Paris – Louvre – Modern Sculpture And The Smaller Collections

THE collection of modern sculpture is entered by a separate door in the Cour du Louvre, marked E on Baedeker’s plan. It takes up the development of French plastic art at the point where the last collection leaves off. It is, however, of vastly inferior interest, and should only be visited by those who have time to spare from more important subjects. The decline which affected French painting after the age of the early Renaissance had even more disastrous effects in the do-main of sculpture. I will not, therefore, enumerate individual works in these rooms, but will touch briefly on the characteristics of the various epochs represented in the various galleries.

The Salle de Puget contains sculptures of the age of Louis XIII. and XIV., for the most part theatrical, fly-away, and mannered. They are grandiose with the grandiosity of the school of Bernini ; unreal and over drapered. Like contemporary painting, too, they represent official or governmental art, with a courtier-like tendency to flattery of monarchy, general and particular. A feeble pomposity, degenerating into bombast, strikes their keynote. Few works in this room need detain the visitor.

The Salle de Coyzevox continues the series, with numerous portrait-busts of the celebrities of the age of Louis XIV., mostly insipid and banal. The decline goes on with accelerated rapidity.

The Salle des Coustou, mostly Louis XV., marks the lowest depth of the degradation of plastic art, here reduced to the level of Palais Royal trinkets. It represents the worst type of eighteenth century handicraft, and hardly contains a single passable statue. Its best works are counterparts in marble of Boucher and Greuze, but without even the touch of meretricious art which colour and cleverness add to the craft of those boudoir artists. Few of them rise to the level of good Dresden china. The more ambitious lack even that mild distinction.

The Salle de Houdon, of the Revolutionary epoch, shows a slight advance upon the preceeding (parallel to the later work of Greuze), and is interesting from its portrait-busts of American statesmen and French republican leaders. Some of the ideal works, even, have touches of grace, and a slightly severer taste begins to make itself apparent. The classical period is foreshadowed.

The Salle de Chaudet, of the First Empire, answers in sculpture to the school of David in painting. It is cold, dignified, reserved, and pedantic. It imitates (not always at all successfully) the antique ideals. The best works in this room are Canova’s ; but the intention is almost always better than the execution. A sense of chilly correctness distinguishes these blameless academic works from the natural grace and life of antique Greek sculptors. They lie under the curse which pursues revivals.

The Salle de Rude contains plastic work of the Restoration, the July Monarchy, and the Second Empire. It answers roughly to the romantic school of Delaroche in painting. Several of these almost contemporary works have high merit, though few of them aim at that reposeful expression which is proper to sculpture. Some, indeed, trench upon the domain of painting in their eager effort to ex-press passing emotion and action. Picturesqueness and sensuousness are their prevailing features. Nevertheless, the room, as a whole, exhibits the character of a real renaissance, such as it is, from the mediocrity of the last century, and the bleak propriety of the classical revival. Too many of the works, however, are aimed at the taste of the boulevards. They foreshadow that feeling which makes too much modern sculpture attempt to catch the public by flinging away everything that is proper to the art. The desire for novelty is allowed to override the sense of beauty and of just proportion ; repose is lost ; dignity and serenity give place to cleverness of imitation and apt catching at the momentary expression.

