Le PanthĂ©on, MusĂ©e Carnavalet and MusĂ©e Quai Branley

During my final days in Paris I visited The PanthĂ©on, MusĂ©e Carnavalet–also known as the Paris history museum–and MusĂ©e Quai Branley.

Firstly, The Panthéon… WOW!
Remaining true to it’s name The PanthĂ©on is the final resting place of some of France’s most illustrious names including Marie and Phillipe Curie, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Alexandre Dumas and Voltaire to name just a few.
This incredibly beautiful building is a wonderful example of architecture in the neo-classic style. The first basilica on this site was built by King Clovis in 507AD after his conversion to Christianity and was destined to house his tomb and that of his queen, Clothilde.
Later in 1744 King Louis XV attributed his recovery from illness to St Genevieve and vowed to replace the abbey with an edifice worthy of the patron saint of Paris. Goodness did he succeed!

Sadly the pendulum was down for routine maintenance. If you don’t know, the PanthĂ©on was home to Foucault’s pendulum which demonstrated the rotation of the earth and was one of the first non-celestial means of showing this.
The original pendulum was housed in the Musée des Arts et Metiers however in 2010 the cable snapped and caused extensive and irreparable damage to the pendulum and indeed the floor of the museum.
The replica has been swinging in the Panthéon since 1995.

MusĂ©e Carnavalet bears the historical legacy of Paris within it’s walls. It is one of the oldest of the municipal museums in the city and holds within it’s walls a veritable treasure trove of discoveries, paintings, porcelain, carvings, furniture, war memorabilia and writings dating back to the French Revolution.
The collections in the museum are so vast one could spend days writing hundreds of thousands of words on them so I will just give you my highlights.
I was very surprised to happen upon a Picasso in the Musée Carnavalet, called Le Square du Vert-Galant, a beautiful cubist rendering of a small green park on the Île de la Cîte.

Le Square du Vert-Galant - Picasso
Le Square du Vert-Galant – Picasso

Another highlight for me was the dress breastplate of Napoleon Bonaparte, made from engraved brass, the central motif of which, was designed by Vivant Denon.

Dress breastplate of Napoleon Bonaparte
Dress breastplate of Napoleon Bonaparte

Finally, I visited the Musée Quai Branley also known as The Primitive Arts Museum. I got to see art from Oceania, Africa and the Americas. There is a veritable wealth of historical treasures there, some of which are bizarre. I say that because there are human skulls that have been decorated with paint and jewels to honour the dead or they are disfigured if the skull belonged to an adversary.

There are also some truly beautiful wooden carvings, early Ethiopian Christian paintings and artefacts and some beautiful painted fabrics. If you have an interest in the Americas, there is a particularly large and beautiful totem pole depicting the story of a bear who fell in love with a woman and their half bear, half human children.

The architecture of the museum is also really beautiful and modern and though in contrast to the rest of the area (the museum is near the Eiffel Tower) that’s really part of it’s appeal. One cannot speak of Quai Branley and not speak of The River, which is really unique and something I’d not seen before.
Commissioned by the museum, it is an installation by scotsman, Charles Sandison. The River is a digital river along the ramp to the entrance of the collections of 16,597 names of all the peoples and geographic locations displayed in the museum’s collections.  

Preserved and decorated human skulls at Musée Quai Branley
Preserved and decorated human skulls at Musée Quai Branley

A friend of mine also took me to a wine bar near Rue St HonorĂ© which is where the famous Paris Ritz Hotel is. Beautiful Bordeaux and a scrumptious cheese platter was a great day to finish off my day before I headed back to La Tour Eiffel, primarily because I wanted some photo’s of the tower all lit up. It also happened to be a full moon so I got some absolutely beautiful photos.
I also succumbed and bought a Nutella crepe from a stand near the Trocadèro metro station. I’m happy I did, it was delicious!

La Tour Eiffel and the light of the full moon
La Tour Eiffel and the light of the full moon
Advertisements

MusĂ©e Bourdelle, Les Invalides and The Seine

In my penultimate week in Paris, I have visited Musée Bourdelle, Les Invalides and the tomb of Napoleon and I have taken a cruise on the Seine with Bateaux Mouches. 

