Hello! After spending hours upon hours wandering the Louvre, our class has made it through yet another kicked-in-the-head-by-art day. Though we thoroughly enjoyed it, we took a day to recover before exploring the mysterious Catacombs of Paris. Read in for more!
The Louvre is one incredible place, whose roughly 35,000 piece art collection secures its spot among the most impressive museums in the world. To provide some idea of the sheer size of the museum, it would take a person about a month and a half to look at every piece of art in the Louvre for only 14 seconds each. Because of this, I can't go into too much detail about what we saw, because honestly I couldn't comprehend it all myself. What I can do, as always, is offer a few highlights.
The Raft of the Medusa
The Raft of the Medusa, painted by the artist Géricault between the years 1818 and 1819, depicts a rather frightening scene of a number of sailors struggling to stay alive onboard a deteriorated sea raft. While the piece is certainly disturbing, the discomfort it causes is entirely intentional. Géricault decided to paint The Raft in response to the discovery of an actual life raft from the sunken ship Medusa–and the struggling survivors onboard–a few years earlier. The captains of the ship were wealthy French aristocrats who knew dangerously little about sailing, but nevertheless took command of a ship bound for Senegal. When it began to sink, these captains took nearly all of the life rafts and fled, leaving 150 crew members stranded on The Medusa. When the captains arrived home safely they regaled eager listeners with tales of the wreck of their beautiful vessel and of how unfortunate it was that the entire crew sank along with it, despite their best efforts to save them. They conveniently neglected to mention how they had abandoned their crew and left them with little means to escape. The people of France were content to believe this story, until approximately 20 days later, when the remaining survivors washed ashore, along with the truth about the events that actually took place aboard the ship. These unfortunate men had gone to desperate lengths, even resorting to cannibalism, in order to stay alive. However, their suffering was not in vain, as the matter was brought to court and resulted in the convictions of the men who had abandoned their crew. The impact of the testimony of these survivors–and by extension, Géricault's painting–can still be felt today, as both have influenced maritime laws that are in effect currently. If you are interested in learning more about The Raft of the Medusa, you can do so on the Louvre website.
The Egyptian Section
History-lovers all over the world are thrilled by the Louvre's extensive exhibit on ancient Egypt, and I am no exception. We strode through corridors filled with ancient jewelry, enormous statues, walls of hieroglyphs, and much, much more. It was an absolute delight to be so near such ancient and important historical objects. One of the more interesting pieces the Louvre lays claim to is the partial bust of Amenhotep IV, the pharaoh who introduced monotheism to Egypt, and the husband of the famously beautiful Nefertiti. As you can imagine, the empire that had long loved its many different dieties had trouble embracing the new one-god-only policy. Because of this, the strict custom of only depicting high-ranking officials as tall and lean did not apply to Amenhotep. A small sculpture of the pharaoh shows him with a slightly pudgy stomach, a characteristic seldom attributed to any Egyptian royal. The other statue that flaunts a thick tummy is that of the seated scribe, but as scribes were not as revered as kings, this was to be expected.
The Louvre houses many other important and interesting works of art, which you can read about online.
Paris's catacombs are equal parts spooky and fascinating. Visitors descend underneath over 45 million years of rock formation into the quarries that extend for miles underneath the city. The Tomb of the Innocents, the area of the catacombs that houses the skulls the site is famous for, is comprised of 6 million skeletons. Still, these many, many bones only account for one eight hundredth of the space the quarry claims. Meandering through tunnels built of skulls in the quiet darkness was an experience that demanded both awe and reverence.
Unfortunately, I was under the weather when I toured the site, so I didn't read many of the informative plaques scattered throughout the quarry. However, I am more than happy to direct you to a website that can tell you more about this intriguing place.
I think it is only fitting that the title of my final blog post should come from my favorite professor quote. I don't know if Professor Merritt even remembers his offhanded remark about The Raft of the Medusa, but that one sentence manages to encompass everything we have learned over the course of this class. The true stories about Vasari's quest to save Da Vinci's masterpiece, Michelangelo's clever theft from the Medici family, corruption in the Catholic Church, Siena's struggles with Florence, Ai Weiwei's political mission, Picasso's lost paintings, are the more interesting stories. Our class hasn't just been traipsing across Europe for fun, we've learned a great deal throughout our time in this course, and we are all incredibly thankful for the opportunity to do so in such beautiful places. And so, for the last time, thank you for reading.
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