• Laurie Seban

Musee du Louvre- Antiquities

Overview: Survey of the Louvre and its antiquities departments (Mesopotamia, EgypGreek, Roman), with history and cultural themes of each discussed in terms of 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. Erected in (1987) during a major expansion, they created space for a new underground entrance area—and massive criticism. 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).


*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 on 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!


The original Louvre collection began with antiquities, and the museum features some of the most iconic and important treasures in the world. In Egypt and Mesopotamia, palaces, temples and burials have supplied archaeologists (and museums) with a treasure trove of goods. For the most part, these 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 (in French, partager) the finds. Those finds 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.

*From the lobby/entresol, start in the Richelieu wing to view the Mesopotamian (Proche-Orient, or “Near East”) collection beginning in 236, or from the Sully Wing beginning in room 300.

Mesopotamia translates to “between the two rivers” (the Tigris and Euphrates rivers), which is modern day Iraq. The region is studded with the capitals of hundreds of Mesopotamian city-states that rose and fell for 3000 years, from roughly 3500 BCE to 500 BCE, as successive waves of people moved into the region (the most recent one being uncoved in 2022!). The galleries show historical figures and mythological beasts, all busy building (and guarding) empires that rose and fell for 3000 years.

In the case of Mesopotamia, French archaeologists have been mining the region since (1800), which is when most of the Louvre objects were acquired. Sadly, since the first Gulf War in 1990, the region has been wracked by warfare again. Looting has always been an issue, but with the Iraqi invasion, the influx of foreigners and devastation of the economy has led to over 2000 objects being taken out of the country each day, an irreparable loss of history and culture. This is a problem that museums are working to combat today, though some museum curators have been accused (and found guilty) of trafficking in stolen goods.

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). Proponents of world museums 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.

Figures of all sizes greet you in these rooms. Ebih-II, the Superintendant of the city-state of Mari (Syria), sits in constant devotion to the gods (236). He demonstrates typical Mesopotamian style: sensitively sculpted faces with large stylized eyes and hair, youthful muscular bodies and patterned clothing (in this case, it is goatskin). Figures like this are found throughout the sites, especially at the temples/ziggurats, where they served as devotional figures. Royal and divine figures are similar, but usually have clear emblems of kingship: a headdress, beard, weapons or staff, and hieratic scale (the most important always being the largest).

Ebih-II, Mari 2400 BCE; Lion, 2500 BCE

Just as they did in Mesopotamian times, animals real or imagined serve as guardians at temples and palaces. One of the most striking is the glaring Lion from the “Temple of Lions,” an early Mesopotamian site (227). Made of copper with limestone and schist eyes, its ferocious expression with gaping mouth gives a sense of its protective function; it was one of two found leaping from a wall at a temple site near Aleppo (another site currently wracked by war)

The Sumerian cuneiform tablet found in 228 is one of the earliest known systems of writing, and key to our understanding of these cultures. Cuneiform was developed to track goods as city-states gained power and wealth through agriculture and trade. Clay tablets were incised with a stylus to create distinct geometric characters (cuneiform means “wedge shaped” in Greek). Over time, histories, stories, and religious rites were recorded in permanent form. Although the first cuneiform was Sumerian, as new populations moved into the area, other languages developed the same system of writing.

Cuneiform tablet, Sumeria, Cylinder seal and rollout, Sumeria

Vases depicting the same types of figures were found in burials and used in temple offerings—you’ll see registers (bands) of figures bringing animals or baskets of food as acts of religious devotion. Look for small, awkward looking cylinder seals as well. These were an ingenious method of mass production. The cylinders were carefully carved so that when rolled across soft clay, an imprint appears, making it possible to produce countless images as an act of devotion. Each one is a window into ancient life: offering to a god, a battle between men and beasts (animals, human, or a combination of the two).

Stelae of Naramsin and Hammurabi (227, 228)

Cuneiform lines the back of the 7 foot high Stela of Naramsin (227), notable for the pink color of the stone. This is the first monument to a specific military victory: Naramsin, the king of Akkadia, recorded his conquest of the neighboring Lullubrians in (2250 BCE) in cuneiform script on the back. Naramsin is the largest figure, with horned helmet, beard and weapons, trampling on his enemies as he presents his victory to the gods, represented by the two planets/suns. Look for the enemy who helpfully guts himself on the right, another sign of royal power.