The garden at Musée Bourdelle
The garden at Musée Bourdelle

MusĂ©e Bourdelle was a surprise. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I didn’t know very much about Antoine Bourdelle before going. It is a wonderful example of a late 19th/early 20th century working studio that has been turned into a museum. Bourdelle himself began the process of turning his studio into a museum in the early 1920’s.

The museum has an amazing array of works including plaster casts of his most famous sculptures, including Hercules the Archer which now exists in many versions, one of which I saw at the MusĂ©e D’Orsay and one of which is at MusĂ©e Bourdelle. Versions are also in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Tramwell Crow Centre in Dallas, Texas.
The museum is also home to some of Bourdelle’s personal art collection which includes such illustrious names as Carrière, Delacroix and Rodin, who was also one of his teachers.
Bourdelle is also responsible for carving the marble decorative series of friezes executed for the exterior of Auguste Perret’s Théâtre des Champs-ÉlysĂ©es.

Napoleon Emperor of France
Napoleon Emperor of France

Next up was Les Invalides, which will go down as one of the highlights of my entire trip.
If you don’t know, Les Invalides was built to house and care for war veterans, which it still does today, though for a vastly smaller number than the ±6,000 it housed and cared for originally.
Today Les Invalides is home to the MusĂ©e de l’ArmĂ©e and is the final resting place of some of France’s most notable war heroes, members of Napoleon’s family and of course, Napoleon himself. One of the most influential and most beloved men in French history, he remains one of the most studied political and military leaders of all time.
The Napoleonic code included such laws as freedom of religion, forbade birth related privileges and dictated that government jobs would be given to persons who were most qualified. Historian Robert Holtman, regards the Napoleonic Code as one of the few documents to have influenced the whole world. 
Napoleon’s reforms included a tax code, higher education, road and sewer systems and he established the Banque de France (the central bank of France). 
As Napoleon said: “My true glory is not to have won forty battles…Waterloo will erase the memory of so many victories. … But…what will live forever, is my Civil Code.” and indeed his code was adopted across many nations in Europe, the Americas and Africa and as such is still in use, in large part, today.

Napoelon’s remains were brought back to France and marched under l’Arc du Triomphe–which was commissioned by Napoleon after the battle at Austerlitz but which he would never see completed–on 15 December 1840 en route to their final resting place at Les Invalides at the behest of King Louis-Phillipe. The sarcophagus of Napoleon is made of red quartzite resting on a base of green granite and was completed in 1861. A beautiful and moving final resting place for one of the world’s most influential men. Truly an honour to have visited.

Pont Alexandre III
Pont Alexandre III

Finally, I was able to take a cruise along the Seine. Despite the freezing cold weather it was a most beautiful way to see Paris. I went with Bateaux Mouches whose boats depart every hour (in winter, they may be more frequent in summer and spring) and I got some amazing photographs!

This week I have another City visit with the school I am studying French at, L’Atelier Neuf and then I am cramming Le PanthĂ©on, MusĂ©e Quay Branley, MusĂ©e Carnavalet, Le Bon MarchĂ© and a jazz club in before leaving on Sunday.

Until next time, thank you for reading!

The Best Views in Paris

Everyone knows that when you go to Paris, you go to the Eiffel for it’s 360 degree views and this is true, however, it is most certainly not your only option!

I was looking for ticket prices and availability to book my place to go up La Tour Eiffel. All pre booked tickets were sold out until after I am scheduled to leave Paris. Merde! Tickets are limited this winter as the Eiffel is undergoing some renovations and they are putting in a glass balcony and floor at the first level of the Eiffel–at least this is what I could glean from reading the French signage under the Eiffel.

Well, now what? I typed ‘Where do you get the best views of Paris?’ into my search engine and after doing a bit of research, I formulated my plan of action to circumvent ascending the Eiffel altogether.

Sacre-Coeur
Sacré-Cœur

I started with SacrĂ© CĹ“ur in Montmartre. From outside of the front of the Basilica you get a 180 degree vista, including the Eiffel Tower.  These views are free, as is visiting SacrĂ©-CĹ“ur itself and if I’ve said it before, I will say it again; SacrĂ©-CĹ“ur is an absolute must when you are in Paris. By far one of the highlights of my entire trip.

