The Louvre

I get a good laugh out of the Louvre. It is an absurdity. Obscenely huge, the product of around twenty expansions and now the home of a gigantic museum with a stellar art collection as well as numerous other institutions in other wings, the Louvre was never the seat of the royal government in France.

Callot, Jacques, Artist. Vue du Louvre / Callot, fec[it]. Paris France, 1630. Etching.

And while the origins of the Louvre go back to the Medieval Age, a large percentage of the current physical plant of the palace were built in the Nineteenth Century and are newer than a substantial percentage of the houses in Soulard. Napoleon III of the Second Empire built out and “completed” the Louvre in its present iteration. But as I mentioned a couple of days ago, the real center of power was the Tuileries to the west, and it was established as a major edifice while the Louvre was still largely stuck in the past. It is an irony that the former is now gone and the latter is now so large.

Rivière, Charles, Lithographer, and Publisher Maison Martinet. Paris. Le Louvre et les Tuileries vue prise du Pont Neuf / Charles Rivière del. et lith. Paris Pont Neuf Seine River France, None. [Paris: maison martinet, between 1870 and 1879] Lithograph.

The Tuileries and the Louvre were connected by the immensely long Grand Galerie, which is now home to some of the most famous masterpieces of the museum’s collection. But let us now turn to the U-shaped portion of the Louvre, left nakedly exposed to the Avenue des Champs Elysees through the Tuileries Gardens.

The large Mansard roof tower-like structures which house staircases and entrances are generally referred to as pavilions, and I think the obvious influence on the Old Post Office here in St. Louis is clear.

Above, much of what you see was built in the Second Empire, and that style of architecture was hugely influential in America, and not just in St. Louis. Of course, the irony is that the elements of the Second Empire were created centuries ago, much of it in Italy, and likewise, its distinctive roof, the Mansard, named after the corrupted name of Jules Hardouin-Mansart and his uncle, Francois Mansart, was invented long before their illustrious careers in the Seventeenth Century.

Here’s a nice print of the Louvre-Tuileries complex below, showing the proper ensemble of the two palaces together.

Rivière, Charles, Lithographer, and Publisher Maison Martinet. Paris. Panorama des Tuileries et du Louvre / Charles Rivière del. et lith. Paris Seine River France, None. [Paris: maison martinet, between 1870 and 1879] Lithograph.

The pavilions are massive! They’re a treat to look at, and I think any walk through the Central West End or Compton Heights after looking at these photographs will reveal the obvious influence of the Louvre.

The different wings of the Louvre are now named for visitors’ orientation after different royal ministers who patronized the arts. The northern “arm” of the palace museum is named after Cardinal Richelieu and I enjoyed a nice lunch out on the terrace during my day at the museum. The wing is largely devoid of large crowds despite having some of the most important works in the collection.

Colbert, whose wing is anchored by this pavilion below, was another important royal official.

Perhaps what I also enjoyed about the Louvre grounds and the nearby Tuileries Gardens is that they draw Parisians and tourists alike to stroll and relax on the grass among the historic buildings.

While the Louvre is a long ways from affordable housing and is surrounded by expensive hotels and businesses, people take the Metro or simply walk to get to the park. I think about how St. Louis spends tens of millions of dollars upgrading the Arch Grounds only to have attendance go down.

No, there is not all sorts of things to do, no musical performances on the day we were down there; in fact, it was a Sunday evening when these sunset pictures were taken. The only thing to do was meet with your friends and talk and have a good time with whatever you brought yourself. It just seems like something in Paris is clicking that just isn’t happening in St. Louis, and hasn’t since the Arch was built.

Nearby is a triumphal arch built in the courtyard by Napoleon. I found it of little interest.

When you’ve seen real ancient Roman ones, the vulgar bragging of a tyrant seems just kind of sad. The Arch of Constantine in Rome is the real deal. Plus it’s just so out of scale–way too small–for the gigantic palace buildings surrounding it.

The southern wing looks much like the northern, but of course where this photograph was taken is right about the place where the Tuileries Palace would have stood.

The Tuileries Gardens provide striking views of the Louvre through the trees.

Oh right, I need to mention the other end of the Louvre, which is the courtyard that forms a square to the east of the “U” that is the more famous portion of the palace. Taking up the majority of the former fortress, this was largely built up during the reign of Louis XIV and is important in our understanding of French art and architecture in the Seventeenth Century.

Unlike what you read in the vast majority of art history textbooks and generalist websites, there were actually two competing veins of art in the Seventeenth Century, not just the Baroque with its dramatic flair as exemplified in artists such as Caravaggio and Bernini. In reality, as expressed in French painter Nicholas Poussin and others beginning really with Raphael and increasingly so with Annibale Carracci, there was Seventeenth Century Classicism, which focused on cool, calm and reflective art which is best seen in the façade of the Louvre below.

In fact, Louis XIV actually invited Bernini to France but so disliked his much more Baroque style that he rejected the Italian artist-architect’s design for the Louvre’s façade! But Bernini’s famous portrait bust of the king fared better. The Louvre as built represents an important, critical moment in classical architecture, before Neo-Classicism, which develops in France in the late Eighteenth Century.

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