The Louvre

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The Louvre, Paris.

I’m not even going to pretend to try and tell you what you should see at the Louvre. I know virtually nothing about the history of art. And the gallery is so overwhelmingly huge I wouldn’t even know where to begin, anyway.

Victor, one of the tour guides I spent time with on Thursday, said he studied at the art history school attached to the Louvre for two years and the best part was that he got free access to the Louvre all the time. He was in there every day for two years, and that was the only way to get his head around the whole place. He also said that only a small percentage of the Louvre’s actual collection is on display at any one time, and the rest is boxed up in the basement.

So. Buy a guide book, I guess. And good luck. I was so intimidated by the Louvre – the art I don’t understand, and the line-ups, and the expectations – that I almost didn’t want to go at all during this trip. (I visited when I was eight and my only memory of the place was a security woman jumping up and down in front of the Mona Lisa waving her arms and yelling “No flash!” at the tourists with cameras.)

In the end, I went in for about two hours. I went to see the Classical Greek art, some Egyptian pieces, and then the ‘famous’ items.

I saw the Venus de Milo and Winged Victory. And I saw the Mona Lisa – no one was jumping in front of her this time. And she is smaller than I remembered her. Although I was much smaller, too, the last time I saw her. With all of these pieces I tried to put the camera down once I took the picture and to make sure I spent some time just looking at them, to see what they made me feel. To smile back at the Mona Lisa.

There are two or three other paintings by Leonardo da Vinci (there was a point when I became unclear on whether he had painted something or it had been painted by his students) in an adjacent gallery. These ones had only the smallest of crowds in front of them and I could get much closer and not be jostled while I did so. It was nice to get the chance to linger with them a little.

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Cleopatra, queen of the Nile.

In the Greek galleries, I found statues of so many of the people referenced in Anthony and Cleopatra I couldn’t possibly include photos of them all. More statues of Octavius Caesar, statues of Agrippa, and Marcus Crassus, and more. (I worked on a production of Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra not so long ago, so I kind of feel like I know the characters. It is both strange and wonderful to realize that they were real people, to see their faces in front of me. Even though, in many cases, the statues were carved long after the person’s death.) In the Egyptian section I found two statues of Cleopatra herself. The one pictured above isn’t in great shape, but the other one is more symbolic than representative.

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Statue of Orestes (brother of Electra) and his friend Pylades. No, I don’t know which one is which. From the 1st century AD.

I also found this statue of Orestes and Pylades, both characters in Electra, a play I saw earlier this week. Now, these representations are absolutely fiction – the play was written in the 5th century BC based on characters who lived, if they lived at all, somewhere around the 12th century BC, while the statue was carved in the 1st century AD – but it was still cool to see. I would have loved to see a statue of Electra to go along with it.

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A family of lion-heads.

There was a point when I didn’t believe I was ever going to get OUT of the Louvre. Thank god for the signs pointing towards the exits. It was the end of a long day of walking (I had done the catacombs that morning) and my feet hurt and my back hurt and I just wanted to head for home and food and a chance to sit down, and it took me a good fifteen minutes of walking to get to the exit. The museum really is just overwhelmingly huge.

So I would say pick your battles as you head in there. Find the stuff that you have some connection with, the stuff that really interests you, and don’t even pretend to think you’re going to be able to see it all.

The Louvre is open from 9am – 6pm, except on Wednesdays and Fridays when it stays open until 9:45pm. It is closed on Tuesdays and certain holidays. General admission to the permanent collection costs 12€, and there will be an extra charge for admission to any special exhibits. See the Louvre website for further details.

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