We’d been on a short trip to catch some European magic. We started off in Paris. In order for us to experience a proper European winter, the 1st day in Paris started off with a brisk walk to the Louvre at 8 in the morning when the temperature was still 24F. As we stood there, waiting for the rest of the tour group to join us on the marvelous walking tour through the Louvre, I felt a sudden stab of pity for all those who had lived before our times. 100 BC, 500 AD, 1500 AD, 1700 AD. None of these poor folks had indoor heaters that hummed and thrummed the way the museum indoors sounded welcoming. They didn’t have access to 32°Heat products that were brilliantly designed thermal wear designs – nor were they commonly available after mass production. With three layers of clothing, if it was still this cold, how on this marvelous Earth a mere 100 hundred years ago had people endured this time of the year? The thousands who died in the cold winters in the trenches, on the war fronts, in concentration camps. I shuddered and this time not from the cold.
As I stood there, thinking of the little history I did know, I wondered why we never learnt from them. Why did we not recoil from war, sense divisive forces and squash them? Maybe this humanity’s path – bring ourselves to the brink of annihilation with our madness multiple times over and then miraculously survive till the one time when we don’t. Who knew? Wars and enmity don’t seem to end.
Mercifully, our rag-tag tour group assembled after about 1/2 an hour that felt like 2. We walked into the Louvre like frozen zombies hoping to thaw out with the artworks inside. How did that sculptor bring himself to work on the marble statue of Venus dated 120 BC through these cold winters?
We started off at the famous prism inside where those who read or watched the Da Vinci code. It was beautiful and really, who thought of putting up bean-bags on that pole of the prism? It started the tour of with touch of a whimsy before the academic aspects of the museum unleashed itself.
If I were to describe the Louvre and the Vatican in one stroke of a brush, it would be: Too many artworks to properly appreciate each one.
Though, our tour guide, Maria, tried her best. There were 38,000 pieces of art in there. The Vatican (70,000 of which 20,000 are on display). With all the hundreds of artists at the time, why did only a few achieve lasting fame? Maria explained many things about art that we ought to have known, but didn’t. Things such as the angle of the light, the imaginative aspects of landscape, the differences in perspective, the kind of face that seemed to have appealed to Leonardo Da Vinci
Did that famous, but thoroughly over-rated face of Mona Lisa have a glint of Leonardo Da Vinci’s favorite student? (shown below?)
I keep clicking pictures of the pieces that appealed to me as she gave us salient features. I remember standing in the museum and thinking that I must not let art escape me in the daily humdrum of life. Corporate life, especially, had no time baked in to appreciate the finer aspects of life such as literature, art & music the way schools do. So, how do we make an appreciation of art a daily ritual, so there is always a little of the artistic in us? Oh! So many lofty thoughts. If Leonardo Da Vinci were witness to my thoughts that morning, he might’ve taken me on as a student, grandly overlooking my lack of talent, just for the touching sincerity.
But a mere 48 hours later as I write this, I am distressed to say that I cannot remember why I took half of the pictures I did.
There was something about a picture of the maternal (Maria said Leonardo Da Vinci did not have a mother or someone who set a maternal example in his life, and thus the picture was doubly important). And something appealed to me. But what?
This one appealed to me as a writer. The early journalist who felt he had to say his truth and was murdered for it.
Or the coronation of Napoleon. Here was promise that megalomaniacs existed, continue to exist, and will continue to wreak havoc. In the absence of social media, this was Napolean’s attempt at portraying the coronation to the masses like he wanted – the truth be damned. Hundreds journeyed to the Louvre to get a glimpse of Napoleon and his bride, at the coronation. Apparently, Napolean’s mother did not accept his choice of bride and refused to attend the ceremonies as a result (there is a nice piece of continuity through the ages), but she is there in the painting. The Pope was invited and snubbed, but he looks happy behind the king. Maria pointed out many such discrepancies which I am afraid have evaporated since. Those art aficionados who do know the details have obviously written them out in detail in hundreds of books, blogs and YouTube videos for souls like myself.
And those statues of Venus – already promising womankind with all sorts of torment thanks to the impossible standards of beauty (the tall vertebrae, the perfect ratios between head, legs and girth, that seldom seem to bless breathing and living souls as we live out our lives on Earth.) Did the lovers of the sculptors of Venus feel the pressure, or were simply not bothered about the grandiose perfectionism as they had to tend to the business of living?
So many inspirational, marvelous wisps floated in at the Louvre. Maybe that is the vibe of museums: the wisps of imagination and insight from the millions of people over hundreds of years all hanging together illuminating the souls who dare to dip their toes into these journeys of the mind.
Our own temple of the minds.