Posted by: thedirtybaker | July 17, 2011

The Louvre: Ancient Greek Body Image and Snooty Salespeople

A wing of the Louvre

A beautiful city has a fancy castle in a prime location.  What do they do with it?  They turn it into a world-class museum!  The Louvre is fantastic.  It’s amazing!  It deserves a few days to really appreciate it.  I gave it about half a day.

Therefore, I only went to a few sections of it, though that’s normal for me, anyway.  I don’t have the attention span for a full day at a museum, especially since I like to read all of the captions, blurbs, whatever they’re called in the exhibits that interest me.  (Nerd-tastic!)  This is also the reason that I don’t usually try to go to museums with other people.

I started in the “History of the Louvre” section, and then went through the displays from ancient Egypt, Cyprus, Levant, Mesopotamia, Iran, and some of Greece and the Etruscans.  I skipped most of Greece and the Romans.  This means, of course, that I went through the sections whose history and material culture I know best.  This might sound counterintuitive, since I do like to learn at museums, but it was worth it to see things in person that I’ve only seen pictures of, and to get the pictures that I want to use in classes.  That’s one of the great things about the Louvre – you can actually take pictures in the museum, as long as there’s no flash!

First of all, the exhibit on the history of the Louvre is interesting – it spans many centuries and some major changes, moving from fortress to castle to palace to museum, and there’s plenty of material: plans, pieces of stonework, paintings of the building or parts of it, paintings of important people associated with its history, and decorations that were in it in the past.  My knowledge of French wasn’t as useful in this section – either the written portions were more complex, I wasn’t used to it yet, or maybe my vocabulary is too

Ancient Egyptian Jewelry

heavily slanted towards Bronze and Iron Age archaeology.  I’d assume that the latter were the case, if I didn’t do better with the written sections from the Musee d’Orsay and the Musee du Carnavalet, neither of which were about the Iron Age Near East.

Champollion, who deciphered hieroglyphs!

Moving on, the Egypt exhibits are very important for the Louvre, and well-known.  They have two separate but related exhibits: one is thematic, one is chronological.  The thematic one is very good – it breaks down all the different parts of life (and death) in ancient Egypt. The chronological one is a boringly traditional trip through the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms, and then the following periods.  It’s about the kings and queens, their conquests and their deaths.  This might be more interesting to people who don’t work in related fields.

Giant stone vessel from Amathus, in Cyprus. This would look better with a Lemur decorating it.

The Cyprus exhibit got my attention, partly because it has a massive find in the center of the first room.  Look familiar?  No?  Look up at the top of this blog.  This is a giant vessel from Cyprus, just like the one that I’m sitting on in that picture, which I really shouldn’t have done to a 3000-year-old vessel.

One of the amazing things about the Louvre (and about Paris in general, according to C., is the mixture of time periods in a given room.  So, while the objects being displayed might date to 13th century BC Egypt, the room itself, and its decoration, are a few centuries old themselves, and beautifully painted or sculpted!

Painting from the ceiling of a room of antiquities at the Louvre

Another picture from a room of antiquities. I think it is supposed to show Icarus falling from the sky.

The Levantine exhibits were well-done, though I sped through the parts that were too similar to exhibits in Israel.  I did appreciate, though, that they had access to the sites

that I haven’t seen exhibits on before, though I’ve certainly read about them. Since the

Tablet from Late Bronze Age Ugarit

French colonized Syria and Lebanon, their museum focuses more on sites in those countries, especially Syria.  They have material from Ugarit itself!

I LOVED finally seeing actual eye figurines from the Uruk period, the code of

The picture at the top of the Code of Hammurabi: Hammurabi getting power from Shamash.

Hammurabi, and the giant protective figures from Khorsabad and Nimrud.

Protective figures from a monumental doorway at Nimrud

Not surprisingly, the Israel museum doesn’t have much material from Iraq (if any).  And somehow, when I’ve gone to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, their Near Eastern section has been closed.  I suspect that I could have arranged access in advance, but I never think to do that.  So this was extra-fantastic for me!  (Yes, I nerded out here. And I got some strange looks for the number of pictures I was taking!)

At some point, I walked through rooms of greek statuary, admiring the very fine male

Discus Thrower, 1st c. AD copy of an early 5th c. BC statue

bodies depicted, which led to this question: Given that the impossibly skinny bodies in fashion magazines today are give some of the blame for our complexes about our bodies, did the ancient Greek men look at these statues and hate their butts for not being so tight, or hate their stomachs for being paunchy, rather than showing a 6-pack?  Because really, those are some fine male bodies depicted in beautiful white marble!  Those gods and heroes are worthy of their titles!

I had only one real problem with the Louvre.  There were nowhere near enough women’s bathrooms! There was a 20 minute line for the ladies room, and I got very nervous when I saw an 11-year-old (or close to it) walk into a stall with a book.  Seriously?  How do parents allow this?

My last stop at the Louvre was the gift shop.  I’m a sucker for jewelry that’s modeled after ancient jewelry. I wanted to buy a pair of earrings that were copied from one found at Susa from about the 2nd-1st century BCE.  It’s very similar to

Gratuitous picture of ancient jewelry (Gold earrings and a carnelian necklace from 13th-12th c. B.C. Mari)

ones from Iron Age Ashkelon and Kinrot that I’d been admiring.  But the women working there were ignoring me, probably because I looked American and don’t speak French.  (They had no way of knowing that I actually could read the French blurbs, i just can’t speak it!)  I finally got someone’s attention, but she was busy and told me to wait 5 more minutes until she was done with something.  So I waited, and it was more than 5 minutes.  I killed time erasing extra pictures from my

camera.

When I finally got helped (by someone else), I told her that I’m an archaeologist,

specializing in jewelry, and that this object was not yet published.  I showed her a

picture of an earring much like the one from Susa.  She asked me to come with her, and said that her supervisor needed to see this.  It turns out that the rude lady was the supervisor, and suddenly I got great service!  So the moral of this story is: if you want

snooty French ladies to be nice to you, show them pictures of pretty jewelry.

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