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PARIS: The Louvre

The Musee du Louvre is on of Paris's  historic monuments and is undoubtedly one of the world's most impressive museums. It contains a staggeringly impressive 35,000 priceless objects from prehistory to the 19th century which are exhibited over an area of 60,600 square metres. With more than 8 million visitors each year, the Louvre is also the world's most visited museum

A brief history of the Louvre

Originally built as a fortress by King Phillippe-August in 1190, it was King Charles V (1364-80) who first made the Louvre his home.

In fact you can still see remnants of the fortress as they are visible in the basement of the museum

In the 16th century, François I replaced the existing building with a Renaissance-style palace and founded the royal art collection with 12 paintings from Italy.

During the French Revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum, to display the nation's masterpieces.

It opened on 10 August 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings, the majority of the works being royal and confiscated church property.  

The young Napoleon
Shortly after, Napoleon renovated the Louvre as a museum and had it renamed the Musée Napoléon.

By 1874, the Louvre Palace had achieved its present form of an almost rectangular structure.

In 1983, French President François Mitterrand proposed, as one of his Grands Projets to renovate the building  allowing displays throughout the building.

Architect I. M. Pei was awarded the project and proposed a glass pyramid to stand over a new entrance in the main court, the Cour Napoléon.

The pyramid and its underground lobby were inaugurated on 15 October 1988. The second phase of the Grand Louvre plan, La Pyramide Inversée (The Inverted Pyramid), was completed in 1993.

Top must see exhibits - in no particular order

1. Of course you want to witness the Mona Lisa, despite the crowds and the poor presentation.

To see the Mona Lisa, head straight for the 13th-15th century Italian paintings section (on the first floor).

Arguably the most famous painting in the world, Leonardo da Vinci's portrait  is thought to be of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo.

It was painted in oil on a poplar panel, and is believed to have been completed between 1503 and 1506.

It was acquired by King Francis I of France and is now the property of the French Republic, on permanent display at the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

 The Winged Victory of Samothrace
2. The Winged Victory of Samothrace. This Hellenistic treasure is approximately 2000 years old, massive and beautiful. 

It conveys a sense of action and triumph as well as portraying artful flowing drapery through its features which the Greeks considered ideal beauty.

Also known as the Nike of Samothrace, it was discovered in 1863, and estimated to have been created around 190 BC.

 It was created to not only honour the goddess, Nike, but to honour a sea battle at Rhodes. 

Modern excavations suggest that the Victory occupied a niche in an open-air theater and also suggest it accompanied an altar that was within view of the ship monument of Demetrius I Poliorcetes (337–283 BC). 

Rendered in white Parian marble, the figure originally formed part of the Samothrace temple complex dedicated to the Great gods, Megaloi Theoi. It stood on a rostral pedestal of gray marble from Lartos representing the prow of a ship, and represents the goddess as she descends from the skies to the triumphant fleet. Before she lost her arms, which have never been recovered, Nike's right arm was raised, cupped round her mouth to deliver the shout of Victory.

 The work is notable for its convincing rendering of a pose where violent motion and sudden stillness meet, for its graceful balance and for the rendering of the figure's draped garments, compellingly depicted as if rippling in a strong sea breeze.

3.  Venus de Milo – The positioning of the Venus de Milo is dramatically lit at the end of a hallway and enhances the beauty of this magnificent statue.

It dates from the end of the second century BC and was discovered on the Greek island of Milos in 1820.

It is an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. Created sometime between 130 and 100 BC, it is believed to depict Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty (Venus to the Romans).

Here’s a fact, the statue used to be on the seal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

4. The Raft of Medusa. This 1818–1819 by the French Romantic painter and lithographer Théodore Géricault is simply astounding. Rather than a classic Greek theme as you might expect, this is the aftermath of the shipwreck of the French Vessel Meduse’ where 146 people struggled to survive on a raft. 

Only 15 were rescued, the others were eaten, committed suicide, were killed or died of the elements. The painting depicts the moment when rescue appears imminent.

The event became an international scandal, in part because its cause was widely attributed to the incompetence of the French captain perceived to be acting under the authority of the recently restored French monarchy. 

In reality, King Louis XVIII had no say in the captain's appointment, since monarchs were not directly involved in appointments made to vessels like a naval frigate. The appointment of the vicomte de Chaumareys as captain of the Méduse would have been a routine naval appointment, made within the Ministry of the Navy.

5. The Virgin of the Rocks  -sometimes the Madonna of the Rocks - is the name used for two paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, of the same subject, and of a composition which is identical except for several significant details. 

The version generally considered the earlier of the two hangs in the Musée du Louvre in Paris and the other in the National Gallery, London. The paintings are both nearly 2 metres high and are painted in oils. Both were painted on wooden panel; that in the Louvre has been transferred to canvas.

Both paintings show the Madonna and Christ Child with the infant John the Baptist and an angel, in a rocky setting which gives the paintings their usual name. The significant compositional differences are in the gaze and right hand of the angel. There are many minor ways in which the works differ, including the colours, the lighting, the flora, and the way in which sfumato has been used. Although the date of an associated commission is documented, the complete histories of the two paintings are unknown, and lead to speculation about which of the two is earlier.

6. The Horses of Marly made by Nicolas Coustou for Louis XIV at Marly-le-Roi were re-set triumphantly in Paris at the time of the French Revolution, flanking the entrance to the Champs-Elysées.

 In the 1640s, bronze replicas were to flank the entrance to the Louvre: moulds were taken for the purpose, but the project foundered. Paolo Triscornia carved what seem to have been the first full-scale replicas of the groups for the entrance of the Manège (the riding school of the royal guards) in St. Petersburg.

Marly's sculptures are copied from the colossal pair of marble "Horse Tamers" - often identified as Castor and Pollux  - have stood since Antiquity near the site of the Baths of Constantine on the Quirinal Hill, Rome. 

They were too large to be buried or to be moved very far, though Napoleon's agents wanted to include them among the classical booty removed from Rome after the Treaty of Tolentino, 1797 

Even these are fourth-century Roman copies of Greek originals. They gave to the Quirinal its medieval name Monte Cavallo, which lingered into the nineteenth century.

Controversy at the Louvre

The Louvre is still involved in controversies that surround cultural property seized under Napoleon I, as well as during World War II by the Nazis. After Nazi occupation, 61,233 articles on more than 150,000 seized artworks returned to France and were assigned to the Office des Biens Privés.

In 1949, it entrusted 2130 remaining unclaimed pieces (including 1001 paintings) to the Direction des Musées de France in order to keep them under appropriate conditions of conservation until their restitution and meanwhile classified them as MNRs - Musees Nationaux Recuperation or, in English, the National Museums of Recovered Artwork.

Some 10% to 35% of the pieces are believed to come from Jewish spoliations and until the identification of their rightful owners, which declined at the end of the 1960s, they are registered indefinitely on separate inventories from the museum's collections.

They were exhibited in 1946 and shown all together to the public during four years (1950–1954) in order to allow rightful claimants to identify their properties. they were then stored or displayed, according to their interest, in several French museums including the Louvre.

From 1951 to 1965, about 37 pieces were restituted. However, according to the French government, the Louvre is in charge of 678 pieces of still unclaimed artworks by their rightful owners.

Napoleon's campaigns acquired Italian pieces by treaties, as war reparations, and Northern European pieces as spoils as well as some antiquities excavated in Egypt, though the vast majority of the latter were seized as war reparations by the British army and are now part of collections of the British Museum.

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1 comment:

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