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."

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