View of Les Invalides from Tour Montparnasse
View of Les Invalides from Tour Montparnasse

Secondly, I visited Tour Montparnasse which is located in the 15th arrondissement and right in front of the metro station Montparnasse-Bienvenue on line 6. Follow the signs to the main exit and not Tower Montparnasse so that you get the full effect of seeing the tower as you emerge from the station! Get your ticket (reduced rates for students when producing a student card) and hop into the automated lift that whizzes you up to the 56th floor within seconds, making your ears pop! There are telescopes, which operate for 1€ and large interactive screens to help you identify what is on the skyline you’re looking at.

I got some utterly amazing photographs of Paris and various landmarks, like SacrĂ©-CĹ“ur, the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides, The Grand Palais, L’Arc de Triomphe, The Luxembourg Gardens, Notre Dame & Sainte-Chappelle and so many others! You get a 360 degree view of Paris that stretches out for 40km! Be sure to go up to the viewing deck on the 59th floor.
Another great thing about Tour Montparnasse is that you can have lunch, or a coffee and pastry, that will not cost you a small fortune, like at the top of the Eiffel. The ticket prices are cheaper and the views are just as magnificent–some critics of Tour Montparnasse say it’s the best view of Paris because being there means you don’t see it. Be sure to check the weather and go on a clear day as they don’t tell you when visibility is poor at the cash desk.

The 360 degree Viewing Deck at the top of Tour Montparnasse
The 360 degree Viewing Deck at the top of Tour Montparnasse

Lastly, in my trifecta of views excluding the Eiffel, was L’Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. It stands on the Place Charles de Gaulle at the apex of 12 avenues, including the famous Avenue des Champs-ÉlysĂ©es and it honours those who died in the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars and has inscribed on it’s inner and outer walls, the names of all victories and the names of those Generals involved.

L'Arc du Triomphe
L’Arc du Triomphe

Commissioned in 1806 by the Emporer Napoleon, he would never see it completed and instead his remains would be marched under it en route to their final resting place at Les Invalides.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WWI is underneath the Arc and all subsequent parades and marches are made around the Arc, a custom honoured by both Hitler in 1940 and Charles de Gaulle in 1944.
The Unknown Soldier has an eternal flame which burns for all the men who died in WWI (now both world wars) who were never identified.
The slab on top carries the inscription ICI REPOSE UN SOLDAT FRANÇAIS MORT POUR LA PATRIE 1914–1918 (“Here lies a French soldier who died for the fatherland 1914–1918”). A poignant moment  indeed.

After climbing a seemingly innumerable number of stairs to the top of the Arc, I was presented with some of the most breathtaking views yet! Again, I got views of the Grand Palais, La Tour Eiffel, Les Invalides and it is truly spectacular to be up high so you can see all the roads that meet at the Arc. It is both beautiful and impressive and showcases the unique Parisian cityscape. The souvenir shop inside the Arc du Triomphe is one of the better priced I’ve seen in the city, so if you want to take something home to friends or family, this would be a pretty good place to get them. I have seen street vendors with more expensive curios than the Arc.

So, if you can’t go up the Eiffel, for whatever reason or you have already been up the Eiffel, these are my picks for the best views in the city. Tour Montparnasse was an absolute highlight for me, there are less tourists, less scam artists and far less queues!

Thank you for reading.

The d’Orsay, l’Orangerie and the OpĂ©ra Garnier

Another busy week in Paris! I can scarcely believe it’s been three weeks already and I’m half way done with my stay here.

In the past week I have visited MusĂ©e D’Orsay and Musèe de l’Orangerie which jointly host work from artists like Matisse, Van Gogh, Picasso, Manet, Monet, Klimt, Signac and Cabanel. Those are some of my favourites however they also have Renoir, Cezanne, Sisley, Degas, Delacroix and too many others to list.

The D’Orsay has in it’s collection some notable Van Gogh paintings. Of the collection in the D’Orsay, the jewel has to be Starry Night over the Rhone. Van Gogh painted this painting in 1888 and prior to entering the asylum he checked himself into in Saint-RĂ©my-de-Provence. His very famous The Starry Night was painted while in the asylum and the two starry night paintings clearly show how rapidly his mental state had deteriorated. Sadly, Van Gogh died two years later after a self inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, having sold one painting and in virtual anonymity. He is considered the greatest Dutch painter since Rembrandt.

