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on exasperation with the da vinci exhibit, and resenting the musée du louvre, too

The Musée du Louvre is extraordinary, despite its size, and I go as often as I can. Sometimes I return to Paris specifically to see an exhibit there. But saying that I know how to visit it.

If you go to Paris and the museum is on your list, showing up one morning or afternoon and queuing up with everyone else who has not planned ahead is a bad idea, a waste of time, a very bad idea indeed.

Before descending down into the Louvre, below Pei’s Pyramide du Louvre, you will encounter three lines, maybe four. A long line to the right will be those tourists who did not buy tickets in advance. They will be there for a long time, because all of the lines to their left will have precedence.

The second longest line, probably the farthest to the left facing the pyramid, will be for those who have purchased tickets in advance. They do not, of course, need to wait as long.

Verrocchio was commissioned in 1467 by the Tribunale di Mercanzia (merchants’ court) to produce this large bronze sculpture for its niche on the eastern facade of the church of Orsanmichele in Florence.

Most likely between the other two lines, the third line is the best: experienced visitors have paid a bit more money and bought a ticket in advance and requested a time for entering the museum. They are allowed in immediately; they will go to the head of all the other lines.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

The original destination of this painting, which illustrates a passage from the Book of Tobit in the Old Testament, is unknown. Tobit, a blind old man, was cured by the gall, heart and liver of a fish caught by his son Tobias on his journey to Ecbatana, under the guidance of the Archangel Raphael.

A fourth line is not always available. It is the best of the best. It is for those who have purchased tickets in advance with appointed times, and they are going to a special exhibition.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

This bust may have been made shortly before the wed-ding of Beatrice d’Este and Ludovico il Moro in January 1491. The inscription on the base refers to the ‘divine Beatrice’, daughter of the Duke of Ferrara. Her dress is decorated with the intertwined emblems of the two families: a diamond ring wound about with leaves for the Este family, and a buratto (a sieve held by two divine hands) for the Sforzas.

In addition to buying a ticket and a time slot in advance, I know where I will go before I enter the Louvre. Never do I wander aimlessly or change my plans without a good reason. The museum is too large to experience in a haphazard manner. It is always crowded. Depend on it.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

Saint Jerome is depicted in the wilderness of the Holy Land where, tormented by visions of temptation,he mortifies his flesh while gazing at a crucifix. The lion that he helped by removing a thorn from its paw sits in front of him. The absolute freedom Leonardo allowed himself when painting often resulted in him leaving works unfinished.

Recently, in February, 2020, a month before France and much of the rest of the world closed because of COVID-19, I took the TGV from southern France to Paris. I had made reservations several months earlier to see the Leonardo de Vinci exhibit at the Louvre.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

The sitter has been identified by art historians as Beatrice d’Este (Ludovico il Moro’s wife), Lucrezia Crivelli (his mistress in 1495), or Isabella of Aragon, wife of the rightful Duke of Milan Gian Galeazzo Sforza. This work by Leonardo revolutionised the female portrait genre, introducing dynamic movement, more accurately rendered articula-tions and an elusive gaze while conveying an impression of intelligence, willpower and, above all, consciousness.

Immediately after entering, I saw the large crowd at the entrance to the da Vinci exhibit. Inside the exhibit, the crowd was unbearable. The rooms were small, tour groups with leaders encircled important paintings, a line had formed for the drawings and one needed to inch along a table slightly slanted, the lighting was poor and reflected badly off the glass/plastic, covering the paintings and the sketches. Some pieces were so small and the lighting so poor, it was not possible to examine a work, even after shifting from side to side to minimize the glare.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

During his first stay in Milan, Leonardo painted at least three portraits with the dark background that corresponded to the Lombard portrait tradition, but he introduced the more natural and dynamic three-quarter pose instead of the usual strict profile view. The identity of this pensive-looking sitter is unknown, but the sheet of music suggests that he was a musician – perhaps Franchino Gaffurio, Josquin des Prez or Atalante Migliorotti. Another possibility is that this unfinished work is a self-portrait of Leonardo.

I was disappointed. I knew before going that the exhibit would be popular. Reservations for a time slot needed to be made weeks in advance.

I envied the paintings because they could remain still and quiet and peer back at the commotion around them. I resented the jostling for position and the pressure to move along.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

The sitter’s pose recalls that of the Lady with an Ermine. Rather than a portrait, this could be an allegory of perfect beauty. The young woman has been identified as Pomona (the goddess of orchards and fruit) or a courtesan with a knowing smile, but she could also represent an allegory of a virtue.

When I left the exhibit, I did not like the Louvre Museum. I vowed to reflect on my experiences with the da Vinci exhibit before committing to another popular one. A little late I did calm down and recalled how much pleasure I had while visiting the Bonaparte apartments and tracking down the portraits by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, the favorite of Marie Antoinette, and never tiring of sitting in front of Delecroix’s Liberty Leading the People. I knew I would go back.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

Leonardo began to work on his painting of Saint Anne in October 1503 and continued until his death. He was constantly adjusting the poses of the figures and the details of their hairstyles and costumes. The meaning of the composition also evolved, with the final version sug-gesting the elusive moment when the sadly smiling Mary acquiesces to the future death of her son.

The commentary for each work of art is taken from the official catalogue for the exhibit. Some of the descriptions have been truncated a bit, but most of the original commentary is here in full.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

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