As soon as I arrived at Louvre-Lens, I was immediately struck by the two large wings in aluminium and glass spread over 14 hectares. The Bollaert Stadium, a source of pride in Lens, could be seen peeking through the background.
The Gallery of Time: “A journey of 5,000 years around the world”
The “Gallery of Time” leads visitors on a journey of 5,000 years around the world via 300 artworks. This ambitious feat was a success: the walk through the works, arranged in chronological order, was as educational as it was fun. I almost felt dizzy from taking in all these quality works.
I believe this Kouros statue helps us to understand how the Greeks were inspired by Egyptian colossi. Like the colossi, the arms near the body are rigid, but here, they are slightly more detached, a sign that statues would soon become independent of their surrounding architecture.
In the Middle Ages, these lying statues, the “Gisants”, were found in churches and cathedrals. A great example of funerary art, these were created to preserve the memory of the country’s princes.
A few dozen metres further down, and a few centuries later, I stopped in front of “St Sebastian” by Pietro Perugino
. This painting idealises the tragic end of the first Christian martyrs. But this work also reminds us that, even though religion played a central role in 15-century Italy, Man is now the centre of attention, and becomes the measure of the world.
"The temporary Renaissance exhibit is magnificent”
The first temporary exhibition at Louvre-Lens is simply titled “Renaissance”, and it’s magnificent. It was a chance to remember the fundamental changes that took place during this period from the 14th to the 16th century. The Renaissance started in Italy with the development of urbanisation, finance, crafts, and the creation of so many places devoted to the arts during the Quattrocento (15th Century). The invention of oil paintings, printing and visual perspectives in painting made this century the starting point of an artistic revival.
Of course I stopped in front of one of the key works at Louvre-Lens, “The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne” by Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most beautiful works of the 15th century. The canvas is even more worth seeing now that its colours have been restored, revealing nuances never seen before. In this canvas, I like the “sfumato”, this soft blurriness that clouds the lines of the subjects so that they better integrate into the landscape. The blue tones in the background reinforce the impression of being far away.
The Louvre-Lens allows you to imagine the great rivalry between Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. To Michelangelo, who painted the Sistine Chapel, da Vinci was just a simple drawer, while he on the other hand was embarking on more difficult ventures: sculpture, for example. Michelangelo believe that drawing was only for “the feeble and women”. Yet here is a drawing by Michelangelo, a study of David, shown here, that I greatly admired.
This book shows that anatomy, a subject of growing interest during the Renaissance, started blending with art. During that time, doctors and artists were both interested in dissecting the human body, even though the practice was banned. Knowledge of anatomy spread thanks to the invention of the printing press.
Here’s another work that captivated me. The German carver Albrecht Dürer understood that, instead of hiding his knowledge, he should spread it across the world. That’s what he is doing with this book, where he explains his artistic techniques. To make it accessible, Dürer wrote in German instead of Latin. I am equally struck by the fact that he signed his works with his initials, a “copyright” gesture ahead of his time, allowing him to win his lawsuits against counterfeiters from Italy.
Finally, the Louvre-Lens captivated me because, just like at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, you can see the museum’s archives. Twice a day, 17 people are invited to go inside and have a look.
“The museum visitors with their audio guides remind me of visitors to Disneyland wearing Mickey Mouse ears”
In conclusion, I was enchanted by this visit. The Louvre museum at Lens is a huge success. We were afraid this might be a second-rate Louvre. We were wrong. The quality matched all expectations. Art is becoming available to more people, and that’s great.
However, I would like to point out a few things. The large number of people visiting the exhibitions made the museum’s corridors quite crowded. Moreover, more and more visitors are resorting to audio guides that provide information on certain works. Looking at people wandering around with their headphones reminds me of visitors to Disneyland wearing Mickey Mouse ears on their heads! I am disappointed that we have this need to explain everything, because for me, art should, above all, be an emotion, a feeling. But which would I prefer: abandoned and deserted museums, or places full of life that make an effort to reach out to people and respond to them? Being elitist or being an amusement park, it’s hard to find a balance.