Three centuries of Italian sculptureThe Michelangelo Gallery
Named after the great Renaissance master, the Michelangelo gallery shelters masterpieces of Italian sculpture, including the artist’s famous Slaves. For close to three centuries, sculptors vied with one another to turn human emotion into stone.
A gallery for the new Louvre
During the Second Empire (1852–1870), the Louvre was abuzz with construction. At the time, the palace was both museum and seat of imperial power. Napoleon III had his architects, Louis Visconti and Hector Lefuel, build new spaces, some to house collections of art, like the Michelangelo Gallery.
Built between 1854 and 1857, this new gallery served above all a practical purpose: it was the official access to the Salle des États where major legislative sessions were held under the Second Empire. It was also the venue for sculptures during the annual Salon, a major artistic event of the time that gave living artists a chance to showcase their talent.
A stony decor
For his work, Hector Lefuel drew inspiration from his predecessor, the architect Pierre Fontaine. The latter worked at the Louvre under different political regimes all throughout the first half of the 19th century. His vision in the Salle des Cariatides and Galerie Angoulême inspired Lefuel to create the wide vaulting in the Michelangelo and Daru galleries, as well as the marble flooring in bold colours.
Large windows on either side of the gallery flood the space with natural light. This would not suit paintings, but is particularly flattering for sculptures in white marble, bronze or terracotta.
Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss
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From Michelangelo to Canova
The Michelangelo Gallery now offers an overview of Italian sculpture from the 16th to the 19th century. It owes its name to the Florentine artist Michelangelo, who steals the show with his Slaves, two masterpieces which were part of an unfinished project for the funerary monument of Pope Julius II. Before even entering the gallery, visitors can admire from afar the so-called Dying Slave, in a stunning play of perspective. The Slave is set against a monumental portal behind him, decorated with the figures of Hercules and Perseus. Originally erected in the Palazzo Stanga di Castelnuovo in Cremona, its form recalls that of an ancient triumphal arch.
Other denizens of the gallery include Flying Mercury by Giambologna, a sculptor born in Flanders who enjoyed great success in Florence, and Mercury Abducting Psyche by his pupil Adriaen de Vries. Before leaving the gallery, visitors can admire Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Canova, a tour de force in marble. The artist’s expert hands perfectly rendered Cupid’s soft flesh and ardent passion.
Benvenuto Cellini, The Nymph of Fontainebleau
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