Eventually, the Akkadians were conquered by the Elamites who, as a measure of their power, carted off this stela. In fact, most of the items found in these galleries were not excavated from their original sites. A victorious leader would often export the most important sculptures, especially those of gods and leaders (today we call that archaeology!). As kingdoms waxed and waned over the centuries, statues of leaders and gods circulated throughout the region, which accounts for the uniformity of style.

Stela of Naramsin, Sumeria

Stela of Hammurabi, Babylon (1750 BCE)

The 7 ½ foot high Stela of Hammurabi is next door (228)—the first written legal code in the world. Hammurabi, leader of the Babylonians from 1792-1750 BCE, standardized the settling of disputes so that “the strong may not oppress the weak….and the weak the strong.” Hammurabi represented this as a gift to the gods in a dark diorite stelae. He stands with beard and headdress of kingship, presenting his code in 4100 lines of cuneiform text to the larger seated god, Shamash.

Essentially Hammurabi codified the principle of “an eye for an eye” that was later copied by the Bible. One law not copied: a woman charged with adultery could prove her innocence by being dropped into the water. If she floated and survived, she was innocent. If she sank and drowned, she was guilty. This may sound harsh, but this is an improvement on the treatment of women in most ancient and even some modern societies! And it’s notable for the idea of an objective system of laws that could be applied to all people within the kingdom.

600 years after its creation, Hammurabi’s stela was taken to the Persian capital of Susa. Over two thousand years later, in 1902, it was taken to the Louvre—and its significance is such that replicas of it can also be found at the U.S. Capitol, and the United Nations.

Khorsabad Court (229)

Assyria was the last major Mesopotamian empire, a culmination of 2000 years of conquest and warfare. In 883 BCE, Ashurnasirpal II in 883 BCE knit together an empire that included most of Mesopotamia, Persia, Arabia and the Middle East; under later rulers, the empire expanded into Turkey, the Mediterranean, and North Africa. Evidence of their success: palaces across the empire. The French consul to Iraq discovered the palace at Mosul in 1843, and parts of that palace, the legendary Dur-Sharrakun, are reconstructed here in the Khorsabad Court (229).

At Durr-Sharrakun, Sargon II erected a fortified palace over 1 square mile, with over 200 courtyard and 147 towers. Walls carved in relief were intended to inspire awe in anyone preparing to enter the chambers of the king, and they still do today. Most spectacular are the 28 ton Lamassu of Sargon II that guarded the royal palace entrance at Khorsabad. With the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle, and the head of a man (in this case, the ruler), lamassu are the royal protectors throughout the Assyrian empire. The king’s eyes are undercut, so they appear to follow the visitor as they enter the royal chamber. As you walk through, how many legs do you see? The lamassu is designed with 5 legs—so from any position, you can see at least 4 legs. Look carefully and you’ll see not just patterns, but also cuneiform covering the surface of the creature.

Assyria: Khorsabad Court with Lamassu, Gilgamesh with Lion, Ashurbanipal in Ninevah

Next to the lamassu, the ancient hero Gilgamesh holds a lion—he was subject of the first major text in the world, the Epic of Gilgamesh, which detailed his conquest of people and beasts in his quest for eternal life. The image here, of a king hunting lions as a measure of power is seen across Mesopotamia and Africa.

Panels from the palaces show other representations of power. Reliefs of Ashurbanipal II from Ninevah shows the ruler directing timber from Lebanon. In another, the ruler comes face to face (look at how the toes curl over the bottom edge!) with a lesser figure.

*The middle galleries which connect the Richelieu wing to the Sully wing show other Mesopotamia city-states.

Gudea of Lagash is notable for the ubiquity of his portraits sprinkled throughout the Sumerian capital of Lagash—and museums today. Look for his large eyes and “beanie” of kingship. The Louvre hosts pieces of a dozen or more in a single gallery (305), each noting different achievements. A seated statue shows him holding his plans for a temple, cuneiform extolling his accomplishments covering the skirt of his robe. A standing statue shows him holding a vase, waves of water flowing downwards--just as today, control of water and irrigation was key to power and wealth.

