Musée du Louvre
Musée du Louvre

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Musée du Louvre

2.2 Activities 3 to 5

Activity 3

Watch the next segment of video. Once you’ve watched the video, make a few notes on what you’ve learnt about how the present buildings of the Louvre came about.

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Let’s start with the physical context of the museum.
How did the present building of the Louvre come about?
The origins of the Louvre were as a fortress guarding the westward approaches to Paris, along the river.
The medieval Louvre with its picturesque towers and massive bulk came to represent a symbol of the royal power in Paris, holding out against revolts. The remains of this old Louvre, lost for four hundred years, have been excavated and now form part of the new Louvre.
Today’s museum not only displays it’s collection of art, but also its own history.
When Francis I decided that his old fortress needed humanising, the first bit to go was the Round Dungeon, the Keep. In 1546, just before he died, he replaced the west side of castle courtyard with a wing in the new Italian Renaissance style, by the architect Pierre Lesco. Inside, the new wing offered elegant classicising state rooms like this one, now known as the Hall of the Cariatides. Many dramas in French history unfolded in this room, while it was still part of the royal palace.
By 1590 a new wing had been added leading down to the walls on the riverbank. A new palace had also been built outside the walls to the west, called the Tuilleries after the tile ovens in the area. A grand plan developed, to link up the partially built Louvre to the new palace with long wings on both sides.
One of these was built, but it would take another two hundred and fifty years before this project was finally completed. The long gallery along the river, always known as the Grande Gallery, was nearly a kilometre long, crossing the city walls and moat. The scale of the Grande Gallery is still astonishing. From this woodcut the state of the Louvre and the Tuileries under Henry IV can be grasped, with parts of the old fortress still standing.
The fortress was then demolished, and under Louis XIII a start was made to extend Francis I’s wing into a great square court, the Court Carré. Although the completion of the Court Carré took over a century, the original style of Lescau’s sixteenth century wing was generally respected.
In the 1660s the main problem was the construction of the east facade, intended to present an imposing front to the city and to house a grand new suite of rooms for Louis XIV.
Work was still unfinished when in 1674 Louis XIV decided to move his court out of Paris to the Palace of Versailles.
Following the French revolution in 1789, the palaces of the Tuileries and Louvre took centre stage in events. With the king a prisoner in the Tuileries, and eventually executed in January 1793, the palace was declared a national monument, and part of the Louvre given over to a central museum of the arts.
Napoleon commissioned his architects to complete the grand plan, but it was left incomplete until Napoleon’s nephew seized control of the government in 1851, subsequently declaring himself Emperor Napoleon III. By 1866 the Louvre was finally complete with the enclosure of the whole palace and the construction of two new wings. Napoleon III made the Louvre and the Tuileries into a single enormous building of state, housing suites for himself and his family, as well as ministry buildings, state meeting rooms, several museums and academies.
It all ended badly of course with a disastrous Franco- Prussian war of 1870-71 - Napoleon’s defeat and exile and the Paris commune of 1871 - in the course of which the Tuileries and several other buildings of state were gutted by fire. The ruins of the Tuileries stood for ten years, but in the end this royal palace was pulled down.
And this is how the Louvre remained, for a hundred years, in gentle decline. The museum shared the buildings with the Ministry of Finance, and several other state institutions, until in September 1981 President Mitterand announced a plan to dedicate the whole building to the museum. This project came to be known as the Grande Louvre. The Ministry of Finance was moved out to a new building at the Bourse. Perhaps if you think that this is how the Louvre might have been redesigned by a modern architect, the question of tradition and continuity comes into focus.
By comparison the pyramid, designed by the American architect I.M. Pei, is an exceptionably discreet external expression of an enormous transformation inside and underground - where thousands of cubic meters were excavated - to make space for the new museum.
I remember when I went to the Louvre back in 1951, my first experience with the Louvre, there were only two little toilets in that huge museum, and you don’t find it. One simply did not find those things, you know.
So it didn’t function as a museum, so the museum brief was a very very important one, in order to make it work as a museum a very major intervention had to take place. When I met Mr. Mitterand, President Mitterand at that time, I told him yes, I say something could be done to make it function well as a museum, though we have to dig under Napoleon Court.
And that was the first step. Now if he at that time told me, Mr. Pei, I don’t think that is possible, and then I would have said then I’m sorry there’s nothing could be done. But he was very understanding so he said I can understand what you meant very well, that’s fine.
Now here’s a puzzle. When we the British cut off the head of our King Charles I, he had the finest collection of paintings in Europe. But Oliver Cromwell sold them off, and pretty soon most of them found their way through the dealer network into the collection of Louis XIV. So most of these paintings are not in a British Museum, but in the Louvre. But when the French put their king, Louis XVI to the guillotine in 1793, they decided to form a national art museum out of the royal collection.
Why? Well it’s a complicated story.
The revolutionaries knew that there had to be a complete break with the age of royal tyranny. On the other hand, they considered it the right of free men and women of France to have access to the great works of art of the past.
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Activity 4

