top of page
  • Laurie Seban

Louvre Museum: Greece and Rome

Updated: Jan 6

Overview: Survey of the Louvre's celebrated antiquities in the Greek and Roman departments. The history and cultural themes of each area are explored through key artworks in the collection.


With over 380,000 objects (35,000 on display), the Musee du Louvre is the largest art museum in the world. A collection so vast, it would take 2 months (and 8 miles of walking) to look at every object in the collection. Like the Metropolitan Museum in New York or the British Museum in London, it is an encyclopedic collection, a “world museum” which displays the history and range of global civilizations. Museums like these originated with global empires as a means of putting their wealth and power on display. And while the colonial philosophy that underpinned the collections is now disputed, the lure of the collections is not; pre-Covid, over 9 million visitors passed through the Louvre each year, making it the most visited museum in the world.

What can you see in a single visit? A visitor has 2 choices: wander through the galleries as one would browse through an encyclopedia. Treat your stroll through the galleries (and the crowds) as a form of meditation; you will not be disappointed by the exquisite pieces you inevitably meet (use the Paris Museum Pass and you can come back several times).

Or choose a targeted path that will highlight the treasures of the museum. Even a full day will not give you enough time to wind your way through the maze of corridors and mass of visitors to see everything, so decide in advance what is the most important to see.

Begin with the museum itself. The Louvre began as a fortress for King Philippe Auguste around 1200--you can see the original fortifications and donjon (tower) foundation on the lower level of the museum in the Sully wing. Over the centuries, it was modified by successive kings, and today the entire complex stands as a visual testament to French history, from the original castle and moat to the Renaissance palace, later modified with the Baroque facade of Louis XIV in the interior courtyard (Cour Carree).



Today, the massive Baroque colonnades of the courtyard serve as a backdrop for IM Pei’s glass pyramids, which were added in 1989. Many people thought of the pyramids (4 total) as incongruous with the building, but Pei was actually referencing the Egyptian antiquities collection, Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt, and the formal symmetry of the Louvre’s architecture. While standing in line, you can take photos that highlight the juxtaposition of abstract forms with the stone facades.

Pei's pyramid is an ingenious entrance; it allows visitors to descend into the cavernous lobby below without obstructing (too much) the overall view of the courtyard. You can also enter the Louvre/line through the Place du Carrousel metro (if you enter from the metro, look for Pei’s inverted pyramid/skylight directly below the Place du Carrousel fountain).


 

BOLDFACE PARAGRAPHS GIVE DIRECTIONS FOR NAVIGATING THROUGH MUSEUM..


*The Louvre is divided into 8 curatorial departments (Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Middle Eastern, Greek, Etruscan and Roman, Sculpture, Paintings, Prints and Drawings). You can visit a single department in a fairly short period of time (1-2 hours), but some of the departments are on multiple floors of the same wing, so it requires a close reading of the Louvre’s directional arrows—and a lot of stairs.


*Note that in Europe, the ground floor is NOT the first floor, so collections are sometimes stacked, in the basement (-1), ground (0) and 1st (1) floors. The entresol is the central lobby you will enter; from there, you can take stairs or escalators to the 0 level of each wing.

*For each department, follow the flag for each department that is posted in the entresol, and from there follow the Sens de la Visite signs. Because pathways and stairways are sometimes blocked or one-way due to crowd control or covid restrictions, it is virtually impossible to create your own path. And with the crowds of people, you’ll feel as if you are swimming upstream. Go with the flow and enjoy the view. Key works found along the way are featured in boldface, along with their room number, though the numbers seem to change each year!

 

Why does the Louvre have so many iconic works?

The original Louvre collection began with antiquities, and the museum features some of the most iconic and important treasures in the world.

For the most part, objects have been acquired from private donors and through the system of partage: French archaeologists received permission from countries like modern day Iraq to excavate sites. In return, the French government and the host country shared (partager means “share” in French) Those finds from ancient palaces, temples, and burials are spectacular, so if you only have a few hours for the museum, spend your time here, to see key moments in our global history.

