Denon Wing

The Denon is the southern wing of Louvre and overlooks the Seine River.  It is the most popular wing and is often crowded so you might consider some tactical timing for your visit here.

Gregor Erhart St. Mary MagdaleneThe Lower Ground Floor is home to a medieval collection of Italian, Spanish and Northern European artefacts, and consists mostly of sculptures. Its centrepiece is an unusual nude figure, attibuted to Gregor Erhart, representing St. Mary Magdalene as a mystic ascetic. According to legend, the repentant sinner lived a secluded life in the cave of Sainte-Baume, clothed only by her hair. Every day she was raised up in the sky by angels to hear the heavenly chorus. At first blush the figure might seem profane for medieval sensibilities, but it is not difficult to conclude that her nudity represents purity rather than carnal intent.

Michaelangelo 'Dying Slave'The Ground Floor contains Etruscan and Roman antiquities that link up with similar artefacts in the Sully Wing.  The Renaissance artist Michaelangelo, who worked on everything from painting to architecture, was well-known for his prolific work (he churned out hundreds of sketches by the time he turned 30), as well as the grandeur of his works. Noted for his frescos in the Sistine Chapel, his twin sculpture, The Slaves seen in room 4 was originally commissioned by Pope Julius in 1513 to adorn his tomb. However, as the project changed, Michelangelo donated the work. The statues remain incomplete, with the marks of the artist’s tool still visible.   


The First Floor is where the ‘A’-listers stand.  Spanish paintings are located in the western section, large format French paintings in the northern corridor, and many the celebrated Italian paintings in the southern corridor- the spectacular Grande Galerie- that is predictably the most crowded part of the Louvre at any given time. 

 

 


Leonardo da Vinci 'Mona Lisa'

Most notable is the central Salle des Etats (room 6) where Leonardo da Vinci's iconic Mona Lisa is hung.  The portrait of this black-veiled woman needs no introduction- thought to be a portrait of a cloth merchant’s wife, Lisa del Giocondo, Mona Lisa came to France as part of François I’s collection. It's mesmeric effect has drawn many viewers with the sitter's enigmatic smile, the artist's atmospheric use of light and the sheer poise of the painting's subtle architecture.  Leonardo created a turning point in portraiture with these innovative elements, and immediately influenced his peers, such as Raphael with his Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, also in the Lourvre.  Mona Lisa is argueably the most famous painting in the world.


Veronese 'Wedding Feast at Cana'Also in Salle des Etats is the huge late Renaissance piece,  Wedding Feast at Cana can also be found in this room. This huge painting, created by Italian painter Veronese adopts Michelangelo’s Mannerist style in depicting Christ’s first miracle during the wedding feast at Cana. The artist skilfully transposes the events into his own era, 16th century Venice, via vivid colours and luxurious décor.

Raphael 'Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione'High Renaissance Italian painter Raphael has an number of canvasses in rooms 5 and 8, including St George, Self Portrait (also known as the Double Portrait), and Portrait of Castiglione, the sitter being a close friend of the artist. Raphael is highly regarded for his originality and influence on subsequent painters.  His capacity to capture the human presence of his subjects is striking, indeed modern.  The subtle luminescence, and intensity of the sitter’s gaze and composure in Portrait of Castiglione are reminiscent of Mona Lisa and this was probably intended.  


Borghese GladiatorHead on to room 8 to see a bronze statue of the Greek period discovered at Epheses- named Borghese, this statue was once thought to be a gladiator. However, the Greeks did not practise gladiatorial sports, and upon the discovery of a shield wrap on the statue’s left arm, it was inferred that the statue represented a fighting warrior facing up to a mounted combatant. Used for studying the human body in motion, this ancient sculpture was probably made in 100 BCE.

 

The Winged Victory of SamothraceBorghese is accompanied by another noteworthy statue in the Escalier Daru- the Winged Victory of Samothrace. This Hellenistic sculpture of a goddess standing on a ship’s prow, bracing against the wind, was discovered in 1863.  It is a Hellenic masterpiece capturing the sense of countervailing movement of body and wind.  Probably made in 190 BCE, the actual identity of the statue has yet to be confirmed.

