Musée du Louvre
Musée du Louvre

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Musée du Louvre

2.3 Activities 6 to 8

Activity 6

Watch the next segment of video. Once you’ve watched the video, make a few notes on what you’ve learnt about how the taste of the court was challenged by a new public.

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NARRATION:
how was the taste of the court challenged by a new public?
As early as 1699, the Royal Academy organised a public exhibition in the Louvre and this was the origin of the regular public exhibitions which came to be known as the Salon.
From 1737, regular exhibitions of work in the Salon Carré were reintroduced, and it was the public admission to these exhibitions which allowed for the circulation of criticisms of royal painters.
Serious critics began to accuse the royal painters of debasing the classical tradition, and producing erotic, frivolous art for the courtiers. Artists like Boucher pandered successfully to these tastes and became extremely wealthy.
This criticism took on strong political overtones. Many of the kings political opponents supported those critics who argued, that art was too important to be left to court patronage.
It was in this atmosphere that the young Jacques Louis David carved out a reputation for himself. His large severe paintings took subjects from antique pre-imperial Rome, proclaiming republican virtues.
With their imposing scale and dramatic compositions, they were designed to dominate the competition in the Salon. As the imagination of the public was caught by this spectacle of artistic conflict, and as the profession of art critic grew in importance, the Salon came to play a significant and potentially de-stabilising role in Parisian society. But before the Crown could take action to meet its critics, the events of 1789 changed everything.
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Activity 7

Watch the next segment of video. Once you’ve watched the video, make some notes on what you learnt about how the royal collection was transformed into a state museum.

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TIM BENTON
With the execution of the king in January 1793, the decision was taken to make the royal collection accessible to all, and this happened on the 10th August. After 1793, the collection was expanded with confiscations from churches, and aristocratic families.
Michel Angelo’s Slaves had been in the possession of French aristocrats since the seventeenth century, and were confiscated during the Revolution. They quickly became star attractions in the new central museum.
Fra Bartolomeo’s Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine had belonged to the Church of Notre Dame in Autun.
Another category of works which came into the Louvre, were those reception pieces submitted to the academy by academicians. This is Watteau’s Isle de Cythere.
The first real director of the Musée Central of the Louvre, was the engraver and art collector Vivant Denon. The present director of the Louvre, Pierre Rosenberg, considers Denon’s contribution to have essential.
PIERRE ROSENBERG
What was his great idea in a certain way, a very simple idea first to open the museum to everyone, and to make it a sort of democratic institution. There were examples before but the idea was not works of art hanging together, er chosen by the taste of the ruler of the prince, but trying to explain through work of art the history of art. Sculpture Gallery
That means the schools the division in northern school Italian school and French school, the chronology from Giotto you go to Masaccio and from Masaccio to Leonardo da Vinci and from there to Caravaggio and so on and so on, I mean this idea of an evolution of art history.
TIM BENTON
And Denon soon had enormously more to work with to create his history of art.
In addition to the kings collections, the central museum was swelled by an unheard of booty, the product of a systematic policy of trophies of conquest, extracted from the defeated nations of Europe.
To measure the extraordinary completeness of these acquisitions, you only have to look at Panini’s representation of the treasures of ancient Rome, painted in 1758, forty years before Napoleon’s conquest of Italy - almost all the famous antique sculptures depicted here - to see which generations of artists and cognoscenti had had to travel to Rome, were crated up and dispatched to Paris by art historians travelling with Napoleon’s armies.
In the Louvre, the best works of sculpture were displayed along a suite of galleries with, in pride of place at the end, the most extraordinary of the ancient treasures, the Laocoon.
It was almost as if Rome itself with its two thousand year old history, had been transported to Paris.
In this extraordinary painting, Hubert Robert imagined how the Grande Gallery would look in ruins after some future cataclysm. We can see some of the new acquisitions lying around, being rediscovered anew by artists and archaeologists. An artist is sketching the Apollo Belvedere. While in another corner, one of Michael Angelo’s Slaves lies unnoticed.
Works acquired by revolution or force of arms, Robert seems to be saying, could as easily be lost again in the next turn of fate.
Napoleon’s newly acquired art treasures were put on display all along the Grande Gallery, on the occasion of his marriage to Marie Louise of Austria.
Many of Raphael’s best paintings, including the Transfiguration, featured in the trophies of conquest, which doubled the Italian Renaissance collection.
Further on came some spectacular Flemish works, including Rubens’s Descent From the Cross, his most famous work. And these works were then compared with the best achievements of French classicism, including the huge canvas of St. Gervasius and Pritasius by Le Sueur.
This painting, commissioned by the crown for the church at St. Gelda in Paris, had been confiscated during the revolution.
Although most of these works had to be re-patriated after the fall of Napoleon in 1815, the French managed to hang on to a significant number.
An Italian collection which the French were able to keep was that of Prince Borghese, which was acquired for the marriage of Napoleon’s sister.
After the return of the Laocoon, the Dying Gall and the Apollo Belvedere, the statues from the Borghese collection such as this Dyonisius and the infant Bacchus, became the most famous antiquities in the Louvre.
The Borghese Gladiator, one of the most celebrated antique sculptures, which we’ve already seen as a model for Nicholas Coustou, and shown in pride of place on the bureau of Charles le Brun, finally came to France with this collection.
Of the Renaissance paintings confiscated in Italy, the largest was Veronese’s Feast of Cana. It seems that its size prevented it being sent back to Venice in 1815. Throughout the nineteenth century it had pride of place in the Salon Carré.
In the case of this wonderful 14th C painting by Cimabue, which was taken from the Church of St. Francesco in Pisa, it’s likely that the Italians were not interested enough in art at the early period to demand its return. So this is a case where military seizure may have saved the painting from destruction or neglect.
This Calvary by Mantegna, is a predela, that’s to say a small painting at the bottom of a larger altarpiece. The curator’s managed to keep the predela, when the main altarpiece had to be returned to Italy. Again, Denon was ahead of the game in valuing Mantegna’s work, at a time when early Renaissance art was not yet in fashion.
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Activity 8