There are key pieces that were taken through conquest; Napoleon's army shipped back thousands of artifacts, including Hatshepsut’s obelisk at the Place de la Concorde, from Egypt. Other paintings and sculptures were acquired when France controlled Italy. Some items have been identified as being acquired illegally on the black market.

Proponents of world museums like the Louvre (Metropolitan Musem, British Museum, etc.) argue that these priceless items are best preserved and most widely seen by the world community in places like the Louvre, where visitors come from across the globe to see arts and artifacts of our shared human heritage.

But today, many question whether the items taken from other countries should be in France, arguing that keeping objects of colonial conquest reinforces and rewards colonialism. Rather, they argue, return those items back to the countries of their origin (a point the film Black Panther made quite vehemently). In fact, the French government has, in recent years, begun a process of determining which items should be returned to their original countries. Many items from the Musee Guimet's collection of Asian and Southeast Asian art, as well as those from Quai Branly, the museum which houses Frances’s spectacular collection of indigenous arts (Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, are now in the process of being returned or shared with their countries of origin.

_______________________________________________________________________________


GREECE


Much of our modern Western culture stems from the Greek and later Roman tradition, so much so that ideas associated with the Greco-Roman tradition are commonly called “Classical.”

Greek culture, which began 2000 years after Egypt, had an entirely different belief system, much more centered on themselves than the gods. “Man is the measure” is a fitting description of their worldview. Greek gods took human form, with all too human flaws—Greek myths center on those feats and foibles. And humans, believing that they were almost divine, achieved miracles: innovations in mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, and the arts that are the cornerstone of our world today.


*You’ll see these ideas carried out no matter how you enter the Greek Antiquities, which are located in the Sully Wing. You can enter following the flags for the Venus de Milo from the lobby, or directly from your tour of Egypt.


If you begin in Denon Level -1 room 102, you’ll see where the Greek world begins.

Cycladic figures in early Greek gallery (102)


And it begins not with the Greeks, but Aegean cultures like that of the Cycladic, named for the Cyclades islands. The Cyclades were a fishing and trading culture. Because there is no writing associated with this culture, we know little of their beliefs, but the enigmatic figures that have been found speak to many. The usually Female marble forms and “masks” are so abstract (2 eyes, straight nose, small mouth, tiny bodies) that they have been celebrated by modernists. In some cases, only a head with a triangular nose is represented. Their function is unknown—most likely burial, ceremonial, or both. The only males that have been found are either musicians or acrobats (though there are none in the Louvre).

On mainland Greece, pottery made from a distinctive reddish clay was initially used as tomb markers. The earliest, from the Geometric period, is just that—with lines, or registers of geometric patterns, dominated by funeral scenes of abstract figures. An unusual ceramic Bell from Thebes presents one of those geometric figures in three dimensions. Several of these have been found, and it’s assumed they would have had a ritual function, but little more is known.





Bell from Thebes c. 700 BCE








Greek Archaic period 900-500 BCE

By the Archaic period, pottery shifted from funerary use to public use and trade. Large kraters served as punch bowls; smaller vessels like amphora and oinochoe were used for pouring wine. Greek pottery is distinctive, using orange and black. The earliest black figure pottery was created by forming the vessel with the orange clay found around Athens (the center of Greek pottery), painting it with black slip (paint), then etching out the designs to reveal the orange clay background (called the sgraffito technique). A little later, red figure pottery was developed using the same process—but now the the figures themselves are created in sgraffito, with much more attention to the figures.

In all the pottery, Greek drama is key—the stories of the gods with an emphasis on the inevitability of fate, the pathos of life and the folly of hubris, or pride. The Niobid Krater (407) is a perfect illustration of that: Queen Niobe supposes she is a better mother than Leta, since Leta only had 2 children, and she had 7. But Leta’s 2 children are Apollo and Artemis; enraged by Niobe’ hubris, they methodically set out to kill each one of her children.



