Monday, February 23, 2009

More than Just Mona

Every time I visit the Louvre I seem to be in a hurry. The first time was when I was sixteen. I was dropped off with the other students on my tour and told we had an hour to go round this famous museum. A hour? How can you do the Louvre in an hour? In desperation, I headed straight off to see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo - and yes, I ran. While subsequent visits have not been as rushed as that one was, they have always been taken at a brisk pace. Even when I showed my parents the treasures of the Louvre seventeen years ago, we took the option of the quick tour, concentrating once again on the two most famous treasures housed in what used to be the home of the French kings and queens. Subsequent visits with the 21st Century Teenager (even before he was a teenager) were always quick ones. So when he and I had the luxury of an afternoon (yes, a whole afternoon!) to visit the Louvre last week, we decided that just for once, it was going to be a longer tour.

The Louvre is composed of three galleries - Denon (which houses the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo), Sully and Richelieu. Knowing full well there was enough in each gallery to keep us busy for several days, we decided to concentrate on Denon once again. The Louvre has changed a lot since I first saw it as a young girl. There is the great pyramid to start with. Opinion is still divided on whether this is a masterpiece or an eyesore. I think it is amazing, but I do believe it looks very odd at the centre of a centuries old palace. Underneath the Louvre itself there is now a shopping concourse leading to the museum galleries. L’Occitane, Sephora and Molinare compete with other retailers for your custom. It’s a strange juxtaposition of old and new, commercialism and the arts.

But back to the place itself. In my experience, this famous museum is always crowded, and the day of our visit was no exception, but there was something wonderful about taking our time and wandering through the galleries. Of course, we could not bring ourselves to miss the Mona Lisa, nor the Venus de Milo, but we took the time to wander to them slowly, really looking at the other displays on our way. It is ironic how these two pieces steal the attention from the other masterpieces that surround them. In the gallery that houses the Mona Lisa, there are also several other incredibly beautiful works of art, some by famous artists. Yet these are practically ignored by the hoards of people struggling to get close to da Vinci’s painting, holding their cameras above their heads trying to get the perfect shot. It’s like watching the paparazzi, except for once their prey is not trying to get away. She just hangs there serenely smiling out at them.

So many people are rushing, pushing and hurrying through this amazing place, it was a very strange feeling indeed to be taking our time. There were a few others like us, including the students who sat drawing sculptures or copying paintings, and the people we saw who sat staring at particular works of art, studying them carefully. Whether this was for purposes of education or pleasure is known only to them. As for us, we took our time and really saw the treasures of the Denon gallery. I noticed for the first time how clearly these treasures, particularly the sculptures, illustrate the fact that the idea of thin = beauty is an extremely recent concept. Every sculpture of the female form we saw was voluptuous. It was incredibly reassuring!

As we made ready to leave after a wonderful afternoon, I found myself reflecting on how my attitude to visiting the Louvre had, until today, been frighteningly like my attitude to life in general on busy days. Up to now, I had always rushed through the Louvre and as I did so, I had missed many beautiful things. Similarly, on busy days, I tend to hurtle from one task to the next, my eyes on some unseeable goal, impatient to complete the tasks at hand. I wonder now how much I have missed on those days, and I have resolved in life, as in the Louvre, to slow down.

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