Today was Day Two of the Louvre. Not as overwhelming as Day One and overall much more personally enjoyable. I had an amazing time today at the Louvre because I found the paintings we saw today much more interesting than the Pre-Renaissance and Early Renaissance paintings of the first day. I saw Leonardo’s Mona Lisa c. 1503-1506 of the High Renaissance which was very unique because when you look at it, it is like Mona Lisa is staring at you and making eye-contact which is a device not typical of the period. I also saw Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana c. 1592 of the Late Renaissance period. It is the largest work in the museum and absolutely enormous. Veronese paid great attention to detail and what I liked most about it was the fact that although the painting is of a Biblical scene (the wedding at Cana) the characters are clothed in the modern dress of the time. I just found it very unique and interesting and I liked it a lot. However, my absolute favorite piece of the day was something very different from any painting I have ever seen before. Russo Fiorentino’s Pieta c. 1540 is remarkably different from any of the other Renaissance work because it is mannerist artwork. Mannerist artwork features characters in elaborate positions, intensely vivid colors and are incredibly avant-garde in nature. I loved this piece (which was oil paint on wood that was later transferred to canvas) so much because I have never seen any artwork that portrayed a dying Jesus in this way. Jesus looks hurt and natural; there is such anguish on this face that you can feel his pain. Mary looks brokenhearted and disarrayed. Everyone else looks genuinely concerned and the reason that I think that that is important is because there is no sense of resurrection or hope in this painting. It truly looks like the end. What makes this piece even more interesting is the fact that in the midst of the gloom, Fiorentino chose to use incredibly bright and vivid colors like orange, gold and turquoise blue. The colors juxtapose the subject in such a fascinating way that Fiorentino’s Pieta was absolutely my favorite piece of the day!
Today began as a challenge; to take on the world famous Louvre Museum. This enormous museum is filled thousands of works of art so needless to say it can be a bit overwhelming. We began our museum trip by looking at a few Pre-Renaissance paintings. The one that most stood out to me was Giotto’s Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata. This fourteenth century painting on wood was so different than the other Pre-Renaissance art we saw because it was quite progressive in that the characters of the work had facial expressions. Other works from this period (like Cimabue’s Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels c. 1280, for example) do not feature any facial expression. Giotto’s work was so interesting because it showed a very human St. Francis. St. Francis looks frightened as he receives the stigmata. He is on his knees genuflecting and his body language shows that he is open to the Angel and to receiving this sacred gift, but his face shows that he is also scared and possibly overwhelmed by what is happening. This piece also different from Cimabue’s (who happened to be Giotto’s art teacher) because Giotto utilizes perspective so the piece appears to have more dimensions whereas the Cimabue does not use perspective so it is much more flat and one-dimensional. The colors are vibrant and lavish which also adds to the work. Overall, what I really enjoyed most about this work is St. Francis’s humanity. Giotto did not put him on a pedestal or make him appear holier-than-thou. St. Francis looks like an ordinary man receiving an extraordinary gift. Because of this it is not only beautiful, but thought provoking as well.
Today I visited arguably the most beautiful church in the world: The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. This breathtaking cathedral whose name literally translates to “Our Lady” was created in honor of the Virgin Mary. Its ornate Gothic style architecture was used to show the world that Parisians were devote followers of Christ. Construction on Notre Dame began in the twelfth century and utilizes an array of beautiful but practical architectural devices such as the flying buttress which provides exterior arch support. Other than the sheer grandiosity of the cathedral, what I found most interesting was the way the designers used decorative ornaments to explain Biblical stories to a largely illiterate population. The main portal of the Western Facade especially does this in an incredibly beautiful and unique way. It centers around Jesus Christ and the idea of the final judgement. Those to the right of Jesus are going to Heaven whereas those to His left are going to Hell. Heaven looks calm and peaceful and is surrounded by angels. On the other hand, Hell looks chaotic and is filled with devils and ghouls. The Hell side honestly looks scary and was used as a means to deter the faithful from straying from the faith. I always thought that decorations were used simply for that, to decorate; however, upon closer inspection I see that this beautiful portal was used to convey Church teachings to the masses. I found the Notre Dame to be incredibly picturesque; but the main portal of the Western Facade truly stands in a league all its own because it is not simply aesthetically pleasing but Biblically reverent as well.
For my first official museum trip in Paris I went to Le Musée National du Moyen Age also known as Le Musée de Cluny. I was initially taken aback by the beautiful civic Gothic architecture that creates the illustrious exterior of the museum. Inside there is a wide variety of works ranging from paintings to sculptures to tapestries all dating back to the Middle Ages. Personally, I found the Chapiteau exhibit to be most interesting. This exhibition featured a series of capitals or column heads from the Churches of St. Genvieve and St. Etienne that date back to 1100-1110 AD. There were four main pieces that were very characteristic of the time in that they used iconography to not only decorate these churches but tell pertinent stories both religious and secular. Two of the capitals (entitled Signes du Zodiaque) were of just that; the zodiac calendar. Initially, I thought that was a bit strange because why would something so typically pagan be used to decorate a church? However, in the Middle Ages zodiac signs were not seen as pagan but as an effective means to tell time. Therefore, these symbols were used not only for decorative, but for practical purposes as well. The third column, Scenès Bibliques, chronicle the creation story through the use of a snake, a tree and grapes, as well as through figures of both Adam and Eve. The final piece of this magnificent set is called Rinceau Avec Pampres et Grappes de Raisin. This work is also biblically symbolic because the entire piece is a series of interconnecting grapevines. Overall, the gallery had an amazing collection of some truly unique artwork. The pieces did require a bit of thought, but upon close examination I was able to uncover the iconography and understand the significance of the pieces. It was very interesting and I cannot wait to return to Le Musée de Cluny!