Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Thursday morning at the Louvre, Part I or Ou est l'epée de Charlemagne?

For those just joining my France travelogue in progress, you might want to start by reading previous posts which can be found here.

In planning for this trip I amassed a long list of sites that I had to see and others that I would like to see if time permitted.

I knew that the Louvre museum was open late on Wednesday nights. I thought it unlikely, but possible that we could have visited the Louvre then.


There was no way we had any energy left after our walking tour, visiting the Cluny, and the Crypte archéologique to squeeze in another major sight-seeing venue like the Louvre. So on Thursday morning we set out to visit what is probably the world's most famous museum.

Earlier in the week we had walked down Rue de Rivoli on our way to see the Tuileries gardens and discovered a fashion district. We struck teenagers, multiple shoe stores, as well as heavy traffic. We decided to avoid that street and instead took the road that paralleled the Seine. The shops on that street tended to be filled with pets and plants. If you want a puppy, kitten or begonia in Paris, go stroll there.

The Louvre itself has a fascinating history that dates back to the twelfth century and Philipe Auguste who built the walls surrounding Paris. It was a fortress designed to protect the city.

Over the years it evolved to being a palace and is now an art musuem.

We entered the courtyard or Cour Carrée and were impressed at its size and grandeur. See if you do not imagine armies being staged on the flagstones.

Of the many classical images and statues gracing the side of the Louvre, my favorite is the goddess of wisdom and victory, Athena.

I tried getting a picture of Athena whenever I saw her in France and she rivals Joan of Arc in popularity, at least by the number of statues I saw.

Before we made our way into the main entrance our eyes spied something that reminded us of home.

Being fans of Stephen Colbert, we had to preserve this memory.

Then we entered the belly of the beast and began navigating our way through the vast holdings. I went to the information desk and asked, "Ou est l'epée de Charlemagne?" and was directed to the first floor of the Richelieu wing.

There we found Joyeuse, the sword associated with Charlemagne, but this artifact was created long after his death.

I do not know if the whereabouts of the real sword used by Charles the Great is even known, but it was still worthwhile seeing something made to honor his memory.

Here is the impressive hilt

and the jewel encrusted scabbard.

It might not be an enchanted blade like the legendary swords of Excalibur, Durindana or Balisarda, but I am sure a sword such as this would have been coveted and the source of endless duels if anyone ever dared to wield it.

The Medieval Objets d'art also contains a statuette that is considered to be either Charles the Great or his grandson Charles the Bald.

And side view.

Either way, I like the ruler on horseback.

One thing that the museum contains that they distinctly attribute to Charles the Bald is this sacramental plate.

As I listened to its description in my headphones I almost burst out laughing when I heard that the plate was made of serpentine.

Serpentine while a beautiful green stone can contain asbestos. Just as the Romans used lead pipes for plumbing without knowing the health hazards, so apparently did the Carolingians use a potential source of asbestos without knowing its potential hazardous nature.

Then again, as long as it does not flake off, I am sure the host would probably be fine just touching the serpentine surface. However, I would not advise churches going out today and procuring serpentine for such uses.

In a neighboring room was a reliquary associated with Charlemagne. It reportedly contains one of his arms.

I saw a lot of reliquaries in France. The idea that saints were dismembered and then had body parts sold and sent all over Europe is something that I as a modern twenty-first century woman find creepy.

I would much rather have saints buried whole and in one place than have their bodies carved up and dispersed like dandelion seeds in the wind. I tried visiting the tomb of Saint Namphaise, but was thwarted by electrical problems at the church. I like the idea of going to one tomb to pay respects to someone rather than having their soul and/or essence chopped up into tiny bits. The idea of praying to an arm, finger, jawbone, et cetera of a holy person is not something that makes me feel comfortable. Instead it feels sacrilegious to do that to someone's body.

I think it is ironic that Charlemagne himself was treated in this manner after he was made a saint since during his reign he donated many reliquaries to churches. Toulouse reportedly had received many such gifts from him, but they no longer know which if any of their remaining reliquaries came from him.

These holy relics from saints helped spur tourism in the form of pilgrimages to the various basilicas. That was part of the medieval economy.

Here is another reliquary in the Louvre claiming to contain a piece of the true cross.

Here is it close up. Whether or not this reliquary contains a true religious artifact or simply a sliver of wood, the intricate and elaborate detail in the piece shows how much the idea of the true cross was worth.

Another religious artifact is the cover for holy writings. I have a hard time imagining that a work with such splendor would ever be used except for ceremonial purposes on rare occasions.

And up close.

From ninth century Metz comes this amazing casket carved from ivory. I love things like this.

Here is another view.

And what survey of the Medieval period would be complete without a good violent scene?

That is about all the pictures I can fit into this post. Next time I revisit this subject I will show pictures of Islamic art in the Louvre as well as other art that we saw since "we were there."



Gabriele C. said...

I so have to go to Paris now. Especially since you're allowed to take pictures in the museums, and one can never have enough Roman and Medieaval pictures. :)

Have you read Charlemagne's Pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Byzantium (Voyage de Charlemagne en Orient), some sort of parody on the chansons de geste? Relics play a prominent role in that one.

L.C.McCabe said...


Thank you for stopping by. I see from your blogger profile that you live in Europe. Oh I envy you and the sheer amount of vacation time that is standard in Europe. It is far different here in the States.

You could go to Paris for the weekend and it would be similar to me taking a trip to Los Angeles.

In answer to your question, no I haven't read that story. I know historically Charlemagne never traveled to Jerusalem, but then again, I'm adapting two other poems which follow wars between Islam and the Frankish Empire which never took place.

It is all part of the grand mythology about a man who after his death became larger than life.

I shall see if I can find a copy and add it to my list of books to read.

Thanks again for stopping by and for posting.


Gabriele C. said...

it would only be a 5 hours train ride, but a weekend, or better 3-4 full days, in Paris still cost money. I'll try to save some up, though, and I've pushed up Paris on my list of places to see right beneath Wales where I want to go next.

I've written a retelling of the Voyage Charlemagne on my blog some time ago. French epics and their representation in the Old Norse literature is subject of my - sadly neglected - PhD thesis. Novel writing keeps getting in the way of that. ;)

Novelising the epic Charlemagne sounds very interesting; he deserves some attention, poor guy who always stands in the shadow of King Arthur in literature.

L.C.McCabe said...


That was fun to read. Thank you for sharing.

Do you mean to say that you are enrolled in a Ph.D. program but are having trouble finishing? ... Don't be A.B.T. My father is in that boat except he's All But Dissertation and not Thesis.

I completed a Masters Thesis a few years ago and so I know how difficult it is, but you need to dedicate yourself to finishing your task otherwise you'll never get that warm glowing sense of completion.

I also agree with you that the Carolingian legends have been unfortunately overlooked in comparison to the Arthurian legends. I shall write a post about that topic when I get to discussing my visit to Montauban.

BTW, here's a link to a translation from the Old English regarding a Christmas tale about Charlemagne.



Gabriele C. said...

Thanks, Linda.

No, I'm not in some program. After getting my MA I thought it was the logical step to get the PhD as well, but in Germany that means a huge dissertation of some 500-600 pages and years of research. I started off well enough, but then I got distracted by novel writing, and I've never really gotten back into the academic mindset since then. I dabble with my thesis, but I don't work on it. ;)