Thursday, June 07, 2012

Snapshots from the Louvre

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of visiting Mary Kay from Out and About in Paris and taking in one of the current exhibitions at the Louvre, on Les Belles Heures du Duc de Berry. This is one of the world's finest medieval manuscripts, which normally lives in the Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, bound up tightly as manuscripts tend to be, but which has been unbound for photography and restoration and travelled to the Louvre for this temporary exhibition. As soon as I (by chance) heard about this exhibition, I was raring to go to Paris to see it. Any exhibition is, in a sense, an unmissable event, as the paintings featured may never be brought together again, but this was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Once these pages get bound back up again, obviously they'll only be able to go on display one page at a time, so this is really it if you want to get to see these 47 leaves on show at once (you have until the 25th of June to see them if you can make it to Paris).

Truly, these are amazing works of art - (mostly) surprisingly realistic for their date (beginning of the 15th century); technically mind-boggling - I have no idea how they managed to paint some of the details, I suspect that, like Jan van Eyck, they must have done some of it with a single hair; adorned with gold, and bursting with incredibly vibrant colours. I couldn't help but think that, if they had done these works of art on canvases that everyone could easily see, instead of on tiny manuscript pages, the Limbourg brothers would be as famous as the likes of Raphael or Van Eyck himself. Even if you haven't heard their names, though, you may have seen some of the illuminations from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, probably the world's most celebrated medieval manuscript, which I would loooove to see but I think it's sadly no longer on public display due to its apparently delicate condition.

If you'd like to learn more about Les Belles Heures, here's a great video (featuring someone with a particularly wanky British accent) produced by the Met from when the exhibition was on there, which I stole off Mary Kay.

I'm planning to blog the rest of my (brief) trip soon (you can head over to Mary Kay's blog now for her version of events if you just can't wait!), but in the meantime, here's some happy snaps from the Louvre. You weren't allowed to take pictures of the manuscript itself (with good reason, I think - conservation issues aside, the pages are small and packed full of detail, so quite a traffic jam built up looking at the pages, so it would have been a real pain if everyone had been snapping photos as well), so here are some not-as-good photos of the exhibition catalogue.

This unfortunate saint simultaneously had his kid eaten by a lion and his wife carried off by a wolf. Also, he appears to be standing in quicksand. Tough day.

If I recall correctly, this is Saint Anthony coming to find the hermit Saint Paul in the woods. He ran into I think a 'hippocentaur' whom the locals worshipped as the god of the forest, who seems to be a friendly and helpful chap according to this illustration, but who I bet ended up getting smited for his trouble. What's going on with the river of blood, I don't know.

A bit later on, Saint Paul died and St Anthony enlisted some local lions, who also like to live in this wood for some reason, to help with the burial

It was so odd that the illustrations were so amazingly detailed and precise in some areas, particularly the wonderful architectural drawings (not pictured, sorry) and then whenever it came to water it was as though they'd literally never seen any before. Made me wonder if, in fact, they *had* never seen the sea.

A ceiling by Braque. I liked that, for once, the modern piece seemed to fit very well into the ornate gilded ceiling. I did not feel the same way about a Cy Twombly ceiling in the previous room.

The Grand Gallery. Probably

Saint Jerome taking a thorn out of a lion's paw. I love his expression, priceless!

Ever noticed my Blogger profile picture? No? Go look - it's just over there in the right-hand column. If you have, and you ever wondered, it's La Belle Ferronière by Leonardo da Vinci. I snapped a picture of it the first time I visited the Louvre back in January 2005, and she's been my bloggy alter ego ever since. Now finally, I have a picture of the two of us together - what do you think? I like her air of calm, cool detachment and intelligence, so I suppose I'm projecting what I'd like people to think about me... Now to figure out how to do the hairdo!

The Louvre in general was pretty crowded yesterday, but of course we're at Ground Zero here. You can just get a glimpse of the famous lady herself at the back of the room. This is about as close as I got, I'm happy to stick with my Belle Ferronière.


  1. Sounds like a good day. I love the photo of you with La Belle Ferronière - it'll be going on my fb page later! Interesting to see the scrum to see the Mona Lisa. When we saw her in 1972 you could just walk up and have a good look - hardly anyone else was there - that must have been before everyone started travelling so much. M x

  2. calm, cool intelligent???

  3. You're a wizard! How did you take the photo of the people in front of the Mona Lisa? It really captures the sense of movement in the room.

    "Calm, cool detachment and intelligence". Most definitely! I feel like such an insider since I've known about your profile picture for the past 24 hours. Now I just need to know the meaning of "Ferronière".

    Thanks again for telling me about the exhibition at the Louvre! It's not something that I was aware of and I would have been disappointed to have only heard about it after the fact.

  4. Mum, I've read a couple of interesting pieces about why the Mona Lisa got so iconic - after all, there I am posing with another Leonardo painting in the next room without any bother.

    Very funny dad.

    MK - an artiste never reveals her secrets! (Cough, Picasa, cough!) I'm glad you enjoyed the exhibition and discovering La Belle Ferronière aka Gwan's doppelganger ;) It apparently means female ironmonger (or ironmonger's wife or daughter).

  5. So it was illustrations not tapestries!....(just shows how much I know, duh!) that don't light my fire, but actually you make them sound really interesting, so I will tick your "sweet" box.

    ..and I love the picture of you with your alter ego, the painting.

    You are definately going on my list. Fun and education at the same time.

    Love Denise from Bolton

  6. Oh, I thought you meant the tapestries on MK's blog - that's probably where you got tapestries from. Thanks so much for the kind words!

  7. Hi Gwan...yes that's where I got confused, I had been reading them both......I have not really got Alzhiemers (I hope!) honest!

    Love Denise from Bolton


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