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The Marquis’ Greek vasesThe Galerie Campana
This long row of rooms houses thousands of vases, cups and containers of all shape and sizes. The gallery offers a comprehensive overview of ancient Greek pottery. It is named after the collector who is responsible for bringing most of these objects together, the very colourful Marquis Giampietro Campana.
A costly collection
The Marquis Giampietro Campana (1807–1880) had one of the most extensive private collections of art that Europe had ever known. It consisted of thousands of ancient objects, as well as many Italian works from different periods. Indeed, the Marquis Campana wanted to build a collection that represented the breadth of artistic production in all of Italy. From the start, he bought many works of art, and even took it upon himself to organise archaeological digs.
But his passion came at a price that neither his personal fortune nor his salary as director of the Monte di Pietà – a charitable institutional pawnbroker in Rome – could afford. In 1857, the Marquis Campana was arrested for financial foul play. His collection was confiscated and put up for sale. Many art lovers looking for a deal came from all of Europe, including the Tsar Alexander II and Emperor Napoleon III. The latter bought the bulk of Campana’s collection with his personal funds: thousands of ancient works and hundreds of Italian paintings. The emperor had them displayed in French museums, notably the Louvre and the Petit Palais in Avignon.
A 19th century re-shuffle
Prior to the arrival of the Campana collection, these rooms had already been used to display art since 1819. In the early 19th century, the Louvre’s collections were expanding thanks to archaeological finds and acquisitions, and new sections were opened up all around the former palace, like the Galerie d’Angoulême and the Musée Charles X. This was the golden age of the architects Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine, who were busy working on all the projects, including this one.
When Napoleon III bought a large part of the Campana collection in 1861, he decided to showcase it here, asking his architect Hector Lefuel to think up a new décor.
Ceilings steeped in history
Lefuel decided to keep the ceilings that were painted between 1828 and 1833. The themes they feature were appropriate for the new function of the gallery: the patronage of the kings of France. The most famous French sovereigns are portrayed as protectors of the arts: Charlemagne, Louis XII, François I, Henri IV, Louis XIII, Louis XIV, etc. Even General Bonaparte is up there, in L’Expédition d’Égypte, which evokes his military campaigns in Egypt but also the scientific and artistic research he sponsored.
An encyclopaedia of Greek pottery
Since the purchase of the Marquis’ collection, the Galerie Campana, enriched with new acquisitions, has remained exactly what the original collector would have wanted it to be: a comprehensive overview of Greek pottery. It is made up of a room to introduce Greek vases, followed by rooms for studying pottery and a chronological display spanning the 9th to the 1st centuries BC. It includes examples of all styles, all time periods and all centres of production. It’s like a giant walk-in encyclopaedia!
The vases on display bear witness to technical progress: the use of the potter’s wheel, and notably fast turning which lends well to more regular forms. Thanks to improved kilns, the firing process was perfected. Potters managed to achieve an intense black sheen that is the hallmark of Greek pottery. Vase decoration also evolved dramatically: geometric at first, they gradually featured animal and then human figures, until finally depicting whole scenes, recounting myths and battles or offering a glimpse of everyday life.
Did you know?
Masterpieces of Greek pottery
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Cratère géométrique attique
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