Watch the next segment of video. Once you’ve watched the video, use your own words to explain how the royal collection was formed.

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How was the collection formed and to what extent was its nature conditioned by royal patronage. Some of the most famous paintings in the Louvre were collected by Francis I.
He commissioned this portrait of himself from the Venetian artist Titian in 1537. Now was it just that Francis had a good eye. He also acquired Raphael’s La Belle Jardiniere painted in 1508, now generally considered one of the most important works in the Louvre. He kept his faith with paintings in an intimate part of Fontainebleu, the bathrooms, where he could enjoy them in the company of his mistresses, and closest courtiers.
Once in the collection however, paintings like these became a valuable asset which could be shown off to visiting dignitaries as a sign of the kings culture.
This painting by Andrea Del Sarto, the Italian painter, was done in France in 1518 for the king. The subject is an allegory of charity, a virtue which wealthy kings could hope to acquire. Paintings could flatter a king and make him seem powerful.
Across the Grande Gallery a painting of St. Michael and the Dragon by Raphael was commissioned by the Pope as a gift for Francis I. Now, as grand master of the order of St. Michael, Francis had a particular interest in this warlike angel.
Leonardo da Vinci also came from Italy to France, where the king gave him his own chateau, and is thought to have brought with him the most famous painting in the Louvre, the Mona Lisa. It’s popularly said that Leonardo died in Francis’s arms. Raphael, Titian, Leonardo, these were among the most famous living artists in Europe.
In other words, what Francis was collecting, was at the time modern art.
It’s a remarkable thing that Francis’s judgement has held up, and these works have been valued as central to the canon of art, not only by subsequent royal patrons, but also by their revolutionary and republican successors.
The paintings collected by Francis I formed the core of the most prized selection of works, which were displayed in the Salon Carré from 1840 onwards. In the Salon Carré were also paintings that had originally belonged to Charles I of England, and had been acquired by Louis XIV.
With their secular subject matter and sensuous treatment, some of these works were specifically designed to wet the tastes of secular patrons. Titian’s Fète Champêtre had originally been in the court of the Gonzaga, in Mantua, when in 1627 a large part of the Gonzaga collection came to England.
Here is another one that came by the same route, Correggio’s Venus, Satyr and Cupid, often wrongly called the Sleep of Antiope. Painted in 1524, it passed through Charles I collection and then via Cardinal Mazarin to Louis XIV.
Francis I was also a keen collector of antique sculpture. He had this antique statue of Diana repaired. We can see that Diana was originally holding a bow, but the restorer added a deer, to make associations with Francis’s favourite sport - hunting - even more obvious.
In the next century, Louis XIV’s wealth and power allowed him to extend the royal collection of antique sculptures. An antique type much favoured by the court, was the Crouching Aphrodite. This is one that was discovered in Vienne in France in the seventeenth century.
The kings collection of antique sculptures provided models for his artists. This sculpture was commissioned by the king for Versailles in 1685 and was signed by Coysevox, with the signature in imitation of Phidias, written in Greek lettering.
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Activity 5

Watch the next segment of video. Once you’ve watched the video, jot down a few thoughts on how royal patronage promoted art practice.