Niobid Krater (red figure pottery) (470-460 BCE)


Much of the Greek pottery on display in museums today is due to the collecting of Etruscans in the 5th century BCE. Centered in Italy, these somewhat mysterious people are known for their beehive tombs in which everything used in this world was needed in the next, down to ropes, tools, pets, and the Greek pottery they so enthusiastically collected. That’s why so much Greek pottery has been excavated (and even more stolen!!) from Italy.


Cervetari Couple (520-510 BCE)

Cremated ashes were stored in cinerary urns which could be portraits or even everyday objects. The tomb sculptures and murals reveal a liveliness of both men and women that is in distinct contrast to the seriousness of the Greeks. The Greeks actually commented on the scandalous participation of women in Etruscan public life! And in their tomb sculpture, you can see the greater intimacy between men and women—there is nothing in the ancient world like the cinerary sarcophagi which are portraits of husband and wife.


The history of Greek sculpture is the story of human figures coming to life. Interspersed among the vitrines are the upright forms of Kouros (male) and Kore (female) figures which date back to 700 BCE. Standing on 2 feet in frontal poses, they were placed at temples to serve as eternal worshippers. All are nude: for the Greeks, the (male) human body, not a god, was seen as an instrument of perfection. As Plato said, it is better to be dressed in nudity, than to cover up perfection. Athletes, too, competed in the nude (covered with olive oil).

Early figures like the small bronze Gillet Kouros are idealized male types, with a simplified face, torso, and limbs that swell to highlight muscles as he steps forward. Stylized hair falls across his shoulders. He has an “archaic smile,” a Mona Lisa like smile which dates works to the Archaic period, roughly 600-500 BCE. Within 100 years, the body becomes more realistic, with muscles articulated.



Gillet Kouros (575 BCE)



Women do make an appearance, though there is little interest in their bodies (a stark contrast to the abundance of female nudes in the painting galleries!) Hera from Samos is typical, her gender subtly revealed through her robe with stylized folds, and toes peeking out beneath the bottom. The Lady from Auxerre shows the stylization typical of the time, with a simple face and patterned hair. The University of Cambridge created a painted replica using the traces of pigment found on that statue—that gives an idea of how all ancient statuary was seen at the time—very different than our idea of austere white statuary!

Hera from Samos (c. 650 BCE), Lady from Auxerre (650 BCE)

Over time, the kouros take on a life of their own. By 500 BCE, you can see a fully lifelike human form, though the faces are still somewhat stylized--if the faces are still present! Many of the objects exist only in fragments today.


Panels from Temple of Zeus and Parthenon (346, 347)

Even Greek architecture is based on the human experience, with columns and proportions adjusted to look perfect to human eyes. Architectural reliefs brought Greek gods and stories to life, generally scenes of the triumph of order (the Greek world) over chaos (everyone else). Metopes were the small rectangular panels that lined the facade of a Greek temple. Those from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia display the 12 Labors of Hercules. Hercules, as the symbol of Greek rationality, completing the labors he is obligated to complete in penance for killing his family in a fit of madness induced by Hera (and the Greeks were supposed to represent order?!)

Metopes from Temple of Zeus at Olympia (c. 490-470 BCE)


Look at the athleticism of Hercules as he completes his tasks. As Hercules Wrestles the Minotaur, you can see the musculature of both figures as they struggle against each other. In Hercules and the Stymphean Birds, Athena is there as aide and guide, giving Hercules a set of castanets to drive the birds into the air; only Hercules head remains. In Hercules and the Nemean Lion, Hercules (with advice from Athena) strangles the lion whose skin cannot be pierced by an arrow. The lion, whose skin now accompanies Hercules on the rest of his adventures, is shown head to the ground in his final death throes. Each metope is a perfectly balanced composition representing the Greek ideal of balance and symmetry. They are all so three-dimensional, it’s hard to believe they’re still attached to the wall behind them.


