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Visitor trails I Love You, Love in the Louvre

Thematic trail - Length: 1 hr 30 mins - Tour days: Monday Wednesday Friday Saturday Sunday

School groups Groups

Sarcophage, dit "sarcophage des Époux'' (détail)
Sarcophage, dit "sarcophage des Époux'' (détail)

© R.M.N./H. Lewandowski

00Introduction

Discover how artists from Antiquity to the eighteenth century have chosen to represent amorous relationships.

Flirtatious, sensual, libertine or conjugal love . . . love that is fleeting or lifelong . . .
View a selection of images in which, over the centuries, artists have sought to convey the manifold aspects of love. We are not offering a chronological approach here, nor one that aims to epitomize the conception of love in a given society or culture. Our intention instead is to lead you round a map of emotions - from confession to embrace or to vows of eternal love; a map that charts its course among works of art, each one of which sheds a partial and specific light upon its time. This is an invitation to a playful, amorous journey. Let us embark for Cythera and play the game of observing works whose only common feature is love.


How to get to the next stop:
Under the Pyramid, take the escalator up to the Richelieu wing. Turn right after having your ticket checked. Go up the steps and take the escalator to the first floor. Opposite the Richelieu café, go into Room 4, which houses art objects from the Middle Ages.

The Gift of the Heart
The Gift of the Heart

© 1983 RMN

01The Gift of the Heart

In courtly love the knight experiences different stages in the conquest of his lady; these were codified in the literature of the twelfth century. The gift of the heart is one recurrent theme. Around 1400, when this tapestry was made, the most celebrated and widely known of the courtly writings was the Romance of the Rose. It describes the suitor's progress through a "Garden of Love" where the rose to be plucked was none other than the lady herself. Let us begin with the knight's declaration of love. Observe the heart, the symbol of love offered by the lord to his lady, and note the circle made by the animals surrounding the two symmetrically balanced figures. The figures and the landscape are handled differently: strong contour lines make the figures stand out sharply and hatching is used to convey relief, whereas the landscape is evoked by a repetition of identical but variously colored geometrical motifs. The expressiveness of the figures contrasts with the decorative character of the landscape.

How to get to the next stop:
Proceed to Room 5, turn left and take the stairs on the right up to the second floor. Turn right on the first landing into Room 21 of the Department of Paintings.

The Village Fête
The Village Fête

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing

02The Village Fête

This 17th-century Flemish fair is in the tradition of the scenes of village festivities so popular with northern painters. The vibrant sensual exuberance expressed here is characteristic of the baroque style. Notice the amorous goings-on amid the hustle and bustle of this festive scene. Several pairs of lovers create a kind of human garland. Stand back and let your eyes move from left to right, following the ribbon-like loops of the dancers' winding motions. This undulating mass blends with the landscape thanks to a shared palette of colors becoming softer in the distance. Move up and observe the larger-than-life faces of the peasants as they abandon themselves to the pleasures of the senses: their bulging eyes and ruddy cheeks, their lips opening wide for kisses . . .

How to get to the next stop:
Turn back toward the stairs and go to Room 17; pass Rooms 18 and 19 and take the escalator to your left. Go down to the first floor, where you enter the Collections of Art Objects. Go straight through Room 23 and continue on to Room 56.

Pedestal table
Pedestal table

© 1998 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

03Table

Pastoral love, with its scenes of shepherds and shepherdesses, drew its protagonists from the aristocracy at Versailles in the twilight of Louis XV's reign. This idle society is depicted through an evocation of its pleasures. Let us intrude on an aristocratic salon and observe how it is furnished. Certain motifs appear repeatedly in this room. Buttercups and roses are arranged into garlands and baskets; there is a general air of elaborate refinement. Notice the couples whispering sweet nothings to each other. The pastoral scenes on the central pedestal table (which belonged to King Louis XV's mistress Madame du Barry) and on the chest of drawers to the right, are inspired by painters such as Jean-Antoine Watteau and Nicolas Lancret. On the wall are two paintings by the latter. The pedestal table made of fine hardwood, decorated with Sèvres porcelain inlays, is strikingly distinctive and testifies to the virtuoso skill of the cabinetmaker and the painter . . .

How to get to the next stop:
Continue to Room 48, also known as the Watch Room. Go to display case 4 on the left.

Round watch: "The Storyteller", after Antoine Watteau
Round watch: "The Storyteller", after Antoine Watteau

© Direction de l'architecture et du Patrimoine

04The Storyteller, after Antoine Watteau

Depictions of the comedy of love in the 18th century used the stock characters from the Italian commedia dell'arte, with servants holding center stage in amorous intrigues of staggering complexity. The pocket watches here, accessories of male and female finery, reflect the tastes of a period in love with luxury, love affairs and technical innovations. Let us open our ears to the blandishments of a gallant. Observe the three figures. The storyteller in the foreground is dressed like a commedia dell'arte actor. Behind the couple is the recognizable figure of Pierrot, the bashful lover, evoking the amorous triangles in harlequinades, where Columbine is the eternal object of desire. The lightness of touch and the range of delicate colors demonstrate the enameler's skill and his fidelity to the spirit of Watteau. He has in fact taken an engraving by the latter and adapted it to the circular shape of the watchcase.

How to get to the next stop:
Continue to Room 46, go up the stairs on the left to the second floor and the Collections of French Painting. Go to Room 36.

Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera
Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing

05Pilgrimage to Cythera

Amorous gallantry under the Régence found its perfect expression in Watteau. The French Academy created an entirely new genre for the artist – the "fête galante" – giving him an opportunity to depict moods instead of actual people. His figures thus have a distinctive dream-like quality of their own. Is it the prospect of embarking for the goddess Aphrodite's island of Cythera, or the melancholy thought that they will eventually have to return home that animates these couples? Note the contrast between the treatment of the figures and the landscape. The light on the satin has a particularly brilliant sheen, while in the mistiness of nature it blurs into a soft halo. The sharpness of the figures' outlines is not the result of drawing, but is achieved through a precise application of paint. The landscape, in contrast, is rendered with a glaze overlaid on layers of paint containing only very little pigment, imparting a slightly transparent look to it. Notice the three couples in the foreground. From left to right, they illustrate three stages in amorous seduction. Take a step back and observe the garland of figures recalling Rubens's Village Fête. Don't miss another painting by Watteau in this room: Pierrot, also known as Gilles.

How to get to the next stop:
Go to Room 37.

The Faux Pas
The Faux Pas

© Musée du Louvre/A. Dequier - M. Bard

06Le faux-pas

This is the era of the delightful Régence, a fortunate age marked by licentiousness," wrote Voltaire. This new freedom affected both mores and arts. Like Watteau in painting, Marivaux staged games of love and chance in his delightful comedies. You are now in the position of a voyeur observing a bold seduction scene. The small format of the canvas means that you are beholding it in relative privacy. Notice the parallel hatching on the woman's neck, hair, and bodice, ruffled by her movement of recoil. Take the time to observe the contrast between the man's skin and that of the woman: the ruddy complexion of his face and hand standing out sharply against her pallor, echoing the scarlet drapery. Before leaving this room, take a look at the display case containing the Meeting of Actors from the Comédie Italienne in a Park, by Jean-Baptiste Pater, a pupil of Watteau. It depicts the familiar theme of the storyteller you saw earlier on the watch.

How to get to the next stop:
Go next to Room 48.

The Bolt
The Bolt

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

07The Bolt

At the close of the century of Enlightenment, amorous libertinage stood in direct contrast to the sacred love celebrated in The Adoration of the Shepherds, which hangs on the far left. Its pendant, The Bolt, invites us to reflect upon the nature of desire and the stakes involved in passion. Follow the slanting path of light from the door bolt to the apple. It illuminates three points in the picture: the bolt, the bed and the apple. The man pushes the bolt, the woman puts up a feeble resistance: the scene has therefore just begun . . .
Why then is the man half undressed? Observe the left side of the painting: the forms in the bedchamber are delicate allusions to the woman's body. The angle of the bed, the breast-like pillows, and the curtain's secret folds are all intimations of lovemaking. Various elements suggest carnal passion: from left to right, the overturned vase, the chair, and the clothes on the floor. Note the symbols of the discarded bouquet, an image of deflowering, and the apple, the fruit associated with original sin.

How to get to the next stop:
Go to the landing past Room 49 and take the spiral staircase down to Room 27 in the Department of Egyptian Antiquities on the first floor. Keep going straight until you reach the Greek Antiquities. Stop in Room 38, in front of display case No 4.

Couple entwined on a wedding-bed
Couple entwined on a wedding-bed

© R.M.N./Les frères Chuzeville

08Couple on a nuptial bed

This nuptial scene from the second century BC depicts ancient Greek marriage conventions and the change they brought in the bride's status. Although drawn from everyday life, this representation has an essentially mystical significance. The actions involved in the beginning of a new life for the woman are those of an initiation rite. (See the map on the right as you leave, and the panel in the center of the room.)
Is this perhaps a wedding night scene?
Observe the husband's tender gesture as he reaches to unveil his wife. Contrasting with the eager stance of the naked man is the modest reserve of his spouse, still clothed in her draperies. This terracotta group consists of several different pieces. Thanks to the fact that part of the woman's thigh is missing we are able to see that the figure is hollow. The work was made by applying a layer of clay to the surface of a mold. After being fired, the figures were painted; residual traces of color are still visible.
Notice a second couple embracing on the right.
Other amorous scenes can be seen on the red-figure Attic vases in Room 39 (entrance through Room 37).

How to get to the next stop:
Go to Room 34, then down the Victory of Samothrace stairs. Turn right into Room 18, which houses exhibits from the Etruscan Antiquities collections.

The "Sarcophagus of the Spouses"
The "Sarcophagus of the Spouses"

© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Philippe Fuzeau

09The Sarcophagus of the Spouses

What we now perceive as an image of marital affection was for the Etruscans primarily a matter of respecting the conventions of representation. The couple here from the 6th century BC is not a portrait of specific individuals, but a symbol of a man and woman serenely facing eternity as equals.
Let us circle round this couple as they feast for eternity. Starting with a full-face view, note the details which emphasize the outlines of the figures. The man's mouth, eyebrows, and beard are delineated with precision. Next, observe the couple in profile, and the arrangement of the upper limbs asserting this funeral group's three-dimensional character. The man's arms circle the shoulders of the woman, who appears to be pouring perfume into his - now missing - hand.
Looking at the couple from the back, try to imagine a body under draperies from which its feet emerge. A disregard for the coherence of the body in favor of graphic detail is not an uncommon characteristic of Etruscan art. Complete your circle around the sarcophagus and notice the realistic details on the shoes, the furniture, the styling of the hair, the folds of the draperies . . .

How to get to the next stop:
To reach the Exit, return to the foot of the Victory of Samothrace staircase, cross Room B, and turn left to leave the museum.

 

 

Author(s) :
Liz HERON