Thursday, 31 January 2013

Louvre: Visiting the Italian Paintings Collection

Musee du Louvre, Italian section. By Larissa Woolf, Arts Editor,

The Musee du Louvre is as most art lovers know one of the grandest and largest museums in the world. Not only is it in one of the biggest palaces in the world but it was also the glorious former residences of the illustrious Kings of France. Ranging from the thirteenth century to the late nineteenth century, the Italian section houses masterpieces from the likes of Andrea Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio to name but a few. It presents its 600 treasures in chronological manner from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century; paintings which form the remnants of the collections of Francis I of France and Louis IX.

As you enter the Italian section you are immediately confronted with some iconic frescoes, one of which was by the illustrious artist Sandro Boticelli. We learn that this fresco used to decorate the walls of Villa Lemi in Florence, home to the Tonne Bonno family who had ties to Lorenzo da Medici, ruler of Florence. It is a mythological depiction with Venus in pink as the goddess of love and beauty, surrounded by the three graces. Based on Neoplatonic ideals the graces represented giving, receiving and responding. It is amazing that such a work of art can have survived so well the test of time. What is also important to notice is the richness of the very rooms in which the art is housed - the grand marble stairs, frescoed ceilings, gold leaf and intricate architecture.

In the first two rooms are mainly religious paintings and alter pieces. Works by artists such as Bernardo Daddi, Guido di Petra and Fra Angelico can be seen. The ‘Bataille of San Romano’, 1435-1440, is featured depicting a brilliant composition of soldiers in Florence’s war with Sienna in the fifteenth century. We see tightly packed soldiers ready for action and details such as a soldier blowing the trumpet. The Grande Galerie is next with a mind boggling corridor-like room with painting after painting lined after each other. Built between 1565 –1610 it linked the Louvre to the Tuileries palace and was used for the scrofula ceremony during which the king would lay his hand on the sick. You should head for the popular painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo and his famous four seasons paintings . Painted in 1573, Arcimboldo created four works of art depicting each season. Seen from afar the painting looks like a normal human portrait but if you move up close to it you can see that the figure is made up of various different fruits and vegetables which form one coherent whole. Each season is made up with the appropriate material so for example spring is composed of flowers whereas winter is made from tree trunk. Much debate has gone on to understand the meaning of the paintings but it is clear that each season represented the four ages of man so childhood, adolescence, maturity and old age. Moreover the paintings testify to the sovereign’s ability to rule the diversity of the people.

Of course the Italian section is home to the most famous painting in the world – the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci – and it is almost always thronging with people and admirers so that at times it can be quite difficult to get close enough. Painted in Florence and probably completed when the artist was at Francis I’s court between 1503-1519 the Mona Lisa or known by her other name, La Joconde, stares out to us in complete serene, all knowing and passive contentment. The identity of the sitter is said to be the courtier Lisa Garadina who married in 1495. As a portrait we see how approachable she is; there is almost an open dialogue between her and her viewers and the painting is finished with a refined sfumato or smoky technique. Many people travel continents and countries to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa and she never fails to amaze. Opposite her is another magnificent painting – the largest in the Louvre – entitled “Les Noces de Cana” by Paolo Veronese, known as the painter for the aristocracy. Based on an episode from the gospels where Christ is invited to a wedding feast in which he performed his first miracle it is a symbolic scene and foreshadows Christ’s last supper. We see how Veronese meticulously paints over 130 figures in the work, each one different to the other. Amongst the many paintings to be admired in this section is also a magnificent portrait of a young woman painted by the renowned artist Antonio Pisanello. Pisanello was one of the most renowned portraitist during the first half of the fifteenth century. In this painting he unusually paints the young woman’s profile, set against a background of bushes, flowers and butterflies. We learn that the identity of the sitter is possibly Margarite Gonzaga as the three colours of the Gonzaga family are enscribed on the back of the sleeve. It is a remarkable picture not only for its artistic simplicity and beauty but also because it marks an important social custom of the times. In an age where there were no photos people had to rely on paintings in order to see someone they had never met or commemorate someone special in their lives.

Feast your eyes then on Carvaggio’s Alof de Wignacourt, Pisanello’s Seasons, the gigantic ‘Les Noces de Cana’, Giuseppe’s Arcimboldo’s seasons, Titian's Pastoral Concert and many more. The Mona Lisa is of course the crowning star but she is flanked by great masters as well as those less known who still deserve a visit. - The Louvre

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