on April 9, 2012
All the world knows that the Musee du Louvre sits on a huge stretch of land in …guess where?... but those who have yet never put their feet inside do not know that the Louvre is mostly filled in with foreign masterpieces with only a minority of purely original contributions from native French artists. Prehistoric art dating as far back as 3000BC, Greek and Roman antiquities, Islamic art, Italian paintings, drawings and graphics and collections of ‘objets d’art’ are all well represented and one needs a lifetime to get acquainted with all the exhibition halls and the treasures within.When compared to the vast number of items that make up these colossal collections, French artworks are somewhat poorly represented. This does not in any way imply that one cannot view paintings and works of art that were conceived and designed by some of the world’s greatest French artists. But on looking closely at such items, one easily comes to a conclusion that most French works exhibited at the Louvre are highly influenced by Italian art schools, particularly those whose roots and origin lie in the Renaissance era. The influence of Italian art on French artworks is evident not just where paintings and drawings are concerned but also in furniture design, porcelain or enamelled ornaments and other ‘objets d’art’. As a matter of fact, some French works handmade by master artists or craftsmen for the French royalty or high-court officials seem to be a replication of works that are currently exposed in museums or church treasuries in Venice, Florence and Rome. This does not in any way downgrade the reputation of the Louvre as the world’s top art museum; nor does it account for the fact that some visitors leave the museum tired and unsatisfied after a full day of sightseeing. Before coming here it is essential to understand that the exhibition space is so vast and the exhibits so numerous that it is impossible to see more than a fraction of this great museum in just one visit. All visitors, whether they are lovers of art or not, will definitely come here to look for the world’s greatest masterpieces. What’s the significance of a visit to the Louvre after all if it does not give one the chance to get a glimpse of the particular smile of Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa’? Why should you miss the armless statue of the goddess ‘Aphrodite’ even if classic Greek art is not your realm of the artistic world? Why should Caravaggio’s ‘Death of the Virgin’ scarcely attract your passing glance, although you know that this is a fine example of Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro? To avoid missing the finest masterpieces, to have the opportunity to see some of the greatest exhibits, the Louvre organizers have posted signs in key positions to direct visitors towards the foremost attractions. Though signposting is unquestionably helpful and recommendable, one must be aware that walking around in search of the signposted masterpieces is physically exhausting and time consuming.A better alternative is to obtain the free leaflet ‘Louvre Plan/Information’ from the information desk or museum bookshop in the split-level public area under the Grande Pyramide or from the underground shopping centre of the Carrousel du Louvre. Once you examine carefully the graphical representation of each of the museum’s sections and get to know what exhibits each section contains, then you need to be selective and choose a section that appeals most to your artistic tastes and preferences. It is important to sacrifice any fantasies you may have of seeing more than one section in the course of one visit. A diagrammatic map of the Louvre is not easy to understand and attempting to find your whereabouts once you are inside is a great feat of endurance. Once you are near the glass-and-steel Grande Pyramide on Cour Napoleon waiting patiently for your turn to buy an entry ticket, take your time to inspect the outside baroque architecture of the former royal residences inside which thousands of exhibits are waiting the daily flow of visitors. Try to get a good orientation before you make your way in since the three main wings are somehow or other interconnected and it’s easy to leave one wing and find yourself in the next. The interconnecting corridors are themselves devoted to exhibits, making your tour of the Louvre more intriguing and complicated.Visitors need to use the ‘Louvre Plan/Information’ leaflet to avoid wasting time and choose wisely. As one can easily deduce from the plan, each of the three wings is a huge four-storey edifice and contains exhibition space which one can visit. The massive building on the eastern side of Cour Napoleon is the Sully Pavilion. Architecturally magnificent, being one of the most influential classical palaces ever built in Europe, this medieval edifice houses two complete floors of historical treasures, many of which are artistic remnants of ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations. The third floor (in French, deuxieme etage and not troisieme etage), is dedicated to French paintings, the majority of which are highly influenced by Italian artists of the calibre of Titian, Mantegna, Tintoretto and Caravaggio. Most French artists, symbolized through a considerable number of paintings in the Louvre, studied art and worked in Italy for long periods of time and consequently their work adopted styles and subjects that were prevalent in Italian painting at that time. The paintings of the French artists Nicolas Poussin, Charles Le Brun and Jean Fouquet indicate unmistakably this Italian influence through the use of ‘Caravaggism’, a style that embodies the application of chiaroscuro to traditional subjects and religious pictures. Even Eugene Delacroix who painted hundred years later drew his inspiration from Venetian painters and adopted Michelangelo’s style in most of his paintings. The wing south of the Grande Pyramide is the Denon Pavilion and its elongated extension is the Pavillon de Flore. Most of its interior windows overlook Quai du Louvre, a long stretch on the Right Bank of the Seine. This wing is unquestionably a hotspot for visitors, particularly for those in search of famous Italian and Spanish paintings and sculptures. But first-time visitors should be aware that in addition to these masterpieces, the Denon Wing has a complete floor dedicated to the ancient Arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Nowhere can one find such a detailed and comprehensive exposition of non-European artworks related to early civilizations.On reaching the top of the staircase, you will come across a graceful headless sculpture that dates back to the third century BC. This is the ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’, a celebrated marble statue of the Greek goddess Nike that stands here as a symbol of power and dominance. The world-renowned statue of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, nicknamed the ‘Venus de Milo’ also forms part of the ancient Greek collections housed in the Denon Wing. It is an armless larger-than-life statue of the Greek goddess of love and beauty, regarded as one of the finest classical sculptures in existence.The throngs of visitors one sees going up and down the staircase are probably in search of the museum’s most famous painting, the ‘Mona Lisa’, also called ‘La Gioconda’. It hangs directly opposite the door of a particular exhibition hall where one also finds other famous paintings of Italian origin, the most notorious being ‘The Wedding Feast at Cana’ by Veronese. Though small, probably just 77 by 53 cm, the ‘Mona Lisa’ attracts crowds of visitors who flick their eyes through the painting with awe and respect. I have heard more than one visitor saying with emotion: "I’ve seen it". The huge structure that borders the north side of Cour Napoleon is the Richelieu Pavilion. Its extension, the Pavillon de Marsan stretches out to the Jardin des Tuileries. This section of the Louvre is often less crowded than either the Sully Pavilion or the Denon Pavilion and rewards visitors with a better chance to view the exhibits at leisure. The world’s most renowned masterpieces are indisputably found in the Sully or Denon Pavilions but the Richelieu Pavilion contains nonetheless one attraction that definitely satisfies the taste of architecture connoisseurs and lovers of antiques. Magnificent ornamented ceilings, crystal chandeliers of gigantic proportions, gilded mirrors, rich period furniture, Limoges dinner sets and solid silver cutlery furnish the sumptuous rooms of the apartments of Napoleon III – certainly a reflection of his luxurious style of living.Two exhibition halls in the Richelieu Pavilion are devoted to decorative arts that date back to the middle ages while other halls contain Flemish and Dutch paintings. Although no world renowned artworks are found here, this section is equally interesting since it contains a selection of paintings made by artists of the calibre of Van Dyck, Rubens and Rembrandt.If you get tired after hours of sightseeing, the Richelieu Pavilion offers seating within two glass-covered courtyards, the Cour Marly and the Cour Puget. You will be sitting amidst wonderful garden statues that provide an ambience of grandeur and stateliness.
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