Thursday, March 10, 2005

A Touch of Class, Part IV – Treasures of the Louvre

I have as much contempt for the French as the next guy (maybe more), but you have to admit that they do two things well: make champagne and paint. We don’t have to set foot in France to drink their champagne, but much of their great art is confined to Paris museums. Fortunately, through the internet, we can get a taste of these great museums without catching a whiff of the Parisians.

The Louvre became a public museum in 1793 in the wake of the French revolution. Its collection consisted primarily of works seized from the King, the church, and members of the aristocracy. The collection was further enhanced with pieces seized throughout Europe during the Napoleonic wars.

The Louvre collection is so vast and impressive that it is difficult to know where to start. Let’s jump right into the Mannerist school of the later half of the 16th century. The Mannerists were technically proficient, but poor at capturing human passions. One of the Louvre’s finest examples of this school was painted in 1595 by an unknown master: “Gabrielle d'Estrées and one of her Sister”.

The Mannerists gave way to the more emotional Baroque style, which in turn led to the decorative Rococco style of the early 18th century. One of the masters of the Rococco era was Francois Boucher. Not surprisingly, many of Boucher’s works can be seen in the Louvre, including his “Diana Leaving her Bath” (1742).

Like many artists of his era, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was forced to paint portraits to make ends meet, although he preferred the historical genre. Happily, his portraiture experience greatly enhanced his historical paintings. Consider, for example, “The Turkish Bath” from 1862.

(Click here for the previous installment of A Touch of Class.)


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