The biggest surprise, for me, in the D’Orsay was a Paul Signac, which I could not stop looking at, called Port of La Rochelle. I’m not entirely sure why this particular work struck such a chord in me but I do love the pointillism technique and the brilliant use of colour.

Another one of my favourites was The Magpie by Claude Monet who remains one of my favourite painters of all time. Considered one of his best snowscapes it is one of the D’Orsay’s most popular paintings and it’s no wonder. It is utterly beautiful. The master of, and arguably, the most notable among the Impressionists, the short brush strokes, use of colour, colour in shadow and realistic renderings of landscapes are what draw me to his work. I can stand in front of a Monet and stare at it for hours.

This is exactly what I did when I went to the Musee de l’Orangerie which hosts part of a series of NymphĂ©as (Water Lilies) which he painted from his home in Giverny. The series consists of approximately 250 paintings, painted in the last 30 years of Monet’s life and whilst he suffered with cataracts.
The display at the MusĂ©e D’Orsay is utterly breathtaking. Two oval rooms with the canvases mounted in a 360 degree treat for the eyes. The walls are a neutral cream and there is nothing else in the room to distract you from Monet’s work. There are two such rooms hosting eight paintings and having the works displayed in this manner was exactly how Monet wanted it.

In the days following my visit to the museums I went on a tour of the OpĂ©ra Garnier. This tour was a birthday gift from a very special friend and it is thus far one of the best gifts I’ve ever received!
Nothing, and I mean nothing, could have prepared me for the Opéra Garnier. I had deliberately not gone online to look at anything as I wanted my first experience to be first hand.
The OpĂ©ra was built by Charles Garnier during the time of the reformation–the very same one that saw Baron Haussman tearing down approximately 12,000 square meters to facilitate this ‘facelift’–under Napoleon III. Charles Garnier secured the privilege to build the home of the world renowned Paris Opera and Ballet companies after taking part in an architectural competition.

The Paris OpĂ©ra is utterly exquisite, opulent and in a class of it’s own. The grand staircase is so beautiful that I feel as though any words I use to describe it would be doing it a disservice. In one of the French colonies, I forget exactly which one, they found opal which they mined and had brought back to France and used it in the construction of the balustrade of the staircase.
Opal was exceptionally expensive which is why only part of the staircase is made from it. The same is said for the mosaic style that Garnier saw when he spent some time in Algiers and only parts of the ceiling are decorated in this manner.

The paintings, mosaic and sculpture work on the ceilings, walls and staircase are utterly magnificent. Breathtaking. Astounding.

Every corner I took was more stunning that the one before it, every sculpture–of the Greek mythological gods and busts of various composers, including Mozart, Spontini and Beethoven–more spectacular than the last, every painting more beautiful that it’s predecessor. Just when I thought the staircase was the masterpiece of the OpĂ©ra, we entered the Grand Foyer.
Suffice it to say, so magnificent was that room that I simply wept. The Grand Foyer is partially modelled on the Hall of Mirrors at
The Palace at Versailles only it is vastly more opulent and has upon it’s ceiling Paris’s version of the Sistine Chapel painted by Paul-Jacques-AimĂ© Baudry. Baudry heard of Garnier’s intent to have him paint the ceiling of the Opera and immediately left for the Medici Villa in Rome. To prepare to paint on so large a scale as that of the OpĂ©ra, Baudry painted eleven full size copies of the Sistine Chapel, studied Raphael’s art works in The Vatican and made preparatory drawings for the OpĂ©ra Garnier. I say France’s version of the Sistine Chapel because Michalangelo painted it without help from another artist, which is exactly what Baudry did in the OpĂ©ra. Were I able to lie down on the floor I would have, perhaps I should have. That ceiling is so beautiful that you should be able to lie flat on your back to study it. 

Before I forget, try and get into the auditorium if you can! You can see the Emperor and Empresses boxes and the ceiling painted by Marc Chagall in 1964. This ceiling was installed leaving the original intact and protected underneath it. When it was installed it caused a vast divide as some thought it was progressive and others thought it did not fit with the theme and/or vision that Garnier had.
I hated it.
Originally painted by Jules-Eugène Lenepveu and titled “The Muses and the Hours of the Day and Night”. I saw one of the artists “sketches” which is just a vastly scaled down yet painted version and I can honestly say it is beautiful and far more regal and graceful than the children-could-have-done-it-with-crayons of a ceiling Chagall painted. Pictures you find online need to be seen in the context of the room to make any real decision.