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How did royal patronage promote art practice.
Now part of the point of collecting antique and Renaissance art was to train up artists to use their skill in the service of the crown. From 1600, for two hundred years, the kings painters were given lodgings in the Louvre.
In 1648 the Royal Academy of Painting was founded to give these artists a proper training, and this too was housed in the palace of the Louvre. Now artists received into the academy were guaranteed a job for life. A key part of the training were the lectures administered by the academicians evaluating and explaining paintings in the royal collection.
For example, on the 7th May, 1667, the kings first painter, Charles le Brun, lectured on Raphael’s St. Michael and the Dragon, praising Raphael for his composition, for his depiction of the human body as if motivated by the divine spirit.
A month later, the painter Philippe de Champaigne chose Titian’s Entombment, a recent acquisition by Louis XIV, this time praising the Venetian artist’s use of colour and light and shade. Philippe showed how Titian had daringly cast shadow over Christ’s upper body and head, while dramatising the tragedy of Christ’s death by illuminating his lifeless legs and feet.
Comparing the skills of different artists at composition, drawing, colour and expression, became a staple form of debate which informed current art practice.
An amateur painter and critic, Roger de Piles, even drew up tables of scores out of twenty. This set the cat among the pigeons, since he was a fanatical fan of the Venetian colourists, and of Rubens.
In 1622, Rubens had been commissioned to paint a cycle of huge paintings, commemorating the achievements of Marie de Medici, mother of King Louis XIII.
Compared with most French artists, Rubens commanded a hugely expressive range, a vibrant use of colour, and an acute observation of the body. For composition and expression, de Piles awarded Rubens eighteen and seventeen out of twenty, equalled only Raphael, while for colour he gave a mark of seventeen, only bettered by the Venetian artists Titian and Giorgione. Only for drawing did he mark him down, to thirteen.
By contrast, the French painter Nicolas Poussin, who spent most of his working life in Rome, was admired for his knowing references to antique sculpture and reliefs. De Piles gave him seventeen for drawing, and fifteen each for composition and expression, but only six for colour. Nevertheless it was following Poussin’s erudite example that French academic art aspired to emulate and outdo the Italian Renaissance. Charles le Brun, the king’s first painter, spent three years in Italy with Poussin, and tried to learn from his master’s style.
French painters and critics returned to the comparative analysis of Poussin and Rubens, for the next hundred and fifty years. It’s notable that an artist actively involved in the revolution, Jacques Louis David, should have chosen to paint in a style heavily influenced by Poussin and antique sculpture.
His version of the Sabine Women, which depicts the women trying to stop their Roman husbands from fighting their Sabine brothers, is as cold as a Roman marble frieze, but packed with emotional power.
By contrast, Eugene Delacroix, in the 1820s, borrowed heavily from Rubens, in his use of colour, and dramatic composition. He closely studied Rubens’s Marie de Medici cycle.
So, having ready access to these works in the Royal Collection formed the basis of an artists education.
Just as artists like Poussin studied the antique, so painters later were to study Poussin, Rubens, and the Italian artists of the Renaissance.
Under Louis XIV and his ministers, there was a symbiotic relationship between the collection of antique and Renaissance art, the development of artistic education under the Royal Academy, and regular employment of the best artists in public commissions for the king. When carried out with vigour and conviction, these three strands of royal policy produced great advantages for the king, as a form of propaganda, celebrating the kings achievements. It also formed the tradition of high art, which could be handed on to later generations.
An important part of the painter’s or sculptor’s education remained the trip to Rome as pensionnaire of the French school. Young painters and sculptors were sent there by the Royal Academy to copy the best examples, and this was all part of the process of preparing painters and sculptors for work in the kings service.
Among the young sculptors who studied in Rome, were the brothers Nicholas and Guillaume Coustou.
GENEVIEVE BRESC: Curator of Sculpture (Translation)
