Just a girl rambling around the globe and writing about it.

Musings from around the block and farther.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Louvre It or Leave It

Ah yes, the Mona Lisa. Infamous. Well-loved. A world-wide symbol of art and museums. Much, much smaller than you would have thought.

The Louvre Museum, the largest art museum in the world, is far more massive than I anticipated. We visited maybe a thimble-full of the exhibits, racing past centuries-old sculptures and important works by dead artists, trying to keep up with our amazing guide, Leontine from Paris Personalized. I'd decided that, in addition to a half-day city walk of Paris, our tour time would be best used with a guide through the Louvre. I know that the girls will hear about the Louvre and its famous works for the rest of their lives and I just had to give them a taste of it, but I knew I didn't have the patience to guide us through it, so a guide was the way to go.

Although I've been to Paris before, the Louvre was closed; the famous welcome pavilion, topped by glass pyramids, was being built and the foundation of the castle's medieval moat was being excavated. So though I'd seen countless Leonardo da Vinci works throughout my travels in Italy and in an amazing exhibit the last time I was at the Uffizi in Florence, I'd never seen the Mona Lisa for myself, up close and personal.

Leontine made our tour like a little treasure hunt, giving us insight into the kings who had lived at the Louvre before it was a museum as well as the history behind the art and the politics of the paintings and sculptures. For instance, Napoleon had the pope painted into his big coronation scene, even though the pope did not consent to actually crowning Napoleon as "emporer" (a self-imposed title by the tiny ruler); in another painting, Napoleon had the artist show him touching ill soldiers in Israel, though the truth is that he scorned the afflicted. All of it was propaganda. I especially liked the realization that none of this is "truth" -- I mean, was Jesus really crowned by a gold halo of light, and was each artist really there at the Last Supper? In one painting, the largest one in the Louvre (I think; after a while, it's very easy to get museum vertigo), Jesus sits at the head of the table at a Venetian wedding party. Naturally, he's in the garb of rich Italians from the era, and there are dogs on the table, a monkey on someone's arm, wine flowing (turned from water into wine by Jesus himself) and portraits of several monks from the monastery that commissioned the painting. I suppose it's not unlike Angelyne in Los Angeles having herself painted as young and beautiful on billboards...

Anyway, the mob around the Mona Lisa was rabid, very much like paparazzi. Flashes going off in all directions. I knew the picture wouldn't be incredibly good, whatever angle I took it from, so I chose instead to have my kids in it, to show them later on that they had been there. I can always buy a Mona Lisa postcard - even from our own LA County Art Museum, right?

And I'll say something snotty about the Greek and Roman statues, too... I've seen "better" in Naples and in Florence. The sculptures were gorgeous, of course. I'm a huge fan of the big M (Michelangelo), and I spent a long, long time at L'Accademia in Florence (and all around the city) just admiring the way in which his sculptures capture the way that blood flows through his subjects' bodies. They feel alive, vivrant, and I always expect them to just walk right off the marble slab and stand among us. The ones at the Louvre are no less spectacular -- and there was also a beautiful room at Versailles celebrating goddess statuary that I liked very much -- but when you've walked alone in a room stacked full of these statues (as I did at the Archeological Museum in Naples, Italy), you sort of expect the same thing. But that's not the French style. Instead, the sculptures are curated, given a wide berth to show off their significance. And I suppose that's the best way to truly appreciate their majesty in such a large museum that receives 7 million visitors a year; I guess I was spoiled by being able to truly experience Roman sculptures in a personal way.

The Venus de Milo -- what I was able to see of it from our vantage point at the edge of a Chinese tour group -- was remarkable in that it is an actual Greek statue, not a Roman reproduction of a Greek statue. It's beautiful, and its beauty is derived from its humble discovery by a Greek farmer in a field, as well as the fact that it has not been "restored" and is in the same condition (which is excellent) as when it was found over a century ago. There is another amazing statue, "Winged Victory," that I loved because the marble was sculpted to look like a sheer gauze rippling across Nike's body in the wind. I can't imagine how stone can be worked to look like movement or softness, but that's part of its mystery.

We didn't stick around after our three-hour tour. The kids were done, and Raf and I were dying for a break from art, too. I keep telling myself that it was for the kids' sakes that we had to leave and take a break, but the truth is that the Louvre is too much museum for a single day or a single visit. There's a lot to digest, so much to discover. Leontine said that it could take three years to see everything and I totally get it. Next time, I'll see a little more.

See? I have to come back.

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