In any event, the absolute highlight of my trip so far. The Opéra Garnier comes highly recommended as a very worthwhile place to visit while in Paris.

Next time, the best macarons in Paris as well as the return to the Eiffel.

Thank you for reading.

Out and About in Paris

It seems like ages since I sat down and put fingers to keypad!
I have been exploring and walking all over the place and it’s been utterly magnificent! I love this city and I fall more and more in love every day!

So, after Versailles and Petit Trianon, I went walk about on the Île de la Cité, the little islet that Paris is literally built around. The islet that is home to the Palais du Justice, Saint Chapelle, Notre Dame and Hôtel Dieu Hospital, as well as many bars, cafés and restaurants.

HĂ´tel Dieu, Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame were some of the only gothic buildings to survive the Haussmann reformation under Napoleon III, thankfully, because the cathedral at Notre Dame is a truly beautiful feat of medieval architecture! The arches meet in a point at the top instead of having a smooth arch, this was first seen in France and it enabled architects to built vastly higher ceilings. The down side is that the ceilings are so heavy that they literally push the walls out and would collapse, save for supporting walls built outside the cathedral, literally pushing the walls back in. The ceilings are so high in Notre Dame and the architecture is an absolute treat for the eye but it, for me, does not come close to, Sacre Coeur which retains a lot of it’s cathedral character. I found Notre Dame to be a giant tourist attraction that had lost most, if not all of it’s character. This is truer of the inside of the cathedral than the outside, with the vendors selling all sorts of souvenirs inside Notre Dame. Not to mention the hideous Christmas tree outside that looks like a Chinese light factory threw up on it. Even the French, it appears, can make mistakes. Who would have thought?!

Notre Dame
Notre Dame

I also toured the Palais du Justice and saw the Première Chambre which is the very room Marie Antoinette was sentenced in! I got chills up my spine just poking my head into that room. The Première Chambre is the room which used to be the King’s chamber or bedroom in which he would hear cases and pass judgement upon people, from his bed.
It made sense then that the Revolutionary Tribunal would choose to host the trials of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (amongst others) who were charged with treason, in this room. I think they must have felt it was poetic, even though the charges trumped up against the King and Queen were largely unfounded. King Louis XVI was forced to repeat the accusations of incest with his mother in an interview before he went to trial which was then used as ‘evidence’ against him. As we know, those convicted of treason were put to death but so too were the attorneys who chose to defend such people. You can imagine that being a defence attorney was not a popular profession at the time.

Sadly, the Palais du Justice on the island will be moving to the 17th arrondissement in 2017, so I would highly recommend visiting before 600 years of judicial administration comes to a grinding halt.

Premiére Chambre å la Palais du Justice
Premiére Chambre å la Palais du Justice

Also on the ĂŽle de la CitĂ© and virtually in the heart of the Palais du Justice, is the Sainte-Chapelle. Constructed in the first half of the 13th century, it is in the Gothic style so popular at the time and is considered a jewel in Gothic architecture. It was constructed for King Louis IX, and housed a collection of Passion relics, including the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ at His Crucifixion and pieces of the cross. This collection cost King Louis IX half of France’s annual budget, an absolute fortune at the time. What makes the Sainte-Chapelle so magnificent today, is that it has one of the largest collections of 13th century stained glass in the world. It sustained damage in the French Revolution but was restored in the 19th century and is presently undergoing a massive preservation project which is finally nearing completion.

I completely forgot that there exists two levels of the chapel, one for the servants and royal guards and one for the king himself. I walked into the first level and thought to myself; “This is what I paid 8€ for?” Upon turning around I saw a very small staircase with no barrier so I trundled up the stairs and was quite simply astounded by the ‘Kings chapel’. The utter magnificence of thousands of stained glass panels cannot be described in words and there is no picture in the world that can do that magnificent little chapel justice! I stood and stared until my neck hurt. Walked toward what would have been the pulpit (I think it’s called in catholicism) all the while just marvelling at the impossibly high ceilings and otherwise simple interior that houses the stained glass windows. Fortuitously for me, the sun was shining that day and the soft winter light illuminating the stained glass was utterly spectacular!

