Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sneaking into the Louvre

Benny and The Wedding Feast at Cana in the Louvre.
I woke up in Paris to the sounds of a garbage truck coming through our apartment’s tall, open windows. Ah, just like home. Ron was out on an early morning run, so I made a cup of tea, moving around quietly so as not to wake Benny.

We were going to the Louvre today, and Ron and I were placing bets on how long we could keep our 9-year-old son in the building. Benny is pretty game for cathedrals and outdoor sights, but museums have been a slog. He liked the Tower of London, Dover Castle and Roman Canterbury museums, but big institutions like the British Museum have left him cold and I had no illusions about the Louvre.

My only hope was to gain admittance as early as possible and ply Benny with French treats to keep him moving. To this end, I planned to avoid the long line outside the Louvre’s glass pyramid by sneaking in through an underground tunnel. Apparently if we entered the Carousel mall, went down a couple of escalators and turned left at the Apple store, we’d find the Louvre's secret entrance. It was worth a shot.

Benny with Winged Victory.
Ron returned all glowing from his run to the Arc de Triumphe, and I hustled the whole family out of the apartment and on the Rue de Rivoli by 9 a.m. We entered the mall and by gum, it was just as I’d read: down the escalators, past the handbag stores and Apple outlet and there was the Louvre entrance, with a short line of other savvy patrons. 

Within minutes we were in the glass Pyramid, debating which wing to enter first. We headed for the Mona Lisa before the tour buses showed up, but the path to Mona was paved with Winged Victory and long galleries packed with Renaissance art. Nearly every painting depicted one of four scenes:
1. Madonna and Child.
2. The Crucifixion.
3. David and Goliath.
4. St. Sebastien.

I didn’t quite understand the obsession with St. Sebastien. I could answer Benny’s questions about the other scenes; I even could talk about how David was sometimes portrayed as a little wimpy guy with a slingshot, or a godlike warrior with a sword. But St. Seb had me beat, at least until I could get Ron’s iPhone and look him up on Wikepedia. A Roman emperor had orded Seb killed with arrows, so they tied him to a tree, but no matter how many arrows the soldiers shot, he could not be killed. For some reason, Renaissance artists loved to paint this. Sometimes Seb had arrows sticking out all over like a porcupine and sometimes just the wounds. Sometimes he was dressed and sometimes naked, but there was always the rope and the tree.

I couldn't find The Raft of the Medusa, but I did find one of Gericault's preliminary sketches.
I know you’re thinking: How could Benny not be enthralled by such scenes? I know, it baffled me too, although he did like the statue of a boy riding a turtle.

After a morning of classical sculpture and Renaissance art, we took him to the cafe for crackers and water (all we could afford, at those appalling prices). Then we managed to coax him into Napolean III’s apartments, which were nothing compared to those of Versailles, according to a nearby tour guide. But that was it. It was 1 p.m. and Ron left with Benny to find some real food.

Which left me alone and at large in the Louvre. I walked through the medieval galleries, then toured the Dutch and Flemish paintings. I couldn’t find the Giotto picture of St. Francis, which first introduced early Renaissance features like facial expressions and natural movement, as well as a flying Jesus that looked like a giant bat. But I did find the The Dying Slave and Venus de Milo and the Rembrandt self portrait. 
Anne of Cleves

I even found a nice surprise -- the Holbein painting of Anne of Cleves, the painting that so dazzled the English King Henry VIII that he agreed to marry her sight unseen. (Boy was he disappointed when he saw Anne in person. He gave her a quick divorce and Hever Castle and she considered herself lucky.) 

I saw one of my favorite paintings, The Cheat Holding the Ace of Diamonds, and too many more to count. I spent nearly four more hours there, limping near the end from a fruitless search for the Raft of the Medusa, and returned the apartment exhausted but happy.

The Cheat Holding the Ace of Diamonds. The servant, courtesan and card player are conspiring to cheat the young nobleman on the right.

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