Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Paris: Museum Hopping

Aremis and Deer at the LouvreThe Louvre is both the world's largest palace and its largest museum. While there are other palaces more impressive, as a museum there are no equals. The Louvre's collection covers a broad spectrum of history, from Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia to the 19th century. Some 35,000 works of art and artifacts are on show, divided into eight departments and housed in three wings: Denon, Sully and Richelieu. Our plan was to spend quality time in the Egyptian and Greco-Roman sections before sampling the best of the rest.

The Louvre in Paris
The Louvre in ParisWe avoided the long queues at the Louvre's pyramid entrance by buying advance tickets at the Virgin Megastore and entering the museum through the Carrousel du Louvre. We were the first visitors of the day into Sully and while we were getting oriented, we found ourselves face-to-face with the museum's second most popular exhibit, Venus de Milo (only the Mona Lisa attracts more crowds). Shortly after, entered into Egypt Antiquities section announced by the pink granite Gaint Sphinx (1898-1866 BC).

Venus de Milo at the Louvre
Remains of Egyptian temple at LouvreWe were immediately immersed in the exhibits that evoked the glory of this ancient civilization. Artifacts and drawings presented Nile culture: fishing, agriculture, hunting, daily and cultural life, religion and death. Most fascinating was the Mastaba of Akhethetep, a decorated burial chamber from Sakkara dating back to 2400 BC. Elaborately painted sarcophagi, elements of the temple complex with goddesses, mummies, amulets, jewelry and entrails formed a vivid display that is difficult to forget. What was remarkable to me was how advanced the Egyptians were even during those ancient times: this is visible from their furniture, which almost looks contemporary, and their elaborate jewelry, toys and drawings. Mankind's progress seems to have happened in fits and starts. When the Egyptian civilization collapsed, it took with it a lot of its knowledge and we started all over again.

Stone Sarcophagus at Louvre
An Egyptian Mummy at the Louvre
Ancient Egyptian Wall Painting in the Louvre
Ancient Egyptian toy at the LouvreThe earliest Greek scuptures in the Louvre date far back into the 7th century BC. From Classical elegance to Realism: from depicting athletic, muscular figures to potrayal of old age and infancy. We saw the statue of the Centaur Chiron being teased by the young God Eros; in Greek mythology, Chiron became the constellation Sagittarius after his death. Among French sculptures we saw Artemis with a Doe from the 4th century BC.

Chiron and Eros at the Louvre
Mesopotamian artifacts at the LouvreThe opulent apartments of Napolean III are an exceptional record of Second Empire decorative art. The state dining room features an imposing table and sideboard in black-stained wood with gilt bronze decorations. The painted ceiling (a luminous sky traversed by exotic birds) is by Eugène Appert.

Opulent chambers of Napolean III at the Louvre
Opulent chambers of Napolean III at the Louvre
Opulent chambers of Napolean III at the LouvreThe Reubens hall containing a series of 24 paintings on the life of Marie de Medisi by Reubens was fascinating. Finally, we ended our day-long visit by visiting Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece the Mona Lisa. Given the hype, the small painting at the end of a large hall is somewhat of an anti-climax; here's a picture of the crowds eagerly photographing the famous painting.

Reubens Hall at the Louvre
Crowds in front of the Mona Lisa, Louvre
The Mona Lisa at LouvreHaving read (and seen) the Da Vinci Code which begins its fast-paced drama in this hall of the Louvre, we went down to the Inverted Pyramid in the Carrousel du Louvre where the movie ends (the Holy Grail supposedly buried underneath). As we walked back to our apartment, we ran into the 'Rose Line' in the book: these Arago disks trace the Paris Meridian line that once tried to rival Greenwich.

Inverted Pyramid at Carrousel du Louvre
Arago disks tracing the Paris MeridianOn another day, we went back to Sainte Chapelle on Ile de City, a gothic marvel of a museum with its huge stained glass windows which depict the stories of the Bible in 1134 scenes. This chapel once housed the Crown of Thorns and other Christian relics for which the king paid twice as much as the amont to build the chapel itself.

