Thursday, October 16, 2008

Oct 16, Part 12 - Paris: The Louvre, Finding Nike of Samothrace

Whatever else it is, the Louvre is 100% unique. It has something like 11 miles of corridors, but I'm sure that all of them aren't open all the time. Still, it's a daunting experience to try to "see the Louvre"! The art is world-class and magnificent - that goes without saying - in fact, the Louvre probably does as much as any museum or gallery to define what constitutes world-class art. But inevitably, I reach a point where it becomes overwhelming to look at one more piece. It was at that point on one of my visits that I realized I enjoyed the building itself almost as much as the works of art. I began to refocus from the displayed works to their setting.

I began to notice floors, ceilings, arches, lighting. No two rooms are the same, or so it seems to me. Many, if not all, were designed to complement the pieces that are in them. This in itself was an astonishing discovery. Now when I go to the Louvre, I begin to look at my surroundings from the minute I arrive. Transforming a room into a period-compatible showcase for the art on display may not be an unusual idea now, but I wonder how many museums did that when the Louvre began? I wonder how many actually do this? I love it that a manifestation of this concept exists in the world.

Coming upon Nike of Samothrace - by accident or by design - is exciting. There she is at the top of the stairs. I'm always surprised that there isn't more fanfare around the approach to her form, I'm not sure why. And so, we walk expectantly toward the stairs.

In the darkened hall en route to the famous Greek is a glimpse into one of my favorite rooms. It has sculptures and mosaics from Roman times, and perhaps Greek and Etruscan, too. I don't remember. What I remember most is the room itself - small enough to feel intimate, illuminated by skylights, and loaded with interesting art (the mosaics are always of special interest to me). It's the overall feel of the room that I like the best. And I love this view of it through the arch at the foot of Nike's stairs. But today we were unable to visit, because the room with the mosaics was being prepared to go on the road. As much as it will be incredible for people of other cities to see this work, I know it will be missed!

I think that Nike must be the second-most-photographed work in the Louvre next to the Mona Lisa, but that's only my guess. Venus de Milo, who we missed this trip, must come third.

And there she is. I can still remember the thrill I felt seeing Nike for the first time. It was totally unexpected. I simply glanced and she was there - a vision - something familiar I'd seen in books - and thus powerful in her own right and in her fame as well.

Nike stands on a platform that seems to represent a ship. Her setting is pure, uncluttered, and serene. I tried to wait until the people had cleared away so I could get a picture of Nike alone, but that didn't happen. As it turns out, I love the image of the photographer in jeans next to the bright window on the landing.

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