Gudea of Lagash, Sumeria 2150 BCE

Susa, a neighbor to the east (in modern day Iran), was part of the early Achaemenid empire. By the time of Cyrus the Great in 559 BCE, the Persian Empire had expanded to encompass Egypt and most of Mesopotamia (including Assyria), all of which was overseen by the king at the new capital of Persepolis. The Palace of Darius at Susa (308) is just one of many built by Darius and his son Xerxes (son and grandson of Cyrus) around 500 BCE, similar to the even larger palace at Persepolis. Excavations by the French government began in 1885, and much of the palace has been reconstructed in the museum.

Persia: Wall of Immortals, Bull Capitals from Persepolis, Lion

The walls that have been exported to the museum were made from molded clay bricks (the original legos!) and glazed in vivid blue and yellow, similar to those found at Persepolis and also ancient Babylon. The style of figures is also the same as in other parts of Mesopotamia—large eyes, stylized beards and clothing. The Wall of Immortals, all in constant obeisance to the Persian kings, give a sense of the pomp and ceremony of the Persian empire.

And animals still serve as guardians. The original palace roof was supported by colossal columns, each crowned by a massive Bull Capital or other animal. Imagine an animal on that scale, perched atop a 45 foot column! Lamassu and lions gracing the walls of the palace. One of the most stunning is a wall found intact at Susa. The glazes have worn away, creating a variegated almost abstract composition of a lion—a glimpse of the sophistication of the Persian empire.

Persia is what many modern day Iranians most closely identify with (Islam and Arabic was introduced over a thousand years later). For good reason: the religious tolerance practiced by the Persians (in contrast to Iran’s current government) was one of the reasons for its success. And Achaemaenid artisans were celebrated for their delicate ceramics and exquisite metalwork, with many more man/animal combos similar to the lamassu.

Darius and later Xerxes set their eyes on the wealth of the Greek city-states, and their attempted invasions dramatically weakened the Persian Empire. Eventually, Persia was annexed into first Alexander the Great’s empire, then ruled by the Seleucids (more on them in the Islamic galleries).

*As you complete your tour of the Mesopotamia, you’ll pass through the galleries (315) devoted to the Levant, that area of northeastern Africa, western Asian and the eastern Mediterranean which has been a crossroads of cultures for millenia.

The galleries show influences from across the ancient world: Phoenician woman from Africa in the style of Minoan Crete; a Golden Pectoral from Byblos that mimics Egyptian style. And a Trio of Gods (sky, moon, sun) dressed as Roman officers from Palmyra, a once-thriving city in North Africa at the nexus of several ancient trading routes (315). Unfortunately, museums are almost the sole repository of these artifacts today, as Palmyra is situated in Syria, and the ongoing civil war has obliterated many of the sites. The Portrait Heads left behind are some of the last witnesses to a long and storied history.

Phoenician Woman, Africa Golden Pectoral, Byblos portrait heads from Palmyra

*Egyptian Antiquities in the Sully Wing are one of the most visited sections of the museum—but difficult to access!

* Follow the signs from the lobby into the Sully Wing, or you can reach the lowest level of Egypt by passing through the Palace of Darius into Egypt (317), or going through Greek Antiquities to 337 on the other end of the wing. Because of the high volume of visitors in this area, you can only walk in one direction, so follow the signs.

Egyptian civilization began on the banks of the Nile around 3000 BCE (same time as Mesopotamia). Villages spring up along the length of the Nile and quickly grew, blessed by the regular inundation of the Nile which deposited fertile soil along the riverbanks. Sometime around 3100 BCE, the entire length of the Nile was unified into the Upper and Lower Kingdoms of Egypt. Egyptian kings typically wore a “double crown” that combined emblems of both regions, to emphasize the unification of the two regions.

Egyptian history spans such a long recorded history (from 3100 BCE to Ptolemaic Egypt during the Roman Empire) that it is divided into the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. History is also measured in dynasties—and the achievements of each successive king were dutifully recorded in texts and inscriptions on stone, walls and any other surface.

There is a global fascination with Egypt that extends back to antiquity itself. Herodotus spoke of the wonders of the Egyptian pyramids in (450 BCE), and Cleopatra’s 1st century arrival in Rome left the population wonderstruck with its pageantry. Over the centuries, the mystique and the monuments remained, but much of the meaning was lost. Islam was introduced into Egypt in the 9th century, and by the 1800’s, Egyptian as a spoken and written language had been dead for centuries. The vast wealth and artistry of Egyptian culture was only understood when Napoleon entered Egypt and a programmatic excavation of Egyptian tombs began. By the mid 19th century, mills were grinding mummies into mummy dust to be used as a cure-all, and wealthy Europeans regularly toured the pyramids at Giza.

