  Granted, I'm a Philistine and I don't know art all that well.  But I expected nearly every other painting to be something I know I had seen before.  It wasn't.

This is Paris and I had to go to the Louvre.  I'm glad I did.  But if I ever come back to Paris, finishing up the Louvre will not be a priority.


  1. WOW--thanks so much for sharing these. WOW--just WOW.

  2. For your consideration.