Greek Classic period 500-323 BCE

Around 490 BCE, a shift occurred, politically and artistically. The Greeks once again triumphed over chaos in their epic war against the Persians. The full flowering of the Classic period begins, represented by the literal weight shift, or contrappasto, of Greek figures. They no longer stand on two feet, but put one foot forward in a more active, dynamic, and natural pose. Greek statues are now like gods: eternally youthful, with idealized muscled bodies whose forms we can only aspire to attain (or photoshop in). In the Classic period, you’ll see figures springing into action—in the midst of a turn, of hoisting a spear.

The rebuilding of the Athenian Acropolis is also a result of the Greek victory, a symbol of Greek (and Athenian) superiority.


Ergastine Panel from Parthenon (c. 450 BCE)


Just adjacent is the Hall of Diane (347), with the Ergastine Panel, part of the inner frieze of the Parthenon. It shows the Athenian weavers delivering a garment to the colossal statue of Athena which once dominated the Athenian Acropolis. This panel by Phidias is a rare jewel. Phidias was a friend of Pericles, responsible for the sculptural program of the Parthenon and entire acropolis. When we think of Greek style, chances are we are thinking of Phidias, whose “wet drapery” style used the robes to reveal the bodies beneath. Many of the most important pieces of the Parthenon are now housed at the British Museum; they were bought by Lord Elgin, the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire which then ruled Greece, in 1801.There are a few scattered fragments in museums like the Louvre, and roughly half which remain in Athens, who petitions England each year to have the Elgin marbles returned to Greece.


*At one end of the upstairs gallery, or exiting Egypt into Greece (339), you’ll find yourself surrounded by beautiful men and women, perfectly proportioned and in the prime of youth.

who is looking at whom?

Ares Borghese (c. 100-300 CE)

Throughout the galleries, males in the prime of youth proudly stand in contrappasto. Ares Borghese, the god of war, clad only in his helmet, represents the divine perfection of the male body. Man is clearly the measure during the Classic period, always in the midst of movement.

Like many of the sculptures in museums across the world, this statue is actually a copy of an original Greek bronze. Freestanding Greek sculptures were originally made of bronze (marble was used only for architectural decoration). The Romans so admired Greek art they made inexpensive marble copies, which are all that remain, as the Greek originals were melted down for their bronze over the centuries. Bronze has a greater tensile strength, so freestanding bronze sculptures, when copied in marble, needed additional marble supports.


When you see a marble nude leaning on a post, it is most likely a Roman copy from an original bronze. Roman copies like the Aries need to use supports (between the left arm and thigh, behind the left leg) so that the marble doesn't break.

Athena as the goddess of wisdom also reigns, in the gallery and the Greek world. As te patron goddess of Athens, the epicenter of Greek culture, she appears throughout the Athenian Acropolis and in all the other arts produced in Athens (pottery and sculpture).

Statues of Athena Nike, Capitoline Aphrodite, Arles Aphrodite

In the form of Athena Nike (victory), usually wearing a helmet, she was an important good luck charm for warring city-states, which accounts for the ubiquity of her presence.

Females in various poses—and various states of undress--frolic in other rooms (346-347). The first female nude was created during the Late Classic around 300 BCE, centuries after male nudes. While the Greeks fully believed in the perfection of the male body and mind, women were treated more as property than equals, with few exceptions. But by the Late Classic period, artists were also interested in the female body. Scores of nude females in contrappasto pose are surprised at being discovered, they tend to be Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The Capitoline Aphrodite shows her hair piled high on her head, she is surprised at her bath, covering herself as a winged cupid looking up at her. Nearby, the Arles Aphrodite holds one of the golden apples of the Hesperides.


