Musée du Louvre
Musée du Louvre

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Musée du Louvre

2 The Louvre

2.1 Introduction

The original TV programme was divided into an introduction and seven sections, each preceded by a simple question that appears on screen. To help you to explore this material, we have split the programme into eight clips, each associated with an activity. Once you have completed all the activities, you will have viewed the TV programme in its entirety and considered some of the questions explored in the original OU course.

Activity 2 deals with the whole history of the buildings from medieval castle to the ‘pyramid’. Activities 3–5 deal with the ancien régime from the sixteenth century to the French Revolution in 1789, looking at the relationships between the acquisition of works of art, their display and the patronage of contemporary art. Activities 6–8 cover the creation of the Louvre as a museum under Napoleon I and its gradual transformation into the modern Louvre.

A list of the principal artists and works shown on video is given in Section 3.

Activity 2

Watch the first segment of video. This clip has been created from the introduction to the original TV programme, and it asks a number of questions about the experience of visiting the Louvre. As you watch, consider the following questions:

  1. What are these people doing here; what are they looking for? Are they interested in the Venus de Milo as an example of late Hellenistic Greek art, or as an icon of feminine beauty recognisable from twentieth-century popular culture? Are they here just to say they’ve seen the Mona Lisa, or to evaluate it as an example of an early Renaissance portrait?

  2. How does the museum, and the authority behind the museum, guide their quest and manage the cultural exchange? What sort of transaction is being managed here?

  3. Are they in a position to make up their own minds, or are their judgements determined by what the curators are telling them?

Think about these questions and jot down your own views.

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Transcript: Clip 1

TIM BENTON
This is Paris, the cultural capital of the world, as the travel brochures would say. It’s the centre for exchange, exchange of commodities and ideas. People work here, and come to shop and meet friends. The architectural style of this shopping centre is modern, expensive, lined in fine materials, with aesthetic surprises. We come out into a large space. Here there are no shops.
This is a monumental space, a space which imposes a measure of awe. It’s also a space for peoples from many different races and countries, that are attracted by one thing, they’ve come to see one of the wonders of the modern world.
Rising up to ground level, it’s clear that we’re in a modern building, a construction of stainless steel and glass. Outside this modern building turns out to be a pyramid, surrounded by palatial buildings on each side. These are the buildings of the Louvre, an erstwhile royal palace.
I.M. PEI
The pyramid was a very controversial subject, back then in 1984/85. But the form of the pyramid, people tend to confuse that with Egypt. I think that’s actually inaccurate, it’s not true. Er the Egyptian pyramid is enormous, number one, secondly it’s solid, it’s a stone. It’s a place for the dead. This pyramid at the Louvre is just the opposite it’s glass, it’s transparent.
I think the transparency is very important here, not only for the functional reason of bringing light into the reception at the hall, but also to be able to see through, so that you can see the entire complex of the Louvre.
TIM BENTON.
Through the labyrinth of courts and corridors, the public fans out to find the objects of desire, the sources of cultural capital, the magic artefacts, whose intellectual ownership confers prestige and power. This is what we’ve come to see - art.
What are these people doing here, what are they looking for? A disturbing masterpiece by Michael Angelo, or an occasion for courtship?
Are they interested in the Venus de Milo as an example of late Hellenistic Greek art, or as an icon of feminine beauty recognisable from twentieth century popular culture? Are they here just to say they’ve seen the Mona Lisa, or to evaluate it as an example of an early Renaissance portrait?
How does the museum, and the authority behind the museum, guide their quest and manage the cultural exchange? What sort of transaction is being managed here?
Well part of the deal I get from going to a museum is to get some culture, to confirm my claims of sophistication. Part of being cultured seems to involve knowing about art, being able to identify and give some account of the most beautiful and significant works.
But who decides which the most beautiful and significant works are - can I make up my own mind on the matter, or do I have to accept the judgements handed down by museum curators and experts.
These women are clearly absorbed by Cimabue’s altar piece of the Virgin and Child. Are they in a position to make up their own minds, or are their judgements determined by what the curators are telling them.
The people who selected these things - the taste makers if you like - have been making their choices over thousands of years.
These antique statues have been copied, collected, bought and sold since antiquity. And this long process adds its own authority, an authority which tells us to admire these works not only as antiquities, but also as examples of beauty. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the selectors were kings and their advisors, choosing or commissioning paintings for personal reasons.
Alternatively, they were commissioned as propaganda statements, to make a point, or impress visitors. Others were archaeologists or art historians, primarily interested in understanding past cultures.
Later, especially after eighteen hundred, there were professional museum curators trying to fill out the collection, as if to illustrate the pages of a history of art. Or there were dealers, offering the fruits of a lifetime’s taste to the nation.
Now the argument runs that what finished up in the Louvre as a result of this process of selection, was part of what is known as the canon of art, and authoritative selection of paintings and sculptures.
Well we don’t have to accept that this received opinion, but we can try and find out how these judgements were made, and why. Now my approach is going to be to ask a series of questions of the Louvre, the kind of questions that you yourself might ask the next time you visit the museum or art gallery.
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