The other collections at the Louvre appeal for the most part rather to the specialist than to the general public. They are for workers, not for sightseers. The Egyptian museum, for example, to the left as you enter the Cour du Louvre by the main entrance, contains, perhaps, the finest collection of its sort in all Europe. You must, of course, at least walk through it — especially if you have not seen the British Museum. The objects, however, are sufficiently indicated for casual visitors by means of the labels ; they need not be enumerated. The opposite wing, to the right as you enter, contains the Assyrian collection, inferior on the whole, especially in its bas-reliefs, to that in the British Museum. Beyond it, again to the left, lie a group of rooms devoted to the inter-mediate region between the sphere of Assyrian and Greek art. These rooms ought certainly to be examined by any who wish to form some idea of the origin and development of Hellenic culture. The first two rooms of the suite contain Phoenician works, — important because the Phoenicians were the precursors of the Greeks in navigation and commerce in the Mediterranean, and because early Greek art was largely based on Phoenician imitations of Assyrian and Egyptian work, or on actual Egyptian and Assyrian objects imported into Hellas by Phoenician merchants. These Semitic seafarers had no indigenous art of their own ; but they acted as brokers between East and West, and they skilfully copied and imitated the principal art-products of the two great civilisations on whose confines they lay, though often without really understanding their true import. The Phoenicians were thus the pioneers of civilisation in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Room IV., beyond these two, contains more Phoenician antiquities, and others from Cyprus, an island inhabited by Greeks or half Greeks, but one in which this imported Oriental culture earliest took root, and produced native imitations. Examine these objects as leading up to, and finally correcting, the archaic Greek work ill represented by a few objects in the Salle de Phidias. The Salle de Milet, beyond, contains Greek antiquities from Asia Minor, some of which indicate transition from the Assyrian to the Hellenic type. Examine these from the point of view of development. The reliefs from the temple of Assos in Mysia show an early stage in the evolution of Asiatic Greek art. Compare them with the archaic objects in the Salle de Phidias. It must be borne in mind that civilised art entered Greece from Assyria, by way of Phoenicia, the Hittites, Lydia, Phrygia, the Ionian cities in Asia Minor, and the Islands of the Archipelago. These intermediate rooms should therefore be studied in detail from this point of view, dates and places being carefully noted, as illustrating the westward march of art from Nineveh to Athens. The last hall of the suite, the Salle de Magnésie, on the other hand, contains works from Ephesus of a late Greek period, representing rather a slight barbaric deterioration than a transitional stage. These collections, most important to the student of Hellenic culture, may be neglected by hurried or casual visitors.

The Salle Judaique, to the right, under the stairs, contains the scanty remains of the essentially inartistic Jewish people, interesting chiefly from the point of view of Biblical history. The famous and much-debated Moabite Stone, recording the battles of King Mesa of Moab with the Jews in B. C. 896, is here preserved. It is believed to be the earliest existing specimen of alphabetic as opposed to hieroglyphic or ideographic writing.

There is, however, one group of objects in the Louvre, too seldom visited, which no one should omit to inspect if time permits him. This is the admirable ** Dieulafoy collection of Persian antiquities. To arrive at it, go to the front of the Old Louvre, facing St. Germain l’Auxerrois, as for the previously noted series. Enter by the principal portal, and turn to the right, through the Assyrian collection, whose winged bulls and reliefs of kings you may now inspect in passing, if you have not done so previously. Mount the staircase at the end, and, at the landing on the top, turn to your left, when you will find yourself at once face to face with the collection.

The First Room contains merely Graeco-Babylonian objects (of a different collection) which need only be inspected by those whose leisure is ample. They illustrate chiefly the effect of Hellenic influence on Asiatic models. On the entrance wall of the Second Room is the magnificent * Frieze of Archers of the Immortal Guard, in encaustic tiles, with cuneiform inscriptions, from the Throne Room of Darius I. This splendid work, mere fragment though it is of the original, gives in its colour and decorative detail some idea of the splendour of the Palace of the Persian monarchs. The colours are those still so prevalent in Persian art, showing a strong predominance of blues and greens, with faint tones of yellow, over red and purple, which latter, indeed, are hardly present. Round the rest of the walls are ranged decorative fragments from the Pal-ace of Artaxerxes Mnemon. Opposite the archers is another magnificent frieze of angry lions, from the summit of the portals in the last-named palace. The next compartment of the same room contains the * Base of a Column and a Capital of the same, also from the Palace of Artaxerxes Mnemon, — two figures of bulls supporting between them the enormous wooden rafters of the ceiling. These gigantic and magnificent figures form perhaps the most effective and adequate supports for a great weight to be found in any school of architecture.

The next room contains the admirable reconstruction of the Palace, when entire, showing the position on the walls of either pylon, and the manner in which the columns supported the colossal roof. If, from inspection of this model, we return to the base and capitals themselves, we shall be able to judge what must have been the magnificent and gigantic scale of this Titanic building, the effect of which must have thrown even the Temple of Karnac into the shade. At the side are a lion and winged bull, which help to complete the mental picture. This collection, unique in Europe, serves to give one an idea of the early Persian civilisation which can nowhere else be obtained, and which helps to correct the somewhat one-sided idea derived from the accounts of Greek historians. On no account should you miss it.