The Egyptian collection of the Louvre stems not so much from Napoleon’s conquest (after his defeat, many of those early objects were appropriated by other countries) but by Europe’s continuing fascination with Egypt. The Rosetta Stone, discovered by French troops in 1790, was key to understanding Egypt (the British took possession of it after Napoleon’s defeat and is now in the British Museum). It is essentially a border marker carved in 3 scripts: hieroglyphs, demotic (an Egyptian shorthand script) and Greek. Using the Rosetta Stone, Jean Champollion was able to decode the hieroglyphs in the 1820’s; hence our understanding of Egyptian culture today (and the reason for language program of the same name). Champollion, in fact, was the first curator of the Egyptian Antiquities department. In many ways, he opened the door into the ancient Egyptian world, a centralized empire with a system of government, religion, and practices that lasted for almost 3000 years.

*The volume of visitors and objects in the Egyptian wing is enormous, so it’s best to follow the Sens de la Visite. Because that changes, the info presented here is chronological, beginning with Room 633--immediately after the end of Mesopotamia, take the corner stairway up one level to Sully 2.

Some of the earliest items are stone cosmetic palettes found in tombs, carved with images of animals and creatures very similar to those found in Mesopotamia (633). The Bull Palette showing a bull trampling enemies repeats the same cycle of conquest seen in Mesopotamia, but now the bull represents the power of the Egyptian king during the predynastic period, unifying Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt.

Multiple display cases show what was needed for eternal life—for all the classes of Egyptian society who could afford it. The painted limestone statuette of Raherka and Meresankh (635) shows the hopes of a married couple for eternal happiness. A Seated Scribe, too, is at work for eternity, with quartz and copper eyes that give an eerie liveliness to the statue.

Bull Palette, c. 3000 BCE 2350 BCE Raherka and Meresankh Seated Scribe

Tomb of Nefertiabet, c. 2490 BCE

The tomb mural of Nefertiabet shows a young princess, possibly the daughter of Cheops, fashionably dressed in leopardskin on a throne carved with animal legs. The wealth of the living was meant to be replicated for the dead, so murals and reliefs were created to represent all the pleasures and pastimes of the dead: playing games, boating, hunting, etc. Egyptian conventions of representation are amazingly consistent over the years: profile face, frontal torso, and profile legs, which accounts for a physically impossible but very recognizable style.

Mural of Nefertiabet Head of Djedefre

The same system of representation represents royalty. The Old Kingdom Head of Djedefre (635) is one of the earliest in the collection. As with most agricultural societies, the sun god in the form of Ra, Amun, or a combination of the two ruled supreme over a vast panoply of other gods in Egypt. Each ruler was seen as the living incarnation of Ra and therefore divine. That divine authority was reinforced in many ways. The pyramid tombs, for example, were meant to represent the eternal life of the king, but also the power of the sun god and his own son, the king. Djedefre’s father Khufu built the largest pyramid at Giza. Djedefre ruled for only 8 years (2565-2558 BCE), and his much smaller pyramid is almost entirely in ruins.

Divine authority is represented in a variety of ways. Each king has a distinct and individual face that can usually be recognized across museum collections. Ka statues, which this might be, had to have recognizable faces so that the ka (one part of the soul) had a body to recognize and return to each night. The size of the head (4 feet) is also an indication of his status—the head would have been on a seated or standing statue at his mortuary complex. Djedefre wears a simple linen headdress with a protective cobra (uraeus) extending from his forehead—the classic image of Egyptian kingship.

As you walk through the galleries, you’ll find other emblems of kingship. The king is always largest of course, sometimes carrying a shepherd’s crook or flywhisk, also symbols of his power. If he is not wearing a linen headdress, he might be wearing the flattened crown of Lower Egypt, the domed crown of Upper Egypt, or the Double Crown which represents both. Often, he appears with a “false” beard of kingship—a little more artificial than those found on Mesopotamian kings. In other cases, the king might be represented as Osiris, the king of the Underworld. In Osirid statues, the king appear as a mummy (usually with beard and uraeus), with body wrapped and hands on chest holding the flywhisk and crook.

