Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Louvre

The following pictures are from our trip to the Louvre in Paris. We went in the evening, and all that was missing was a cup of vin chaud to complete things. Anyways here's part of the complex from the outside, which is actually a combined fortress and palace.

The famous Louvre glass and steel Pyramid outside the main entrance to the museum. Sorry folks, I didn't bother counting the panes to see if there are really 666 of them.

First things first of course. Exhibit A was the Mona Lisa, painted by Da Vinci. It was just as impressive as advertised. I was amazed at the wide range of blues and greens used in the background scene. In the picture it just looks grey but there is everything from Navajo turquoise to Mossy-Oak camo green.

With over 30,000 artifacts I didn't get to see everything let alone photograph everything, but did take some pictures of some of the most famous works. This is the widely-recognized statue of Venus.

The Hermaphrodite. I didn't like this marble manifestation of the Greeks' perverse side, but it's famous, so its picture got taken. As a statue, it's wonderfully done though.

The Three Graces.

The famous statue of the Moor. For those of you that have read The Bronze Bow this reminded me of what Samson would have looked like.

It's pretty incredible when you can get an idea of the rest of the scene just by only having one piece. For those of you that don't know, the gladius as a weapon was based on the concept of close-range fighting where the Romans' enemies would not have room to swing their longer blades. Once the armies joined ranks, the sturdy, pointed Roman short sword was used to thrust and disembowel enemies. (As an aside it is thought that the Roman gladius was a "weapon of mass destruction" that wasn't equalled in effectiveness and killing power until the English long bow.) With that in mind, it's easy to imagine this Gladiator looking up into his opponent's eyes even as he sliced open his torso with his long-since-lost gladius.. Stiff-arming his foe, crouching lower, at the point where his arm's potential energy was greatest. Even his blade's direction is understood. Perfectly straight, you can see it wouldn't change as it came upwards; the arm muscles are too tensed and wouldn't be relaxed.

A photo I took just because I love mosaics and wouldn't mind having one of these on the floor of my house.

Mars and Venus.

This was one of my favorite paintings in the Louvre. For those of you that don't know the story behind it, it depicts a Roman mythological hero named Gaius Mucius Scaevola. When the Etruscan king Porsenna held Rome under siege, Mucius together with a band of 300 Romans vowed to give their own lives in order to kill Porsenna. Mucius snuck into the Etruscan camp at night and killed a man he mistook for Porsenna. Captured and brought before Porsenna, he was condemned to be burned alive. Mucius scornfully thrust his right hand into a brazier of coals in front of Porsenna and declared that he did not fear pain or death. He also warned Porsenna that while he had failed, he was but one of 300 Romans who had made it their mission to kill Porsenna and that eventually one of them would succeed. After telling Porsenna that he would not know a calm night's sleep and would live in fear until he was eventually assasinated, Mucius removed his hand from the flames. Impressed by his bravery, and perhaps just a little afraid, Porsenna freed Mucius and retreated from Rome, lifting the siege. Thereafter Mucius was honored as a hero and given the title of Scaevola or "left-handed". For obvious reasons, the story is appealing. I've always likened Mucius and his 299 comarades to Leonidas and his band of 300 Spartans, but with a twist. Leonidas and his warriors gave us a story of heroic bravery, a story that is comparable to Custer's last stand and the Light Brigade's charge in the Crimea. But Mucius and his men had a distinctly Roman methodology to their madness, a cold plotting and rigid planning that combined with loyal patriotism to become the face of the Roman Empire. If Leonidas was Rambo, Mucius was Sergeant York. A flame of glory contrasted with heroic precision. It's great stuff :D

Napoleon, by Delaroche.

Michelangelo's Dying Slave. It was uncanny how much of a resemblance the slave's face bore to the David in Florence.

A young Princess Psyche being seducted by Cupid, a work by the master Canova.

Dying Seneca, a second-century Roman statue. Thinking about Seneca, I couldn't help notice the comparisons between the end of his life and that of the German artillery commander Rommel. Caught up in suicide plots against crazed dictators, forced to commit suicide as a form of honorable death despite having rendered invaluable service to their countries......I wonder if Rommel ever read any of Seneca's works and life as a student in Danzig.

Speaking of Leonidas, here he is at the battle of Thermopolyae, depicted by the famous painter Jacques-Louis David

Napoleon on the field of battle at Eylau, the first great check of the Grande Armee, overshadowed by Waterloo.

Another famous portrait of Napoleon visiting the sick at Jaffa.

Perhaps the most famous depiction of Lady Liberty except for the statue in New York, a painting by Delacroix.

This painting has been used as the cover for at least one book about the life of Joan of Arc. I didn't know it was in the Louvre but was pleased to stumble upon it. It was large, and quite impressive. Done by Ingres.

A crown that is said to have belonged to Charlemagne.

Another famous painting depicting an epic moment in the history of Rome. A masterpiece that helped catapault Jacques-Louis David to fame, it depicts the three Horatii brothers taking an oath against the Curatii. According to Livy, the Horatii were triplets who vowed to wage war against three brothers from the Curatii family as a means of settling a dispute between the Romans and the Albans. The painting was famous in neoclassical times for the patriotism it stirred up. It is interesting to note that it is one of the more widely-known instances in art where the Roman stiff-armed salute was depicted, upon which Hitler and Mussolini based their salutes. If you look closely, the three brothers are not taking the swords, but rather saluting and swearing the oath on their swords, offered to them by their father while their women and children lie weeping in the background.

Yet another famous moment from Rome's beginning. After the abduction of the Sabine women by the neighboring Romans, the Sabines attempted to get them back. Jacques-Louis David depicts this episode here. You can see the men of Rome fighting and on the ground, the product of the Roman abduction of the Sabines-young Roman/Sabine children playing.

The Pope who defied Napoleon, and again, a painting used as the cover for a book. Pius VII in his solemn dignity.


DelGrosso said...

I love the painting of Joan of Arc. She is my patron saint.

Anonymous said...

I like especially the statue of Seneca's death. The eyes are so expressive of virtue, and the body is a true depiction of Seneca's, whose body was lean by his austure diet. By the way, have you read the firsthand account of Seneca's death? I have a copy I would be glad to email you. Seneca is a must-read among the classics in my opinion and one should even go so far as to make him part of their daily bread, for though he is a Stoic, his wisdom is good for all mankind, and a lesson to modern wits who place so much virtue in the passions and the body. I think it could be possible to become a saint by reading nothing more than Seneca and the Bible, for his works are such a lesson in virtue.