Monday, January 5, 2009

Sunday at the Louvre

What to do on a cold day in January? When we're in Paris, we go to a museum. There are 77 of them in Paris, but there is none greater than the Louvre. It is, in fact, the world's most visited museum and it's big. Its 35,000 works of art are displayed in a magnificent palace that covers 652,300 square feet so you can't expect to see it all in one visit. We've been there dozens of times and with each visit, we discover something new and beautiful.

Last Sunday there was an added incentive to go to the Louvre. That's because on the first Sunday of every month the Louvre, along with many other Paris museums such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Orsay Museum, has free admission.

So after a breakfast of coffee and croissants, we set out on foot hoping to arrive before the crowds. We walked along the Quai de la Seine, which I would put high on my list of the World's Most Beautiful Walks. The quai is several miles long and lined up along it are many of the most famous monuments of Paris, including Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.  From Monday to Saturday, the Quai, a street which runs right along the river, is filled with traffic. On Sunday, however, the cars, buses and trucks are banished and from 9 a.m to 5 p.m., it's pedestrians only.                                                                                      
Our 20-minute walk from the Isle St. Louis to the Louvre took us past Notre Dame and the Pont au Change and the Conciergerie, which are pictured here. 

The line to get in went quickly, but the museum was already crowded.  Dozens of languages could be heard, but Italian seemed to predominate.  Either there are a lot of Italians in Paris at the moment or Italians really know how to have a good time.  

It seemed that every one of the thousands of visitors made a beeline for the room containing daVinci's portrait of  Mona Lisa. We headed for my favorite painting in the Louvre: Raphael's portrait of  his friend Baldassare Castiglione. If I could choose one work of art from the Louvre for my own, it would be this one.

Castiglione, a diplomat and a poet, is most famous for his book, The Courtier, published in 1528.  A 16th-century guide on how to be the perfect courtly aristocrat, Castiglione's book has been translated into many languages and still makes for interesting reading.  

The first time I saw the portrait many years ago, I had no idea who Castiglione was.  I was just struck by the intensity of his gaze and the gentleness of his expression.  He has always seemed like someone I would like to know.  I visit him every time I go to the Louvre.  And who could not like a man who in 1528 said that women are the equal of men and capable of doing anything men can do.  If you want to see him for yourself, he's in the Grand Gallery not far from the room that houses the Mona Lisa.  

Some art historians say that the portrait of Castiglione is an homage to daVinci's Mona Lisa.  I tried to make the comparison, but I couldn't get any closer than this.  If you look carefully, you will see the Mona Lisa in the glass case at the back of the photo. The crowds are always large, but on a day of free admission, it's particularly difficult to get anywhere near the painting. Nonetheless you can't go to the Louvre for the first time and not see the Mona Lisa.  It is a beautiful painting, but it's not the one I would take home with me if I could.  

As the day wore on, the crowds got bigger and bigger. Remember, though, that the Louvre has 35,000 works of art so you can always find a quiet corner with incredible things to see.  We headed way across the museum where there is a fascinating collection of art from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Then, like our beautiful friend pictured here, we thumbed our ears at the crowds and enjoyed the quiet and solitude of a nearly empty gallery.

     A bientot, 


To view enlarged photos online, click here
Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor

1 comment:

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