Uccello 'The Battle of San Romano'Also in this room are works by pioneers of the Renaissance style Giotto, Cimabue and Uccello, the latter being responsible for the wonderfully dynamic Battle of San Romano canvass, which focuses on the movement of the cavalry indicating the perspective of the enemy and the seer in a depiction of a 1432 battle victory of the Florentines over the Sienese.  The play of movement and focus of the warriors that is both tangled and resolved by the artist is thrilling.

Botticelli 'Venus and the three Graces'In room 1 is Botticelli’s Venus and the Three Graces.  An Italian painter of the Florentine school, who adopted the Early Renaissance style,  Botticelli created this decorative piece that shows a young woman receiving a gift from the goddess, who is accompanied by the three Graces- the threefold aspect of Generosity: giving, receiving and returning the gifts.

Caravaggio 'Death of a Virgin'Caravaggio is a Baroque Italian painter from the dark side, though he was undoubtedly also a genius.  His brutal, realistic portrayals of life, often death scenes, are confronting and unparalleled in their immediacy.  (It is thought Caravaggio used real cadavers as subjects.)  In room 8, Death of a Virgin,  the central subject is depicted as a corpse rather than a divine being whose soul has just departed, except for the presence of a slight halo.  Although commissioned by a member of the church, the clergy rejected this work as profane.  The painting that was famously torn from the wall at the beginning of the Da Vinci Code, resides in this gallery along with his other works (e.g. Portrait of Alof Wignacourt, The Fortune Teller).  His influence in breaking from the conventions of the sacred was revolutionary.

Leonardo da Vinci 'Virgin on the Rocks'More of da Vincis complex symbolic paintings accompany that of Caravaggio’s in room 5. This also had a cameo role in Brown’s Da Vinci Code with the author’s incredulous interpretation of the painting forcing the character Sophie Neveu to remove it from the wall.  Almost as incredulous, or perhaps more so, was Freud’s take on Virgin and Child with St Anne in which he saw a ‘vulture’ in Mary’s garment and inferred it was unconscious revelation by the artist of the myth of Mut, the vulture goddess of Egypt.  Who said psychoanalysis was a science?  Nevertheless, the ‘divine proportion’ or ‘golden number’ (1:1.618) known to the Mesopotamians is indeed obeyed in this wonderful piece so it clearly carries some magic.

David 'Coronation of Napoleon I'Turn a couple of corners to the northern Denon rooms to find works with higher political connotations. In room 75, David's vast neo-Classical Coronation of Napoleon I adorns these walls with its politically stylised subject. Its propaganda credentials can be deduced from his idealising of Josephine’s youth and Napoleon’s slim, tall frame.  (Napoleon was a lot of great things, but he was not, as we know, tall.)  This huge piece took David nearly three years to complete.


Room 77 is home to French Romanticist Géricault 'Raft of Medusa'’s dramatic Raft of Medusa that relays the tragic sinking of the frigate Medusa captained by an incompetent who won his post through political favour.  His work was a break from tradition in that ’s did not receive a commission for the work, nor were the figures important notaries.  He may have been an early investigative-journalist by exposing government corruption in an incident that led to more than 100 people dying through drowning, exposure and .... cannibalism.  There were only 15 survivors, and the impact of the work in the salons was profound.  The tension between hope and despair, rescue and oblivion, is palpable.

Delacroix 'Liberty Leading the People'Also in the room that is dedicated to French mega-paintings- room 77- is Delacroix’s Liberty leading the People, that was profoundly influenced by  Géricault’s Raft of Medusa.  Delacroix depicted his subjects more as types representing symbolic qualities of the tricolour- liberty, equality, and fraternity.  Nevertheless the humanity of his quest is counterbalanced by the bodies of slain soldiers in the foreground.  The painting was acquired by the king then hidden as he thought it too subversive to be displayed at the time.  The street urchin holding a gun is considered the inspiration for Victor Hugo’s character Gavroche in his later novel Les Misérables.