Sainte Chapelle, Paris
Sainte Chapelle Paris
Sainte Chapelle ParisToday, we visited Musee d'Orsay, an old rail station converted into one of the world's great museums. The Orsay boasts an astounding collection of big names: Manet, Monet, Delacroix, Renoir and many others.

Musee d'Orsay in ParisI have always liked the vivid colors of a Van Gogh, and it was particularly thrilling to be in a room filled with some many of his masterpieces. Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (the luncheon on grass) stirred up controversy when he seated a nude women among clothed men and is among the most popular works in this museum (picture below).

With Van Gogh's Self Portrait and The Italian Woman
Manet's controversial Luncheon on the Grass at Musee d'OrsayIn addition to the Impressionist painters, there were sections on the different schools of painting that emerged during the mid-1800s and early 1900s: Naturalism, Academic, and Symbolism. We were also lucky to see an entire exhibition devoted to Rodin and others who embraced a new, modern form of sculpture inspired by his works. Rodin's work departed from the classical works which were decorative and based on mythological themes; instead, he modeled the human body with a focus on human fraility as well as individuality.

Closeup of the Alligator Hunters by Ernest Barrias
Detail of Gates of Hell by Rodin
Rodinism at the Musee d'OrsayParis is filled with museums and it is difficult to choose. However, if you have time for only one, it has to be the Louvre. If you have time for two, I would also recommend the d'Orsay. If you plan to visit more, consider buying a museum pass.

Next: The Food!
Prev: Champs-Elysees and More


priyadarshan said...


Next week is my wedding anniversary Could you please suggest restaurant in Pune for dinner. How is "O" is it too expensive ?

Anonymous said...

@priyadarshan: Unless you are interested in Japanese food, the O Hotel is good for its ambiance and decor, not the food. Only the Sushi place is reasonably good. You could try the new Malaka Spice (they just moved into Lane 5, Koregaon Park).

Nimesh Desai said...

Hi Shantanu,
Gr8 Post. Had read much about Louvre in The Da Vinci Code and reading your blog felt like a real experience. Paris is a gr8 city and it was wonderful to know details of it in your blog.

Anonymous said...

So lovely. I'm heading to Paris in December and will bring these thoughts with me.

Deepti said...

It almost felt like I went to paris .. great post .. which goes without saying .. now waiting for the goodies from paris :D

Anonymous said...

@Amplifier: Thank you. There are Da Vinci Code tours for fans who want to visit all the places from the book.

@wmcisnowhere: Thank you. December should be nice too; that is the peak tourist season during the winter months.

@Deepti: :)

Vamsee Modugula said...

Louvre is the greatest museum in the world. I can't wait to go there again in Summer.
I like your posts about general travels...but am anxiously waiting for posts on food in Paris. Please write....

Lakshmi said...

You took me literally to Paris ..Now, I think I would like you to take me to Egypt which is described so much in yr posts

kyh said...

This is fantastic... But I read that Versailles is Europe's largest palace and the Summer Palace in Forbidden City is the world's largest... Hmm...

sra said...

Among other things I found fascinating at the Louvre was watching the people looking at Mona Lisa. Such a respectful silence! I don't remember being allowed to photograph it, though.

Anonymous said...

@Vamsee: I could easily come here again. While we spent an entire day at the Louvre, there is so much to see. Also, there are many sculptures and paintings that you want to linger in front of. Part of the fun was also researching the paintings beforehand.

@Lakshmi: Now that you mention it, Paris does have many Egyptian artifacts. In the Louvre and also in Concorde.

Anonymous said...

@kyh: Heh! I didn't think about checking. The French brochures mention it as the largest, but a quick Google shows there is no consensus. Needs further checking! :)

@sra: I guess the hordes of tourists can be quite annoying for real art lovers. We were lucky; it wasn't too crowded the day we went. However, the room that housed the Mona Lisa (and other Da Vinci paintings) were magnets for the hordes. They did once ban photography, but now they allow cameras (but with the flash turned off).

Anonymous said...

We didn't visit again this year, but last year we spent the whole day in the museum. The "art greco-romain" section is fascinating...

Anonymous said...

@Zhu: There is so much to do here in Paris. We would have loved to do many more museums.

indicaspecies said...

I'd like to visit not just the Louvre but also the Musee d'Orsay.