Watch the next segment of video. Once you’ve watched the video, make a few notes on how the Louvre was adapted to meet the needs of a mass audience.

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NARRATION
How was the Louvre adapted to meet the needs of a mass audience?
After the final defeat of Napoleon, the monarchy was restored in France and Louis XVIII, Charles X and Louis Philippe all contributed to the decoration and the completion of the buildings, and the enlargement of the collection.
Now this was a time when most nation states were founding national art museums in imitation of the Louvre, and it quickly became a matter of fierce rivalry to secure the best works. In the Louvre the priority was to replace those crowd pulling masterpieces which had had to be returned after 1815.
An early success was the so-called Venus de Milo, obtained by a mixture of diplomacy and force in 1820. This statue immediate becomes a symbol of beauty, and takes a prominent place in all future organisatons of the Louvre.
After an undignified scramble between French British and German agents, a magnificent collection of Egyptian antiquities was assembled by the French Consul Champmollion, and donated in 1827.
The French developed an ambitious policy of funding expensive archaeological expeditions, substituting by peaceful means for Napoleon’s conquering armies.
In 1847, after a high profile archaeological expedition in Khorsabad, the first two bulls from the Palace of Sargon were installed. By the mid century these discoveries were no chance finds, but the products of systematic competitive endeavour.
And in 1863, the Nyke of Samothrace was discovered, and sent to Paris by Consul Champmollion.
The Louvre quickly established itself as a site for a number of different audiences. This is how Hubert Robert imagined the new art public when the museum was first opened. Art lovers and middle class cognoscenti rub shoulders with foreign or provincial visitors, copyists, and art students.
(Quote from letter by Prince Mirza Aboul Taleb Khan)
“ This museum is paid for at public expense, and the public is freely admitted. It’s purpose is to disseminate a taste for the arts, and to establish their sanctuary in the French capital, also to make the government popular.”
TIM BENTON. (Quote from writer Jules Fleury)
“ The visitors, a turbulent and unseemly mob, can best be described by the words of the psalm, they have eyes but see not. This ignorant public has the special talent of stopping before the very worst paintings. They’re either provincials or foreigners. It’s rare that fashionable Parisians visit the Louvre on open days.”
But this is how the realist novelist, Emile Zola, describes a visit by a working class wedding party from Montmartre.
“ Their guide called a halt in the middle of the Salon Carré. ‘You will only find masterpieces here’ he whispered quietly, as if in a church. Gervaise asked for the Feast of Cana to be explained. ‘It’s stupid not to put the story on the labels’ he said. Coupau stopped in front of the Mona Lisa, which he declared looked like one of his aunts. Boche and Bibi la Grillade sniggered, stealing glances at the nude women. The thighs of Antiope, more than anything, sent them into paroxysms”
TIM BENTON.
All our great contemporary painters have nourished their talent in this one gallery, and if they’ve not all been able to equal their masters, they have at least been encouraged to follow them, by studying their masterpieces.
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