These symbols of kingship were amazingly consistent over thousands of years. And they seem to have worked: Egyptian pharoahs ruled without any internal revolt or revolution until 2007! That is an impressive hold on authority, based on the idea of the ruler’s divine right to rule, and reinforced throughout the galleries, in the panoply of royal images that once covered the public spaces of ancient Egypt.

The Old Kingdom, the age of pyramids, lasted only 500 years (2700-2200 BCE). The amount of labor and resources that were poured into the massive complexes, which included not just the pyramids but mortuary temples, queen’s pyramids, worker camps, even full size boats, might have led to an economic instability that was exacerbated by drought, famine, and eventually political turmoil.

The First Intermediate Period was followed by the Middle Kingdom, a relatively short period of further instability—you can clearly see the wear and tear of the times on the Head of Senwosret III, a Middle Kingdom ruler. After the Second Intermediate Period, the New Kingdom, a 500 year period of large scale building, military expansion, and charismatic leaders, begins (1550-1077 BCE).

Hatshepsut (637)

In room 637, an entrance to a temple, complete with colossal papyrus columns (copied by the Greeks 2000 years later!) and images of pharaohs, is physically overwhelming, and gives a small glimpse of this period of temple building. Hatshepsut is responsible for one of the most spectacular, her funerary temple at Deir el-Bahari, in the Valley of the Kings. Yet Hapshetsut was a woman! She was the daughter of Tuthmose I, the sister/wife of Thutmose II, and after his death, the regent for her stepson Thutmose III. But at some point during her regency, she decided to rule herself, as a pharaoh (not a queen)! Her control was so absolute that she reigned for 20 years, sponsoring military campaigns into Africa, trade networks across the region, and countless building projects, the most spectacular being Some of those achievements are noted on her obelisk, which was brought back by Napoleon as his emblem of conquest. It now resides at the center of the Place de la Concorde on the other side of the Tuileries.

How did Hatshepsut manage all this? By assuming those same emblems of royal authority. Around the capital of Thebes and at her mortuary complex, countless images of her as ruler were placed—from colossal sphinxes that lined her temple to standing Osirid statues. And while Egypt had other queens (think Cleopatra) Hatshepsut is unique in world history in that she always retained her female identity. Female hieroglyphs were always used, and in many sites she is shown as a girl or woman, distinctive with a heart-shaped face, wide eyes, and large ears. In public arts, she was shown with a male body or a female body—but always with those emblems of authority. This usurpation was so complete that it is impossible to determine who is represented in the Head of Hatshepsut or Thutmose II (637)—what do you think? The ears have worn away, but the wide eyes, uraeus and conical crown of Upper Egypt remain. It’s striking that Hatshepsut’s divine authority was so absolute, even the rightful heir let her rule for almost 20 years. After a natural death (her mummy has been found and examined), Thutmose III took over and ruled for another 20 years as one of Egypt’s great warrior-kings. But not without methodically defacing and eliminating Hatshepsut’s name from many of her monuments. And sometimes replacing her name with his.

Hatshepsut or Thutmose?

A colossal Head of Amenhotep III from the 18th Dynasty oversees the visitors (along with the feet of an unknown ruler), and gives a sense of how kings were seen. The face is smooth but distinct. In this case, the pursed lips and narrowed eyes give an intense look. He has his own set of royal emblems, a domed crown representing Upper Egypt, and a cobra (uraeus). Like all Egyptian kings, he is eternally youthful (even a pharaoh had to prove his fitness by running around a heb-sed court in a yearly festival).

Akhenaten & Nefertiti (638)

The small (8”) Double Portrait of Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten and Nefertiti (638) made of painted limestone, shows husband and wife holding hands, with Akhenaten, in crown and uraeus, stepping forward. The iconic features of his wife Nefertiti, as well as her flattened crown (she is the only queen to have worn this crown) are immediately recognizable. Look closely, as this is the beginning of the Amarna revolution. Akhenaten’s body may still be youthful, but he has a bit of belly, and his knock-kneed legs are a little thick, especially in comparison to the diminutive grace of his wife.

Shortly after Amenhotep IV began his reign (1353-1336 BCE), he changed his name to Akhenaten. This was truly revolutionary: he discarded the name honoring the sun god Amen, thus disrupting over 1500 years of Egyptian beliefs. Instead, he took on the name Aten, another god representing the sun disc. Even more dramatically, he closed all the temples to Amun in Egypt, and ordered a new, national (and monotheistic) worship of the god Aten, with a new capital built at Amarna.

