Paris Stories and Tips

The Louvre Experience

One of the greatest-if not the greatest- Photo, Paris, France

This time, we could get INSIDE THE LOUVRE. We went twice, on Saturday afternoon and on Monday night, when it was open late and its vast architecture enchanting to view. This world’s largest justly famed art collection is stunningly massive in quantity and magnificent in quality. Reception’s color-coded map helps to locate in which of this edifice’s three wings – the Denon , Richelieu, or Sully – you can find particular favorites and, of course, the "Mona Lisa," "Winged Victory," and "Venice de Milo." On an unsurprisingly crowded Saturday, we fought the 15-row-deep crowd of people, the majority of whom were taking photos, around the 30-by-20-inch masterpiece with the enigmatic smile. Notwithstanding its almost artistically sacred reputation and the reawakened interest in it provoked by the best-selling "Da Vinci Code," seeing it here disappoints because the swarm around it precludes really seeing it. We tried and failed twice, though it was marginally less crowded around this gem on Monday evening. Twice I consoled myself before da Vinci’s "Portrait of a Woman," whose big, limpid brown eyes seem to look at the viewer with calm indifference.

Before our visits, I pored over a Barnes and Noble book, "Art & Architecture Louvre," with lots of color photos. Too heavy a paperback to travel with, I substituted a small list of what I wanted to focus on and brought that with me. Since we had recently visited the Prado, I did not spend much time in the Louvre’s Spanish collection. On both occasions we spent at least an hour in the Italian collection of paintings, so many of which Napoleon Bonaparte had seized (stolen) from monasteries, churches, and private owners during his Italian campaign. The highlights for me are Ghirlandaio’s "Old Man with Grandson," Caravaggio’s "The Fortune Teller," Titian’s "The Man with the Glove," Veronese’s ‘the Marriage at Cana," and Raphael’s piercing portrait of ambassador and author of "The Courtier" and "Baldassare Castiglione."

On our first visit, we explored the basement in the Sully wing, first to see the remains of the medieval fortress that the Louvre initially was. Excavations of two moats were particularly interesting, for they showed how several engineering attempts were successively made to bolster support for this enormous edifice. Released to the upper atmosphere, we then proceeded to the Nike of Samothrace at the top of the staircase between the first and second floors in the Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities section. This striking masterpiece, discovered in 1863, has been dominating this highlighted space since 1883. Nearby is the beauteous, armless Venus de Milo emerging from the folds of a gown, the essence of Aphrodite. The rest of the visit included the Italian and French Painting Collections. Several Titian’s and Raphael’s garnered our attention, then we moved on to Poussin’s, Watteau’s, Fragonard’s, and Ingre’s to Salle Mollien’s enormous canvass by David of "Napoleon Crowning Josephine," and to the Salle Daru’s "Liberty Leading the People," by Delacroix.

On our second shorter visit, we visited my favorite, the Cour Marly, the most glorious, light-filled space for sculpture I’ve ever seen. Its glass ceiling allows for maximum appreciation of the Marly horses and other sculptures while enclosing them away from deterioration that had attacked them in their former outdoor venues. The rest of this visit we spent with another tour of the Italian, and then we went on to the Early Netherlandish and German. The "jewels" here are Holbein, the Younger’s portrait of "Erasmus of Rotterdam," Durer’s "Self-portrait with Thistle," Quentin Massys’ "The Money-changer and his Wife," Memling’s "Triptych," Jan van Eyck’s "The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin," and Roger van der Weyden’s "The Annunciation," a small collection for the Louvre, but superior in quality.

The Louvre at night offers an experience more mystical than during the day. The Pyramid stands out, enhanced by the stone vastness extending around it. I loved looking up through the Pyramid to see the moon and stars. There is simply no museum as grand as the Louvre, in which only about 5% of its treasures are on display at any one time. This mind-boggling percentage reflects the cultural wealth that is the Louvre.

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