The Coustou brothers won Academic scholarships to Rome. This was the great encounter with the Antique. Nicholas Coustou copies the Borghese Gladiator - copied the Farnese Hercules - at the time in the great collections in Rome. Back in France, they joined the Royal Workshops.
They followed the highest level of careers. They were ‘associated’ and then ‘received’ in the Academy on presentation of a masterpiece - it was just like the old guild system - but at the same time a way of flattering the king. Nicholas Coustou’s masterpiece was this sculpture: Apollo unveiling a bust of Louis XIV, after a model by Le Brun - a perfect example of court art.
Among the notable works of Nicholas’s younger brother Guillaume, are these horse tamers, loosely based on the famous sculptures placed on the Curinale Hill in Rome.
But you didn’t have to follow the traditional route to receive royal patronage.
The sculptor, Puget, began his career carving figureheads in the naval dockyards in Toulon. His reputation spread, and the king gave him two great blocks of marble to fashion as he pleased.
This is a most unusual subject. Alexander the Great, on whom Louis XIV modelled himself, had gone to see the great philosopher Diogenes, who lived, naked, in a barrel. When Alexander and his retinue arrived, he asked the philosopher how he could help him, and Diogenes replied - just get out of my light. Now since Louis XIV also represented himself as the sun king, this is a potentially treasonous representation.
In the other great block of marble, Puget attempted a great and terrible episode from classical legend. It represents the antique athlete Milo of Crotona, who in his old age tries to tear a tree down with his bare hands. His fingers are trapped, and he’s attacked by a lion. This work has always been seen as a key piece in the royal collection of French sculpture.
Puget’s unconventional career and troubled personality allowed him to be presented as a heroic genius, in the mould of Michael Angelo.
When the entrance hall of the new museum was decorated in 1800, Puget’s Milo is shown as the representative of French sculpture, to be compared with Michel Angelo’s Moses. The antique Apollo Belvedere in Rome and the Colossus of Memnon, in Egypt.
In designs for frescos decorating the nineteenth century Louvre, the Milo crops up again and again, as a talisman for the supremacy of French sculpture.
This portrait of the king’s first painter, Charles Le Brun, in a sense sums up the whole career of a successful official artist. On the table is an engraving of his painting, the Tent of Darius. It was this painting which so impressed the king, that he took him on as court painter. The portrait also shows le Brun’s classical training.
We can see a bronze statuette of the Borghese Gladiator, very like the one Nicholas Coustou made in Rome two years before this portrait was painted. Coustou had copied it from the famous life sized bronze Hellenistic statue which was then in Rome. Doing studies of this kind was how young artists developed their skills.
Behind it are representations of the great works of painterly propaganda which le Brun carried out for Louis XIV. You can see the conquest of the Franche Conté, from the Gallery de Glaces in Versailles, where le Brun painted the vault with scenes celebrating military victories.
To see this side of le Brun’s work in the Louvre, we can look at these enormous paintings of the conquests of Alexander the Great, commissioned in 1673, which Louis would have interpreted as an allegory of his own military prowess - and nobility. These paintings flattered the king by analogy.
It may seem surprising that these examples of royal patronage, were given pride of place in the new central museum during the French Revolution.
In complete contrast, the full sized bronze statue of the king by the sculptor Girardon, of which this is the study, was demolished during the revolution, along with many explicit celebrations of royal authority.
The reason the le Brun painting survived, was because they were allegorical. The virtues of Alexander which they extolled could be detached from the king, and be seen as universal examples of heroism and courage.
Le Brun’s heads were based on his comparative study of the depiction of emotions. It was the ability of art to convey complex emotional states, le Brun claimed, which set art above poetry.
By the mid eighteenth century, the very series of high art which had been developed by the Royal Academy began to be used against King Louis XV and his court. Critics began to assert that the kings collection was too important to be hidden away in the royal palaces. The king had a duty to raise the level of public taste by putting on show the best works of the past.
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