Amenhotep IV and wife AmenhotepIV--now Akhenaten

These new beliefs were accompanied by a revolutionary new style, today called Amarna naturalism. In comparison to the double portrait, the 4 foot Head of Akhenaten which looms over the gallery (638) is an emphatic statement of those changes. The same emblems of authority remain: traces of a crown and uraeus, a beard, along with the staff and crook held by the mummy (Osirid) statues of Pharoahs. But the face has dramatically morphed into an elongated, almost severe portrait—apparently a more realistic/naturalistic likeness of the Akhenaten. Other Amarna images show how far this naturalism extends—Akhenaten is usually shown with an elongated head and neck, thin shoulders, flaring hips and a large belly. The source of the style is not known—did Akhenaten suffer from medical conditions? Forensic specialists have theorized a variety of conditions, from Frohlich’s Syndrome to Marfan’s Syndrome, or even possibly hermaphroditism. Another possibility (and the official line of Egypt and the Egyptian State Museum) is that these changes in representation were meant to show the otherworldliness, even androgyny, of a supreme ruler—not any medical issues.

Another equally important element of Amarna naturalism is the emphasis on family. Not the royal family, which would have included the official wife/sister of Akhenaten, but his preferred wife Nefertiti, and their 3 daughters, who are shown in all aspects of family life—not just in the act of worshipping Aten, but in moments of family intimacy as well. A Torso of a female is so distinct in its naturalism that it’s thought to be that of Queen Nefertiti. Akhenaten’s daughter with braid is another.

Female torso (Nefertiti?), Head of a girl

What is fascinating is that the massive changes wrought by Akhenaten were tolerated, at least outwardly, by the entire population. It is only after his death that displeasure was shown in the destruction of Amarna and all associated with it. The capital was razed, the temple to Aten destroyed, and religious life returned as it had existed for a thousand years before, centered around the worship and temples to Amun. But the legacy of Amarna naturalism remains.

You can see the naturalism in the heir to Akhenaten—Tutankhamun. After Akhenaten died, Tutankhaten changed his name back to honor the traditional sun god Amun. After the early death of Akhenaten’s successor, Tutankhamun took power, but reigned only for a short time—his claim to fame rests on the fact that his royal tomb, discovered by Howard Carter in 1928, is the only New Kingdom tomb to be discovered intact. Tut seemed to have died so quickly that his tomb was hastily prepared—but the 4 rooms give a glimpse of the amount of goods a pharaoh would have carried into the afterlife. The Louvre contains just a small amount of the jewelry, figurines, statues that were found. The only artifact associated with Tut (other than those of his father) is the small statue of Amon Protecting (a headless) Tutankhamun in 640.

Tut married Meritaten, the daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti—and the two infants were their offspring. Royal inbreeding might have been a factor in the deaths of the children—and Tut himself. A comprehensive medical analysis of Tut has determined that he suffered from a cleft palate, malformed leg (which accounts for the 40+ walking sticks found in his tomb), malaria and a host of other ailments. It’s only in this century that new examinations of Tut, including the DNA of himself and the two stillborn infants also interred with him, have concluded that Tut was the son of Akhenaten and his sister—the royal wife. Since divine blood was carried through the female bloodline, men would take sisters as their official wives to keep power in the family (somewhat similar to the way European rulers would marry cousins to keep power in their respective families). Hence the strong family resemblances you will see in much of the dynastic art on Sully Level 1.

Recent excavations in the last decade at Amarna show more evidence of forced labor, maltreatment and malnutrition than any other site in Egypt (far more than at Giza). Because Akhenaten established a monotheistic religion and clearly loved his nuclear family, he has been regarded as one of Egypt’s more enlightened rulers. Apparently not. And it is still somewhat of an enigma as to why he made such dramatic changes in terms of religion and art

The names and faces of other pharaohs fill the galleries. In 641, Hathor Welcoming Seti I, a painted limestone mural, shows the goddess Hathor, a protector of pharaohs (identified by her cow horns which hold an image of the sun). Seti I, ruler of the 19th Dynasty, is simply dressed in a linen kilt and sandals, with the uraeus extending its protection. Traces of Amarna naturalism remain—note how the hands are intertwined.