The most famous Aphrodite is the Venus de Milo, who calmly resides in her own alcove (345)—just follow the crowd. This image of the goddess of love, relaxed in her contrappasto pose, her robe revealing the perfection of her form, was found in the ancient Greek city-state of Miletos (Milo in Italian) in 1820, and quickly snapped up by the French ambassador. She has resided at the Louvre since then, patiently posing for visitors. With her slender physique and robes slowly sliding of her hips, she is the epitome of Late Classic style. By 200 BCE, artists favored sensuality rather than athleticism.

So why is it called Venus instead of Aphrodite? This, too, is a Roman copy. The fact that it is marble also accounts for the broken arms; the original was in bronze, but in a marble version, the arms are the first to break off.

Venus de Milo (345) 125 BCE

And what you can't see in the museum today?...her backside, with the robe already slipping a tad too far. This persepctive has a little less dignity, so you can see why Venus is placed in a niche where one can'tsee her backside.A shame, because this where you can really see the Grreek genius of naturalism, and the Late Classic penchant for showing the gods at leisure.





One particularly beautiful examples of Late Classic style is a Reclining Female bent over in half, her soft flesh almost touchable. In this small figure, hidden (or hiding?) from the crowds, another examples of how beautifully Greek sculptors conveyed the sensual nature of a female form.




Kneeling Female, (c. 200 BCE)


At the other end (348) of the Greek section is the Porch of Caryatids, with women serving as columns, designed by Renaissance sculptor Jean Goujon. It serves as a backdrop for the collection of Classic and Hellenistic sculpture.

Porch of Caryatids, Artemis with Deer/Diana of Versailles

Dominating the gallery is the over lifesize Artemis with Deer (or Diana of Versailles, as it used to reside at Versailles). The goddess of the hunt is in the midst of drawing an arrow from her quiver as she grasps a deer by the antlers with the other hand. The sense of motion in all four directions as she strides forward, her robes whipping around her legs, yet reaches back, looks sideways, and still keeps the deer in her hand. j

And the Sleeping Hermaphrodite, a reference to the Greek story of Hermaphroditus, a young man who was so handsome the nymph Salmacis fell in love with him. She so loved him she wanted to merge with his body, and the wish was granted. This too is a Roman copy of a Greek original, a beautiful young figure which appears to be a typical female nude from the languid back—but is clearly a male from the front. This type of drama and luscious flesh leads int the Hellenistic period.


Sleeping Hermaphrodite


Greek Hellenistic period 323-30 BCE


In the Late Classic period, Alexander the Great swept through the Greek, Persian, Egyptian, and Middle Eastern world, establishing a vast empire that splits with his death in 323 BCE. The resulting Hellenistic period is when the Greek areas emulate the classicism of the past, infusing it with the drama of the present. But instead of idealized heroes, the subjects are all too human, forms and emotions exaggerated, twisting and turning in all directions. Old woman, beaten men, young children dancing are all new topics of figural sculpture. Look for the chubby baby Boy with Goose (348) and see if you can answer the eternal question: is he playing with the goose, or strangling it?! Either way, the delight on his face is apparent.





Winged Victory of Samothrace, c. 300 BCE

*Sailing over the staircase in the Denon Wing on the level above (0), the Winged Victory of Samothrace is certainly a Greek original. Found perched on a stone ship’s prow she is typical of the last gasp of Greek Hellenistic style. This figure of Athena Nike was intended to represent the power of the Mediterranean port of Samothrace. You can see her striding forward, her wings thrust back, and the wind whipping against her robes (this wet drapery look is typical of the Classic/Late Classic period). At this point, even the female body is an instrument of perfection. Discovered at Samothrace in 1863, she was part of the royal collection a year later.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

ROME

*From the Greek gallery, you’ll move into the Denon wing and the halls of Roman Antiquities (405-423).

