The Renaissance and Dreams, Musee du Luxembourg, Paris
The Musee du Luxembourg, located in the charming Jardins de Luxembourg in the sixth district of Paris, has amassed eighty works of art ranging from Durer to Caravaggio in this fantastic exhibition on dreams during the Renaissance. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries philosophers, poets,artists and theologians attached a lot of importance to dreams and the relationship between sleep, dreams and the dreamer. Many believed that dreams were prophetic and a mirror to the soul and described contact with the next world.
The first painting we encounter in the exhibition was commissioned by Michele de Ridolfo del Ghirlando and is attributed to Michelangelo. The painting belongs to a four part series of allegories, painted between 1526 - 1531, about the times of day and this one is entitled ‘Night’. It is an evocative, allegorical painting and alludes to the beauty and duration of sleep with as its central figure a beautiful and rounded figure of a sleeping woman . Interestingly Night was always personified as a sleeping woman in the Renaissance, often surrounded by strange and unreal creatures. Sleep had ambiguous interpretations as both soothing and as a time of terror or trouble. One of the most stunning works in the exhibition is Correggio’s painting entitled, “Venus and love sleeping discovered by a Satyr’. It is a large painting in a landscape of muted trees where the figures take central stage; a voluptuous Venus and her son are sleeping touching fingers, denoting the close bond between them, and his head is resting in the crook of her arm. There is an allusion not just to physical love and motherhood but also the role of spiritual love, found in the literature written at the time, one example being Bocaccio’s Decameron where man’s spiritual elevation is inspired by physical beauty. Often painting during the sixteenth century had a mythological or Christian frame of reference. It is interesting to learn that it is the first time this painting of Correggio’s has been shown in France.
During the 15th and 16th centuries there were many different interpretations of the world of dreams, the ghosts that peopled it and the barrier between real and dream worlds. We see in el Greco’s colourful masterpiece “The dream of Philippe II” how there is a link between heaven and earth. Philippe II was the son of Charles V and was a great partisan of the greater Reformation. He symbolises here the close relationship between temporal power and spiritual conquest. In Ludovico Cardi’s painting “Le Songe de Jacob’ we see a personification of the dreams of angels as they ascend and descend the ladder between Heaven and Earth. This picture was inspired by the Book of Genesis and Jacob’s dream personifies the gateway between heaven and earth and also his earthly descendants. In complete contrast to these rather dreamy works we are then confronted with the chaotic and apocalyptic vision of the Netherlandish painter, Hieronymous Bosch. His grotesque depictions of mutilated people and distorted images provokes soul searching questions such as where are we? and who is the devil? Bosch used his colourful, fantastical and violent imagery to illustrate the moral and religious narratives that were troubling him. His monsters are chimeras, appearing to people who are asleep and the elongated and spectral figures are quite awe inspiring.
One of the highlights of the show is Michelangelo’s drawing ‘The Dream or Allegory of Human Life’, lent from the Courtauld Institute in London. Inspired by the poet Giovan Francesco Pico della Mirandola’s whose poem invited Man to refuse carnal pleasure and sleep for the purity of Heaven where an eternal and joyful state of wakefulness awaited him. It is one of the most famous drawings of the Renaissance. It was the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Francesco I de Medici who was its subject. Here we see the idea of dream being an element of freedom and of travel through time to other celestial and existential adventures.
Go to this great and oddly experimental exhibition and allow yourselves enough time to really appreciate and study the work on display. Then afterwards you can delight in a lovely walk amongst the sculptures and beautifully landscaped gardens of the Luxembourg park.
By Larissa Woolf, Arts Editor, Visitmuseums.com