Friday, June 15, 2012

Day 2 at the Louvre

When you visit a place year after year, you experience small changes that occur.  A lot of those changes appear to be tres arbitrary.  With the museums of Paris, it seems that every year they change the entrances through which people (at least we) can enter and where you can or can’t take pictures.

This year, the Louvre has upgraded their audio guides, which are now 3-D video guides manufactured by Nintendo. That means as you move through the museum you can spend half your time or more looking at a video screen rather than the real stuff around you.  To me, this doesn’t seem like a good step forward.  The guides have GPS so you can know where you are at anytime (which is very difficult in a museum as complex as the Louvre) but unfortunately do not  help much in navigating through the museum.  Without that enduring voice that tells you it is recalculating every time you take a wrong turn, you have no idea if you are going in the right direction.  The cherry on top is that you get to bump into a lot of people has you watch yourself move from room to room on the screen. Every collision is collision between your life on the screen and your physical reality.

The new audio guide lists 46 “must see” pieces, thereby reducing the thousands or tens of thousands of items to 46 “must see” items. One of the ironies of the world in which we live is that as more information is available to us, the narrower our focus often gets.  Of course, I am guilty of participating in that process.  For our students, we reduced the “must see” pieces to three—the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and The Winged Victory (to be fair, we also require the students to find five other paintings associated with the course.)   On a larger scope, the “must see” list places for all of Paris can arguably be a short list as well—the Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc d’Triomph. We do all of them, except for the Eiffel Tower, in the first two days of the trip.  I talked with some of the students and our “must see” list for New York is Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum, Times Square and a view of the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park.

I don't get the hype about the Mona Lisa
By pretty much common consensus, the Mona Lisa tops the “must see” list at the Louvre.  Frankly I don’t get the Mona Lisa.  I have listened to the commentaries but I just don’t get it.  The commentaries do not convince me.  I see a rather small painting of a rather plain woman.  I find the Mona Lisa like I found The Alamo in San Antonio, very underwhelming.  Repeated visits haven’t changed my mind.  I certainly don’t see ideal beauty or anything close.

This works for me
Across the room from the Mona Lisa hangs The Wedding at Cana.  The biggest painting in the Louvre, it is full of people and color.  Painted by Paolo Caliari in the 1560s, to me, it is a real statement piece.

I spent most of my time in the large format French paintings.  My personal favorite Liberty Leading the People, which I think is a powerful balance of the real and the ideal as well as the propaganda pieces, like Napoleon Among the Plague-Stricken in Jaffa by Gros and The Coronation of Napoleon which depict “historical” scenes that have either been significantly distorted or fabricated entirely.  I rarely think of paintings as propaganda but there you have it.
This never happened

After the Louvre, which took up most of the morning and early afternoon, we went to the Martyrium, where St. Ignatius and the other original Jesuits vowed to do something together after they had all become priests. We then went to Sacre Coeur church and Montmartre.

Tomorrow we get to check off two more items on the Paris “must see” list—the Orsay and the Arc d’Triomph.

1 comment:

  1. Whenever I go to the Louvre, I always rush toward the nook with the nineteenth-century paintings. I especially love the Corot.
    -----John J. Conley, SJ