Sunday 17th April, 2016
For someone so drawn to classical art, my first trip to the Louvre felt belated. It was not until the beginning of the first year of my doctorate that found myself wandering from wing to sprawling wing, my body gripped by that uncanny feeling of meeting one's dreams in space.
I had travelled to visit the exhibition ‘L’Antiquité rêvée: Innovations et résistances au XVIIIe siècle’, provocatively advertised with an image of Fuseli’s Nightmare. An essay by Katie Scott and some research I’d done on a painting by Parmigianino had acquainted me with the work installed at the entrance to the show: Edme Bouchardon’s L'Amour se taillant un arc dans la massue d'Hercule. I did not expect to encounter it here in the marble flesh, its distinctive contours casting a play of shadows onto the emerald wall behind it. My eyes lingered on the lion skin tucked behind Cupid’s thigh. At was at this moment that I realised the graphic potential of stone. When I imagine this sculpture now I am haunted by its competing textural planes, especially the beast’s evacuated shell, limp like a torn balloon against the firm flesh of the Love-god.
Having spent a while taking notes in the exhibition I drifted into the permanent displays. A staircase led me straight into the Salle du Manège, where I was confronted with a bust of Minerva in glistening porphyry the color of hot stewed plums. I turned around to find a Grecian-nosed Isis clad in a dress of black marble, tight and polished to a latex sheen. What were these hybrid Helleno-gyptian sculptures? Who made them and when? As an admirer of anything that complicates chrono-stylistic order I was instantly enamoured of these works. My favorite was an alabaster statue of a seated Horus. I learned that its top half is modern Italian, likely crafted by the workshop of Bartolomeo Cavaceppi, whose name was familiar through tales of Enlightenment Rome. Its bottom is formed from an ancient statue of Pharoh Ramses II. I felt at home among these perfect specimens of eighteenth century Egyptomania; their in-betweenness spoke to my own distance from a stable, concrete Identity.
I had not anticipated just how moving it would be to see the wan, chalky colors of David’s L'intervention des Sabines in their organic context, nor how majestic the scalloped wings of the Victory of Samothrace appear in all their outstretched glory. The next day, as I was leaving for Gare du Nord I reached for my passport to find that it was missing. Before panicking, I realised that there was only one place it could be. I said goodbye to my friend Colette whose bed I’d shared all weekend, and returned to the Louvre. A woman at the desk told me my passport had been found in the Salle des Caryatids, dieu merci, right at the foot of The Three Graces.