At first, you might be hard pressed to find the difference between Greek and Roman works—they tend to bleed together under the rubric of “classical.” But there are key differences. The Greeks came first, of course, and served as an important cultural model for the Romans. Romans absorbed the earlier Etruscans, and after establishing the Roman Republic (500 CE to 20 CE), began a pattern of military conquest and organization that, at its peak around 200 CE, covered most of the ancient world, from Africa to the Middle East, through Europe and all the way to Scotland. The Romans adapted much of Greek culture, including the gods, the architecture, and the art, to their own purposes. The Roman poet Virgil said it best: “Others may cast tenderly in bronze their breathing figures…and bring more lifelike portraits in marble, argue more eloquently, use the pointer to accurately trace the path of heaven and foretell the rising stars. Roman, remember your strength: to rule earth’s peoples, for your arts are to be these—to pacify, to impose the rule of law, to spare the conquered and battle down the proud.”

And so they did. Using a form of quick drying concrete (not rediscovered until the 19th century) they were able to pave roads, engineer bridges and aqueducts, and build entire cities across Europe and the Middle East. Even retirement colonies for all those soldiers that conquered the world, complete with amphitheaters and arenas for entertainment, public baths, libraries, apartment buildings and villas, running water from aqueducts, and triumphal arches for entries into the cities. While Greek temple architecture with its columns and pediments was the basis for Roman architecture, the keystone of Roman buildings is the arch, which allowed their structures to span large distances.

Ever efficient, Romans adapted Greek figural sculpture as well (you've seen many Roman copies of Greek originals in the Greek galleries). How can you tell the difference between Greek and Roman figures? Romans couldn’t conquer the world nude and barefoot. They are usually wearing their sandals, and clothes.

And individual portraiture is much more important. During the Republic, politicians had to present themselves as mature and wise; their age served to show their experience. And for all Romans, family ties were important, so realistic (also called veristic) portraiture was important to display family resemblances. Even during the longer Roman Empire (29 BCE to 300 CE), realistic portraiture of the emperors, their families and the artistocracy was important—lifelike realism was so important that often, wax masks of the dead were taken to accurately reproduce features.


*Galleries 410-423 encompass myriad Roman arts, including lifelike portrait busts of emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius, coins, mosaics, and other items. But the real treasures here are the historical figures that gaze down as you walk through the assembly of Romans in the Daru Gallery (406).


Julius Caesar

As you enter the gallery, Julius Caesar, who conquered Europe, Egypt (and Cleopatra) only to be assassinated by his fellow senators, surveys the assembly. His death set in motion the series of events that led to the founding of the Roman Empire by his adoptive son, Augustus. And Caesar was immediately deified by his son, setting up the imperial rule of Augustus as divine rule (Augustus learned something from the Egyptians). Caesar is the only one shown nude and barefoot, like a god. Look at his face, which is a little too wrinkled to match his body!

Emperor Augustus c. 20 BCE head 200 CE)


Emperor Augustus has a familiar face (hundreds of his portraits were distributed throughout the empire. As the first emperor of the Roman Empire, he set the precedent for imperial portraiture and deification. He stands, stately in the robes of a magistrate, holding a sheaf of documents. Back then, magistrates (bureaucrats) were admired for their efficiency!

Ever efficient, Augustus "recycled older statues by placing his head on them. That is why the dates for the body and the head are different--and hundreds of his portraits can be found!


Trajan c. 100 CE



Trajan is dressed as a soldier, known for his conquest of Dacia (Northern Europe) as well as his building projects, especially his forum with Trajan’s Column, which detailed the might of the Roman Army as it conquered Europe. Trajan conquered huge swaths of Europe, celebrating his victories in his eponymous Forum, which provided the model for later Roman Emperors to boast of their success. Indeed, the monumental column of his victory over the Dacians and his equestrian statue both of which dominated Trajan's Forum, were copied by later European leaders (Napoloen's column stands at the Place de la Concorde).

Nero, c. 50 CE

Nero stands as a young boy, draped in robes, a roll of papers in one hand. With the other hand he gestures as if to say “why me?”—one of the most infamous of Roman emperors, known for his excesses (fiddling why Rome was burning, designating his favorite horse a senator), his licentiousness (rumored to have slept with his mother and his niece) and his criminality (ordering the murder of his mother and other relatives). His reputation is being re-visited by historians today, though, who think that he might possibly have been the victim of “fake media” at the time, intended to overthrow his rule. Victim or victimizer? You can be the judge.