The minor art-objects of the Louvre, though of immense value and interest in themselves, may be largely examined by those who have the time in the light of their previous work at Cluny. The collection of drawings, one of the finest in Europe, is mostly interesting to artists. That of smaller Medieval and Renaissance objects contains works closely similar to those at Cluny, including admirable ivory-carvings, fine pottery (the best of which is that by Palissy, and the Henri II. ware), together with Oriental faience, bronzes, etc. The Greek vases, again, of which this museum contains a magnificent collection, are mainly interesting to Hellenic specialists. For the casual visitor, it will suffice to examine one or two of them. The Etruscan antiquities give a good idea of the civilisation of this ancient race, from which, both in earlier and later times, almost all the art, poetry, and science of Italy has proceeded. Though entirely based upon Greek models, the Etruscan productions betray high artistic faculty and great receptive powers of intellect. Among the minor Greek works, none are more interesting than the beautiful little terra-cotta figures from Tanagra in Bœotia, which cast an unexpected light on one side of Greek art and culture. Examine them as supplementing the collection of antique sculpture. These figurines, as they are called, were produced in immense quantities, chiefly in Boeotia both for household decoration and to be buried with the dead. They were first moulded or cast in clay, but they were afterward finished by hand, with the addition of just such accessories or modifications as we have seen to obtain in the case of the statues in the antique gallery. Finally they were grace-fully and tastefully coloured. Nothing better indicates the universality of high art-feeling among the ancient Greeks than the extraordinary variety, fancy, and beauty of these cheap objects of every-day decoration ; while the unexpected novelty given by the slightest additions or alterations in what (being moulded) is essentially the same figure throws a flood of light upon the methods of plastic art in higher departments. Look out for these exquisite little figures as you pass through the (inner) rooms on the south side of the old Cour du Louvre, on the first floor. Most of them will be found in Room L of Baedeker’s plan. Almost every visitor is equally surprised and charmed by their extremely modern tone of feeling. They are alive and human. In particular, the playfulness of Greek art is here admirably exemplified. Many of them have touches of the most graceful humour.

Here, again, do not suppose that, because I do not specify, these minor works of art are of little importance. If you have time, ex-amine them all ; but you must do so by individual care and study.

The neighbouring Salle des Bijoux contains beautiful antique jewelry; do not miss the very graceful gold tiara presented to the Scythian King Saitaphernes by the Greek city of Olbia in the Crimea, — a lovely work of the third century B. C. Its authenticity has been disputed, but not its beauty.

The Galerie d’Apollon contains, among many objects of considerable interest, the reliquary which encloses the arm of Charlemagne, — who, having been canonised, was duly entitled to such an honour. The Reliquary of St. Henry, and the Chasse of St. Louis are also well worthy of inspection. Notice, too, the Hand of Justice, used at the coronation of the French kings. But all these objects can only be properly studied, by those who wish to investigate them, with the aid of the official catalogue. I shall recur at greater length to a few of them after our return from St. Denis.

When you have learnt Paris well, go often to and fro between these rooms of the Louvre, the Mediaeval and Renaissance Sculpture, the halls at Cluny (particularly Room VI., with its French architectural work), and the older churches, such as St. Germain-des-Prés, Notre-Dame, St. Denis, etc. Thus only can you build up and consolidate your conceptions.

A special small collection, to which part of a day may well be devoted, is the Early Christian Sculpture, to which I have already briefly alluded, in the first room to the right as you enter the Renaissance Galleries in the Cour du Louvre.

The centre of the hall is occupied by a good early Christian sarcophagus, with a cover not its own, sufficiently described as to origin on the label. The front toward the window represents the True Vine, surrounding the “X P,” which form the first two letters of the name of Christ in Greek, in-scribed in a solar circle, and with the Alpha and Omega on either side of it. This figure, repeated on various works in this room in slightly different shapes, is known as a Labarum. It forms, after Constantine (who adopted it as his emblem and that of the Christianised empire), the most frequent symbol on early Christian monuments. Note modern reproductions on the frieze of this apartment. Its variations are numerous. At the ends, are other True Vines, and a better Labarum, with a Star of Bethlehem. The back has the same devices repeated.

