Europe Echelon: Paris – Musée du Louvre

This took the whole day to see.

I’m sitting here under the sun-lit atrium of the Richelieu wing of The Louvre, waiting for Christian, a friend I met over Jack’d (It’s a virtual gentleman’s club, and like the real one, the gentlemen are mostly disagreeable). The inner courtyard of Richelieu could only be described as “complimentary”. It’s seamless and accessible in its regality, unlike the decadent opulence of Versailles. The long, straight laced, high ceiling corridors are framed by functional marble arches which uphold the upper tiers, each immaculately donned with individual cornices that relay simplicity in its form. The top floor, minimal in its space, is in fact, iced with the splendor of the roof. The sculptures bask in the luminescence of the skylights, as if inspired and calmed by the atmosphere – a man slaying a serpent is not benal, it is representational, it is contemplative. I’m surrounded by sculptures and carvings from ancient Greece – it’s amazing how pristine these masterpieces are, looking almost brand new: fresh out of the oven, they’d say. I’m annoyed, but the serenity of the sites soothes my impatience. In fact, just sitting here in contemplation is therapeutic, calming even, with budding artists sketching out their representations, poets and creatives just drawing inspiration from these ambassadors of a far older time – a time where fantasy and reality not only blurs, but fuses and intertwines with each other.

Musée du Louvre is in my opinion, the best museum on Earth. The collection and significance of that on the rest of the planet makes Singapore museums look positively ineffectual, and worse, boring. Formerly a palace, the Louvre was quickly decommissioned as the monarchy’s quarters, with Louis XIV abandoning it for the Palace of Versailles in 1682. The palais took on a new role as a place to display the royal collection, but the rich expanse of artwork was only made public and expanded on after the French Revolution, particularly by Napoleon, Louis XVIII and during the Second French Empire through to the Third Republic, which decided that the Louvre be a museum in 1793. The first thing that impresses upon you, no matter where you come from, is the architecture itself – the Louvre Pyramids over Cour Napoleon. If there’s one thing Paris has got right, is the complimentary juxtaposition of reconciling old architecture with the contemporary. The pyramids, designed by I. M. Pei, is so different, and so completely opposite from the architecture of the Palais that it somehow, works. The Louvre Pyramids have become an attraction in their own right, thanks to Dan’s Brown book and the subsequent film adaptation, The Da Vinci Code. Of course, nobody believes the premise of the book, but the La Pyramide Inversée (The Inverted Pyramid), a downward-pointing glass pyramid which almost meets a small stone pyramid on the floor, has inspired, and continues to fascinate all who see it in real-life.

Access is from the Napoleon Hall, a depressed terrace anchored by the Louvre Pyramid. It’s a huge, airy space that segregates access to the Louvre’s different halls. Everybody heads for Denon, for that is where Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous works reside. The upper corridors of Denon are donned with works from Da Vinci and other Italian names – illuminated under an artificial skylight, as if soaking the gift of energy from the heavens, and admiration from travelers from here and abroad. Their work is profound, not only because of the lifelike renditions of life and emotion, but painters weren’t only painters – they were thinkers, visionaries and engineers who either lived far ahead of their time, or displayed religious admiration that is probably unmatched today. Of all the works, it is the one Mona Lisa that mystifies and hypnotizes. Why is she smiling, why are the dimensions on the left and right side different? Is she a real person, is she even a female? Documentaries and studies have been made to study this elusive painting. Whatever it is, it continues to evoke questions till today, and the debate rages on, even hundreds of years later, is the hallmark of a great piece. Looking through the lifelike paintings, I think it’s astoundingly fascinating how the sculptures and paintings depict musculature so accurately. While the East portrays a vision of beauty in the form of a gentle, demure dame, the West celebrates the male form in all its splendor. The females, like Marie Antoinette isn’t instantly feminine, or even beautiful.

La Pyramide Inversée

Jesus

I’d imagine that at night, the statues and sculptures of the Louvre would come to life under the watchful gaze of the star-studded night above.

Remember that old man running funnily to his death along this corridor in the film, The Da Vinci Code?

Saint Jean-Baptise (John, The Baptist) by Leonardo Da Vinci

La Giocondo (or The Mona Lisa to us common folk) by Leonardo Da Vinci

At The Louvre, the sculptures, objets d’art, paintings, drawings and archaeological finds go beyond the time of Christ, and into the realm of the Ancient Egyptians. The collection is rather small, and I suspect that there might be more in London, but it’s no less substantial or valuable.

The department of Islamic Art designed by Italian architect Mario Bellini and his French colleague Rudy Riccioti. Like the Lourve Pyramids, a naturally lit, subterranean gallery space on the grounds of Cour Visconti. The idea behind the concept was a foulard as if suspended in space by wind, almost touching the ground at one point but never contaminating the historical facades of the Palais.

Aphrodite of Milos (commonly known as Venus de Milo) by Alexandros of Antioch.

At Cour Puget of Richelieu wing.

Four Captives (more commonly known as Four Defeated Nations): Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, Brandenburg and Holland by Martin Van Den Bogaert (or known as Martin Desjardins) were taken from the pedestal of the statue in Places de Victoires representing the Treaty of Nijmegen.

Back at Richelieu, one goes further back in time, to the renaissance. Every period, empire and nation has an era of renaissance, a civilization seemingly refined on an artistic and societal scale. France is no exception. The lines between Roman and Franco are blurred. We know it was a time of prosperity, people living under the graces of the church – indulging in art, astronomy, music, even the enjoyment of eating and drinking even – it was a time of peace. But we now know that this was only half truth. It established the church as the societal centre of power while inflicting the pretenses of spiritual battles to pressure the peasants – it’d establish the mandate of God for the right to rule. In the meantime, this golden age ushered in a menagerie of fine art, music and food, reflected in the intricate, elaborate and rich design elements and patterns.

One gets the feeling that this place, not just the Louvre, all of Paris, is a centre for deep thought, progress and creativity. One has to wonder why Paris, why not Amsterdam, Brussels, Rome, Milan or any other city. Perhaps it’s liberal thought and acceptance under the mask of imagined French snobbery?

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