Roman artists wanted to convey an exacting realism--that is why you can always recognize the faces of the rulers. See if you can recognize the faces of Augustus, Trajan, and Nero mixed in with the portraits of other Roman emperors in the gallery, each one listed with some of their achievements.



Pompey, the second to last Roman Consul; Augustus, the first Roman emperor; Nero, known for his excess; Titus, who created the first triumphal arch and completed the Coliseum; Trajan of the Forum; Hadrian of the Wall; philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius; Septimus Severus the only emperor born in Africa and his son Caracalla of the Baths.





Unlike their Greek predecessors, Romans did allow women to play more of a role in public life; some of the Empresses also reign here, each in with the hairstyle of the moment.

Livia, wife of Augustus: Domitia, wife of Domitian; Faustina the Younger, wife of Marcus Aurelius; Julia, wife of Septimus Severus


.Another example of Roman scupture that is well represented in museums is Roman sarcohagi, popular among the Roman elite. These served as models for later Renaissance artists, wih their emphasis on naturalism and expression of classical mythology.

Ariadne Sarcophagus, 230-240 CE

One of the most popular subjects was the love story of Dionysus and Ariadne. Ariadne was a princess of Crete who helped Theseus slay the Minotuar, only to be abandoned by him on an Aegean island. It was there that Dionysus, god of wine and feasting, found her and fell in love. The two lovers were a popular topic for the sugggestion of pleasure that awaited the dead in the afterlife, as well as the theme of lasting love. A wealthy Roman couple could commission a work like this, for husband or wife. Here Dionysus parades with his merry band of partygoers, and is stopped in his path by the beauty of Ariadne, sleeping on the far right. We can't see her face because this sarcophagus was never completed; Ariadne sleeps, eternally waiting for a customer.

Borghese Gladiator (c. 100 CE)


*At the far end of Daru, the Borghese Gladiator, a Roman copy of a Hellenistic warrior, springs into action, pointing the way towards the European sculpture in the gallery beyond (403).


European Classicism

The Michelangelo Gallery (403) houses the Louvre's masterpiece collection of European sculpture, each one reflecting the classical tradition. Antonio Canova immortalized Cupid and Psyche at the dramatic moment when Cupid has revived his formerly lifeless love with a kiss. Canova was part of a longstanding tradition of European artists that re-interpreted classical stories. As the pre-eminent Neo-Classical sculptor of the early 19th century (and a favorite of Napoleon), Canova expertly brought this story to life, with the tender embrace between the two and Psyche’s body on display for the viewer. This is truly a sculpture meant to be viewed in the round (evidenced by the throngs of people of surrounding it), with every inch of flesh, feather, and robe perfectly rendered. But make sure to admire them frontally, so you can see how perfectly Canova posed the pair, with Psyche’s arms forming a necklace around Cupid, and his wings completing the curvature of their bodies.


Canova, Cupid and Pysche (1793)


Michelangelo Buonaratti (403)




Dominating the end of the Michelangelo Gallery are the artist's Dying Slave and Rebellious Slave. Both were meant to be a part of Michelangelo’s massive tomb for Pope Julius II; when that fell through, they were given by Michelangelo to another patron, and eventually made their way into the collection of Cardinal Richelieu. That collection was eventually absorbed/confiscated by the French government. As two of the very few Michelangelo sculptures outside Italy, they draw huge crowds. They show his masterful display of the male form, every muscle expressing torment.


Michelangelo, Dying Slave, Rebellious Slave (c. 1510-16)

You can decide what exactly torments them—some suggest they represent the torment of the human soul, or the torment of an artist (Michelangelo certainly wrote a lot about his own travails!). In their expression of motion and emotion, they are most definitely the heirs to the ancient Greek and Roman world.


11 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page