While I might have been living in Paris nigh on a year, I hadn’t even really seriously considered visiting the Louvre until this week. I dropped by in the summer to use the lav (note to self: much better maintained than McDonalds) and was overwhelmed by the amount of people in ugly shorts shouting loudly about waffles and ice-cream. This brief experience scared me off a bit – though January is a great time to visit anywhere I’m discovering, especially in a popular city like Paris. So we went along to the famous glass pyramids on Wednesday (that headline wouldn’t have worked had I written about it yesterday) and I’m not quite sure why the prospect of the Louvre had never felt enticing before but there we were. Once inside it dawned on me, what’s not to love? (Or should that be what’s not to Louvre? Oh do fuck off.)
Should you need convincing of da Vinci, if you like van Eyck or van Dyke, if you’re avid about Jacques-Louis David or queer for Vermeer, then the Louvre is definitely the place for you. Actually for a lot of people it’s all about the Mona Lisa which will explain why a whole army of people shot straight past St. John the Baptist, La belle ferronnière, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne et al in order to squeeze a peak at the world’s most famous painting protected by a barrier and a writhing sea of flesh and cameras; they weren’t far off a human pyramid themselves. For me the androgynous St. John is far more rewarding – and deserted – and getting to see Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of Medusa up close was a particular highlight, especially as I’d never really noticed the minuscule ship on the horizon they’re all supposedly going batshit for. The ones who aren’t dead anyway.
After doing what was essentially a generic ‘Greatest Hits’ tour printed from the internet, we couldn’t help but breakout and check out the Dutch (and Flandrian) Masters on the second floor. Three hours later we were visually sated but physically bloody starving, a tad exhausted, a touch overwhelmed but ultimately… impressed.
The thing that’s quite easy to forget about the Louvre is the fact it was a Royal Palace before Louis XIV – who famously said ‘l’etat c’est moi‘ – got bored and moved his etat to Versailles instead, so along with all the famous works of art, you’ve also got long, sumptuous walls and remarkable ceiling frescos wherever you go. We actually visited Rome this weekend just gone (a little birthday treat from ma puce), and if I’m honest I’d have to say I was more impressed with the Louvre surrounds than I was the Sistine Chapel, which is a little underwhelming given its fame; that is undoubtedly the reason because actually it’s an incredible undertaking when you think about, and I had to keep reminding myself of that and ticking myself off for not being bowled over. “Why isn’t your gob smacked?” I said to myself more than once.
For my money I was far more enraptured by Bernini’s baroque high altar in Saint Peter’s Basilica, and another Bernini – the erotically-charged rococo masterpiece The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in the Santa Maria della Vittoria – probably the most exquisite little church I’ve ever laid my eyes on. In fact this last week those eyes have beheld some of the truly great works of art and architecture from the Italian Renaissance onwards and I can’t help feeling awed and somewhat blessed. Such inordinate man-made beauty makes it easy to understand why 15th century peasants who couldn’t read or write or spell proper would have been so servile and terrified of god and so malleable under the manipulative two-pronged jurisdiction of church and state. With very little else to look forward to, Sundays must have seemed like the Back To The Future trilogy screened end to end every week.Follow @jeres