Amun Protecting Tutakhamun, Hathor Welcoming Seti I, Seti

Not on display now: Maybe you see a family resemblance in the Colossal Statue of Ramses II, the son of Seti and one of Egypt’s great military leaders. Ramses has the same physique as his father, with additional royal symbols: the uraeus, a linen headdress, and false beard of kingship. Hieroglyphs on the back of the black diorite statue extoll the achievements of this extraordinary king, the first to call himself a pharaoh. He ruled for over 60 years (1279-1213 BCE), almost 6 feet in height (and a redhead—his mummy is one of the jewels of the Egyptian State Museum).

Sphinxes (338, 327)

The Colossal Sphinx from Tanis from the Temple of Amun/Ra (338) gives a sense of how imposing sphinxes must have looked lining the route to the Temple of Amun/Ra. What king does it represent? Perhaps several—inscriptions from 12th, 19th, and 22nd Dynasty kings have been identified. Often, kings would recycle earlier monuments but adding new inscriptions. Like the other images of kings, a headdress, uraeus, and beard of kingship are all present.

*You will find subterranean Egypt on the 0 floor of Sully, where vast amounts of burial goods are now entombed.


In a stairway annex (327), a lion and 6 life-size sphinxes that once lined the route to the Temple of Amun at Sakkara. As with Mesopotamia, combination animals like the sphinx were meant to convey power and serve as guardians at sacred sites. In this case, they combine the face of the pharaoh with key Egyptian emblems of kingship: a linen headdress, a cobra (uraeus), a beard of kingship, and the individual face of the pharaoh.

Sphinxes from the Temple of Amun

Another descent leads you into the Crypt of Osiris himself (323). Osiris is always represented as a mummy. A Seated Osiris shows him wrapped in linens with arms crossed, holding a shepherd’s crook and flywhisk, a high domed crown on his head, the false beard on his chin. In the crypt, you’ll find a colossal sarcophagus made of stone. This was meant for the protection of the mummy, which was then encased in a series of painted sarcophagi—the more important, the more sarcophagi.

Crypt of Osiris, Sarcophagus with Isis, Sarcophagi room 321

Scores of Sarcophagi with painted faces are vertically stacked, like an ancient file cabinets (321). Men and women come to life in the painted portrait faces. And it should be noted, there are sarcophagi for both men and women: women in ancient Egyptian society experienced more equity than almost anywhere else in the ancient world (they were able to own property).

Depending on how wealthy you were, mummies could be encased in a succession of increasingly elaborate sarcophagi, made from wood, stone, or a type of papier mache, decorated with images of the dead and hieroglyphs which noted the identity and achievements of the individual, along with blessings for an eternal afterlife.

One of the most striking types of sarcophagi are those found at Fayum, a 3rd century Roman outpost near Cairo. There, wealthy Romans (men and women) had their portraits affixed to their mummies—scores of them have been found. What is so striking is that these Fayum portraits were painted with encaustic—pigmented wax that was placed in layers. All of them follow a type: dark haired with large eyes, each with an intensity of gaze that has not diminished over the centuries.

Fayuum Portraits

The rest of the galleries bring the dead to life once again. Books of the Dead made of papyrus, some of which are displayed in cases, show the preparations needed in Egyptian times. Egyptians believed in several variants of the soul, but the ba is the one that needed a preserved body to return to after flying around each night. First, the body was dessicated by removing the internal organs, packing the body with natron, and wrapping it in linen.

Canopic jars held the body organs of each mummy. Each set of four contains the heart, stomach, intestines, and liver (the brain was thrown away). Each jar was topped by one of the four sons of Horus: a human, a falcon, a baboon and an ibis.

Other pages on display show what happens in the afterlife: the ceremonial Opening of the Mouth, which allows the soul to escape, or the Weighing of the Heart. The heart of the deceased, representing the soul, is weighed against the feather of justice. If the soul is not weighted down by sin and light enough, the individual can proceed to the afterlife. But if the soul is too heavy, it is immediately eaten by a 3 headed dog.