Sainte-Chapelle  Left people in the pic so one can put the high ceilings to scale
Sainte-Chapelle
I left people in the picture so one can put the high ceilings to scale. You can also see the restoration work being carried out on the left.

One of the best things about ĂŽle de la CitĂ© is that you get off on the Pont Neuf metro (line 7) and you can just walk, pick a direction and go! No concerns about getting lost in the maze that are the Parisian streets, everything is very well signposted and if all fails, whip out your maps app on your smart phone, which works without wifi or cell signal on GPS. The jetty for the Seine river boat rides are on the ĂŽle de la CitĂ© side, there are cafĂ©s everywhere, Paris’s most popular flower market and almost everything has an interesting historical anecdote attached to it.

Until next time, where I will tell you about my visits to the Museums l’Orangerie and D’Orsay, thank you for reading.

The Palace at Versailles

Image

What is there to say about the grandest of all the palaces in the world that has not already been said? The art that adorns the walls is magnificent. The Hall of Mirrors is gorgeous–one can only imagine how utterly amazing that room must have looked when the light of hundreds of candles refracted and reflected the light through the plethora of jewels that adorned the women present. The gardens simply astounding. I walked and walked and walked some more! I was utterly exhausted by the end of my seven hour stint exploring the palace, the gardens and Trianon, most famous for Marie Antoinette’s lavish parties and for being her refuge from court life.

Marie Antoinette, most famous for her ‘Let them eat cake’ remarks when she was informed of bread shortages in France. I find Marie Antoinette’s story tragic and not just a little sad. Perhaps I identify with her, in a way, as she was disliked by the French–though not initially–and nicknamed L’Autrichienne, That Austrian Woman.

Her critics judge her harshly and severely and go so far as to credit her with the start of the French Revolution. I take a more sympathetic view of a teenage bride married off for political reasons. Marie Antoinette was scarcely prepared for royal life, while she excelled at music and dance she had difficulty reading and writing at the age of ten. This was in stark contrast to the education given to her future husband, Louis XVI, the Dauphin of France.

Austrian court was far different from French court at the time and was considered one of the most progressive having dispensed with, what were then viewed as, archaic rituals. Marie Antoinette’s parents encouraged their children to associate and play with ‘common’ children and court protocols could be flouted. Again, in stark contrast with French court life.

While Louis XVI was being groomed to ascend the throne of France, Marie Antoinette was vastly ignored by her mother. She was one of 16 and there were many other children who could be married off. Smallpox changed this however and she became the most eligible to marry France’s Dauphin and marry him she did–without even meeting him.

The older and stuffier members at court disapproved of her, her methods and how she changed some of the customs of the French court and this made life difficult for her. She chose to spend more time at Trianon, a gift from her husband, to get away from court life. As her popularity declined, in no small way directly related to her spending and lavish parties, more and more rumours circulated about her. The vast majority of them were untrue, for example she never decorated the walls of Trianon with gold and diamonds.

Yes, the French were experiencing worsening financial conditions. Yes, she flouted traditional protocol and was far more involved in the lives of her children than was accepted and appreciated. No, she was not responsible in large part for the decline of the French economy; she had nothing to do with the Seven Years’ War and the debt incurred there, for instance.

She was an indulged child, married off as a teenager, who was told she could have anything she liked and who was expected to outshine any other woman at court. She was after all the Dauphine. Even after French reforms in spending and cuts to the royal retinue, the parliament settled into a pattern of defying the king. Marie Antoinette could do no right at this point and she was not present at the first meeting of the Assembly of Notables–in large part due to her lack of political influence–and she was accused of trying to undermine proceedings.

After riots besieged Paris, culminating in the storming of the Bastille, the palace was invaded just after the September bread shortages, the royal family forced to leave Versailles for Paris where they were installed in the Tuileries palace under surveillance by the Garde Nationale. The royal family attempted to leave for Verennes but the plan was delayed, times, dates and logistics changed and changed again. Ultimately the plan failed. The family were returned to Paris. Soon after their return to Paris, with the French economy falling further into despair and Austria’s victories in the war with France, a mob besieged the Tuileries and the royal family were arrested.