Wall nearest the entrance, several inscriptions, among which notice the frequency of the Labarum, with the two birds pecking at it, —a common early Christian symbol. Be-low them, good early sarcophagus. On its end, remote from window, Daniel in the Lions’ Den, a traditional representation, of which an extremely rude barbaric degradation may be noticed, high up, near the door which leads into the Della Robbia room, adjacent. In early Christian art certain subjects from the Old and New Testaments became conventionalised, and were repeated on numerous works ; of which this scene of Daniel is an example. Observe here that Old Testament subjects are frequent ; while Madonnas are rare, and saints almost unknown. Further on, on the ground, sarcophagus representing Christ with the Twelve Apostles. The treatment here, in spite of slight Oriental tendencies (compare the Mithra reliefs), is on the whole purely classical. Now, the great interest in this room is to watch the way in which classical styles and figures passed slowly from pagan types into Christian, and again from the de-based classical types of the later Empire into those of Romanesque or Gothic barbarity. As an example of this surviving pagan element, see, on the wall to the right of this sarcophagus, Elijah taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire, and leaving his mantle to Elisha. Here, the Jordan is represented, in truly pagan style, by a river-god reclining on an urn and holding water-weeds. Such river-gods were the conventional classical way of representing a river (see the Tiber here, and the Nile of the Vatican, reproduced in the vestibule) ; and Christian artists at first so represented the Jordan, as in the Baptism of Christ (in mosaic) in the Baptistery of the Orthodox at Ravenna.

Above the sarcophagus of Christ and the Twelve Apostles is an extremely beautiful altar-front from the abbey of St. Denis (read label), with a cross and palm-trees, the True Vine interlacing it, and the characteristic wave-pattern, which you may note on many other works in this room. This is the most beautiful piece of early Romanesque or intermediate Christian carving in this collection.

In the centre of the Elijah wall, below, a sarcophagus with a very Oriental figure of the Good Shepherd, — a frequent early Christian device. Compare this figure with the plaster cast of a similar statue from Rome, near the Della Robbia doorway. Compare the marked Orientalism of face, form, and foot-gear, with the Mithra reliefs. Above it, scenes from the life of Christ, — Blessing the Children, Christ and Peter, the Woman of Samaria, etc. ; treat-ment quite classical. Still higher, sarcophagus-front of Christ and the Twelve Apostles ; workmanship becoming decadent ; architecture, classical in the centre, passing at the sides into early Romanesque or Constantinian and Diocletianesque, as in some of the other examples in this room. To the left of it, Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac, with rather late architecture.

All the other objects in this room should be carefully examined, and their place of origin noted. The symbols and the frequent Oriental tinge should also be observed. Likewise, the absence of several ideas and symbols which come in later. Note that there are no crucifixions, sufferings, or martyrdoms ; the tone is joyous. Many of the minor objects have their own value. Thus, the fish, by the entrance door, is a common early Christian symbol, because the Greek word formed the initials of the sentence, ” Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Saviour ; ” and its sacred significance is here still further emphasised by the superimposed cross, —a symbol, however, which does not belong to the very earliest ages of Christendom. So, on the opposite wall of the window, notice the little Daniel in the Den of Lions, and the youthful beardless Christ with a halo. The longer you study these interesting remains, the more will you see in them.

Those who have had their interest aroused in early Christian art from the examination of this room, will find the subject best pursued at Rome (Catacombs and Lateran) and Ravenna, where we can trace the long decline from classical freedom to Byzantine stiffness and Gothic barbarism, as well as the slow upward movement from the depths of the early Romanesque style to the precursors of the Renaissance. For the chronological pursuit of this enticing subject the best order of visiting is Rome, Ravenna, Bologna, Pisa, Siena, Florence. For a list of the extensive literature of the subject, see Dean Farrar’s ” Christ in Art.”