Book of the Dead with offerings made to Osiris

Presiding over these ceremonies is the king of the Underworld, Osiris, himself the son of the Sun God. According to the histories, Osiris and his brother Seth, along with their sisters Isis and Nepthys, were the first humans—so of course, they could only marry each other. But Seth, jealous of his brother, killed him in a jealous rage. Isis, the sister/wife of Osiris, along with sister Nepthys, went searching for him. She found Osiris, put him back together (the first mummy!), and conceived their child, Horus.

Why is this family drama important to us? Seth becomes the god of chaos and destruction, represented by a hippo; Osiris goes on to rule the Underworld, accompanied by Isis and Nepthys. In Books of the Dead, all three are waiting to greet the deceased. Osiris, as the first mummy, is always represented as such, wrapped in linens with his arms crossed. And Horus, always represented with the head of a falcon, is the one who accompanies the dead to his parent’s abode. Look for a falcon’s head protecting the pharaoh throughout the galleries.

Furniture, games, musical instruments were needed as well (pets, too: the Louvre has several cat mummies in its collection). Ushabti, replicas of human helpers, are seen in eternal service of the wealthy; other figures show the dead in their desired pursuits: hunting, fishing. Replicas of animals, fields, and farms show the wealth not just of kings and nobility, but even of the upper middle class. Mural fragments of paintings and hieroglyphs give a sense of how the actual tombs might have looked—before they were looted by ancient thieves.

Canopic jars, Ushabti, Mural, Scarab

Scarabs, carved from stone, clay, or other materials, are as ubiquitous as they might have been in ancient Egypt. Because the Egyptian scarab (beetle) rolls a ball of dung on the ground, the scarab symbolized the sun god Amun/Ra rolling the sun across the sky. Many of the scarabs wrapped in the mummy linens as amulets are also carved with personal inscriptions. Scarabs are also quite ubiquitous in the gift shop!

Egypt and its arts are a springboard for Greek and Middle Eastern cultures. It was an important trading partner with Greek city-states, and eventually, under Ptolemy, ruled by Greek pharaohs. The massive columns of Egyptian temples were exported to Greece and Persia, and the idealized forms of Egyptian pharaohs and gods provided the basis for Greek temple figures. Eventually, they took on a life of their own, and became the basis of our Atlantic tradition of art today.

*The Greek galleries are adjacent to the Egyptian, also in the Sully wing.


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; 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. 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).

Greek pottery 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.

Cycladic female figures, View of early Greek gallery, bell from Thebes

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 Greek drama: 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)

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.

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.

Cervetari Couple

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).

Gillet Kouros, Hera from Samos, c. 650 BCE Lady from Auxerre, 650 BCE

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.

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!

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?!)

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.

Metopes from Temple of Zeus at Olympia

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

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.

Throughout, males in the prime of youth stand proudly contrappasto in the galleries. 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.

Ares Borghese, Aphrodite

But Athena as the goddess of wisdom also reigns, in the gallery and the Greek world. As the 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). 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.

Statues of Athena Nike, Capitoline Aphrodite, Arles Aphrodite

One particularly beautiful piece is a Reclining Female bent over in half, her soft flesh almost touchable.

Kneeling Female

Venus de Milo (345)

Venus de Milo calmly reigns in her own alcove (345)—just follow the crowd. This image of Aphrodite/Venus, 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.

Why is it called Venus instead of Aphrodite? Actually, much of what we think of as Greek statuary is Roman, as is this Roman copy. Freestanding Greek sculptures were originally made of bronze (marble was used 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 nude leaning on a post, it is most likely a Roman copy from an original bronze.

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. 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 and arrow from her quiver as she grasps a deer by the antlers with the other hand. She is in mid-stride, her robes whipping around her legs.

Porch of Caryatids, Artemis with Deer/Diana of Versailles

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 face which appears to be a typical female nude from the languid back—but is clearly a male from the front. This type of sensual drama and luscious flesh is typical of the Hellenistic period.

Sleeping Hermaphrodite

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.

Dancing Children Boy with Goose

*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.

Winged Victory of Samothrace, c. 300 BCE

*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. Original Greek bronzes were collected by Romans; in fact, much of what we consider to be Greek statuary is usually Roman copies—the original Greek bronzes were melted down to make weapons long ago. 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 and Emperors Augustus, Trajan, Nero

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 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 his imperial robes, holding a sheaf of documents. Trajan 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.

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.

*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).

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

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. 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.

Michelangelo, Dying Slave, Rebellious Slave

3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All