Marie Antoinette was given one day to prepare for her trial, at which, she was accused of sexual perversion and this was used as evidentiary support for her execution. The accusations were baseless and she was nothing more than an easy target. I think that’s why I sympathise with her–being an easy target, not being Dauphine. A young girl, ill prepared for French royal life, spoiled, a woman who in the eyes of the public could do nothing right, and even when she did, she was accused of having ulterior motives. Marie Antoinette was guillotined on 16 October, 1793, roughly nine months after her husband, and was simultaneously catapulted into history and so her legend was born.

Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France
Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France

MuseĂ© du Louvre… and that painting, of that woman

Museé du Louvre

So on Saturday morning, I got up and dressed early and made my way to the grandest and arguably one of the best museums in the world, The Louvre!

Everybody who is anybody who has even the slightest appreciation for classical art, knows about this museum. I have heard people speak about it, tell me of their visits and describe the beauty within the walls of this museum. I was hoping my expectations were not too high. Let me just stop there and say: One’s expectations of the Louvre can never be too high! It will serve to meet and exceed them, every single time.

Michelangelo's Dying Slave c1513
Michelangelo’s Dying Slave c1513

I was in absolutely no way disappointed. I have a leaning towards sculpture and the Greek, Etruscan & Roman department was my favourite. It’s very rare for works of Michelangelo to be housed outside of Italy, however the two slaves (Rebellious and Dying) were in his workshop when he died, a project commissioned by Pope Julius II, and they were unfinished. Perhaps part of the reason Italy was content to give them over to France.

Venus de Milo
Venus de Milo

My other favourite and probably one of the most famous anonymous works ever, is the Venus de Milo. It is thought to be a depiction of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty. She was first accredited to the master Greek sculptor, Praxiteles however, from an inscription that was on its plinth, it is thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch; which is why it is said to be ‘anonymous’ because it’s not certain. She is probably the world’s most famous sculpture, or arguably, second only to Michelangelo’s David, and there she was, a metre in front of me! I just about wept – but we all know by now that I’m a massive softie and I’m easily moved by things such as these. Something that I learned about her, is that she was sculpted with the intention of having her back up against a wall because the anterior façade is unfinished and you can see the seam of the two blocks of marble used. Utterly magnificent and pretty much made my whole day!

Of course one cannot speak of The Louvre and not mention the most famous abductee in history; Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. She was probably a type of muse to Da Vinci, or she represented for him an ideal beauty because she influenced facial features of other works of his, most notably St John the Baptist who bears a striking resemblance to the Mona Lisa.

Gone are the days when you could stand a metre from her and gaze at her without glass. Aside from protecting her from the affects of humidity and age, the glass case is there to protect her from the ever present lunatics among us who have, in the past, thrown acid, paint and rocks at her. January is the best time to visit The Louvre and if you get there early there are very few people in the museum and you have close to unrestricted access to the Mona Lisa. The summer months are when tourists flock to Paris and it’s virtually impossible to get a good look at her due to the seemingly endless throngs of people trying to do exactly the same thing.  I was able to stand and stare at her for almost 15 minutes without hassle.

Jacques-Louis David's 'The Coronation of Napoleon'
Jacques-Louis David’s ‘The Coronation of Napoleon’

While there were very many things that I appreciated about the art in the museum, the last item I will speak about on this post, and one of the Louvre’s most prized possessions, is Jacques-Louis David’s painting of The Coronation of Napoleon, which took place at Notre Dame. Jacques-Louis David was Napoleon’s official painter and there is a wealth of his work on display at The Louvre and some at the Palace of Versailles. You can sit in front of this painting for hours and not see everything. I must have stared at this masterpiece for at least three quarters of an hour and I want to go back. There are two versions of this painting, one at The Louvre and one at The Palace at Versailles. Not a copy of the original, but two versions. The only difference between the paintings is the colour of the dress of Napoleon’s favourite sister, which in the second version, is pink. This is the only detail that differs in the second version, despite being painted by David, from memory! It is important to note that Napoleon’s mother was not at the coronation, she was in Italy, however you can see her in the gallery or stands, a place of more importance than the pope.

Like Sacre-Coeur, a visit to Paris without stopping in at The Louvre, would be a mistake. I did not go into The Louvre on my first whirlwind tour of Paris because of who I was with and it was one of my biggest regrets. Well, this time around, bucket list item – check, no regrets!

Next time I’ll tell you about my visit to The Palace at Versailles, which is grandiose on another level.

Until then, thank you for reading!