Art,  Paris

The Louvre & it’s Galerie d’Apollon

The Louvre

The highlight of my free day in Paris was a visit to the Louvre. Although I visit Paris around 3 times a year, I considered the Louvre to be a major tourist attraction and kept avoiding it.

I didn’t realise that under the beautiful glass pyramid designed by Ieoh Ming Pei, the Chinese-American architect that functions as the museum entrance from the courtyard, there is a whole underground shopping mall with outlets ranging from MacDonalds to some very fancy shops. It’s called Carrousel Louvre and connects to the exit at Rue de Rivoli.

Having already purchased a ticket online for an allotted time slot, I just had to go through the line up for the security check, so it was less hassle than expected. Perhaps this has to do with the corona virus threats, there are probably less tourists than usual.

The former Royal Palace has a very long history. Remains of the medieval foundations can still be seen on the lower ground floor of the Sully wing along with some explanations. Over the years there have been so many changes and additions to the building. The building itself has an interesting history reflecting the society and political changes through the ages. During the French Revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation’s masterpieces. The museum opened on 10 August 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings, the majority of the works being confiscated royal and church property.

At present the world’s largest museum has 35,000 artworks in a 73,000-square-meter exhibition space divided in three sections: the Denon, Richelieu, and Sully wings. Each wing has more than 70 rooms (300 in total) with paintings, objects of art and sculptures. This is information you can read, but the immense size of the entire complex is hard to grasp when you are actually there. One thing I know is that one can’t possibly see even a fraction of the collection in just an afternoon, so my afternoon was dedicated to just a small part, but it was more than enough to give me so many impressions, and urge to discover more.

The newly reopened Galerie d’Apollon with it’s new presentation of the French Crown Jewels

The Galerie d’Apollon ( Room 705 on Denon Wing on the 1st floor; see floor plan on the link above) Originally designed as a reception hall for Louis XIV, the Galerie d’Apollon was decorated by some of the greatest French artists including Le Brun ( painted murals ) , Girardon ( the stucco sculptures), Lagrenée ( paintings ), and Eugene Delacroix ( the romantic colourful painted mural on the ceiling “Apollo Vanquishing the Python”1850-1) It was built over 350 years ago and decorated by a variety of artists over the course of two centuries starting from 1663. A total of 41 paintings, 118 sculptures, 28 tapestries adorn the Galerie d’Apollon today.

One of the Gobelin tapestries, a portrait of artist Charles Le Brun

The moment you enter this room (the 15 meters high vaulted ceiling and 61 meters long) with all the ornaments imaginable; with its tapestries, paintings, sculpture, gilded ornament and cases of jewels, it overwhelms you. It immediately reminded me of the grand hall of mirrors at the Château de Versailles, it is no wonder, this was the model for Versailles.

Providing the perfect presentation of the French Crown Jewels was the important purpose for the recent restoration. The collection was first assembled by François I in 1532. It was then passed down from monarch to monarch, added to by each successor, surviving struggles of history until 1887, when the French State ( the Third Republic ) decided to sell it almost in its entirety. Some scattered pieces were bought out, but most were never found.

The remaining jewels, the 23 pieces held by the Louvre are now in this gorgeous setting displayed in three cases in the center of the gallery and grouped by period: pre Revolution, including the “Regent” and “Sancy” diamonds, which adorned the crown used at the coronation of King Louis XV in 1722; the First Empire, the Bourbon Restoration, and the July Monarchy; and, finally, the Second Empire, including what remains of Empress Eugénie’s jewellery sets. Several protective cases designed to hold the items are also presented nearby.

Set of jewels belonging to Queen Marie-Amélie, wife of Louis Philippe ( King of France between 1830-1848) with incredible Sri Lankan sapphires, diamonds, gold

The king of France Louis XVI lost his head in 1793, and with him were lost all but one of the crowns that had sat on the heads of his Ancien Régime predecessors. Ancien Régime crown, which belonged to Louis XV, sits in splendor in the first display case in the spectacular gallery, but its original 282 diamonds, 64 colored stones and 237 pearls were replaced by replicas not long after his coronation.

The other French royal crown that escaped destruction dates from the Second Empire. The gold crown, which belonged to Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, is encircled by eight imperial eagles interspersed with diamond-encrusted laurel leaves and palmettes, and is topped with a diamond globe surmounted by a diamond cross. 

I usually am not very interested in diamonds and crowns, but these looked incredible thanks to the new lighting installation, the entire room had a beautiful glow to it, especially when I returned there after it became darker outside.

The rest of the sumptuous gallery is taken up with a display of Louis XIV’s collection of hardstone objects. He loved antique hardstone pieces and collected widely. Mounts were added to vessels or some of the broken or incomplete pieces redesigned masterfully by 17th century Parisian goldsmiths. It seems that the original sardonyx or other types of stone vessels were older and were imported from Germany or India. Agate bowls imported from East were combined to form ewers or lidded cups. 

Among those on display is this ornate 16th-century lapis-lazuli vessel (with a setting dating from c. 1670) pictured above. The level of technical perfection evident in this superb goldsmith’s work is just amazing. However, to me, this is a curious object, extravagantly kitsch with some healthy doses of humour, too. I love the sticking out tongue of the fierce looking dragon(?) that trembles constantly with the air stream in the glass case. There are many more of these amazing pieces to be seen.