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Visitor trails Leonardo, Raphael, Titian..., The Italian Renaissance

Paintings - Length: 1 hr 30 mins - Tour days: Monday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

La Vierge à l'Enfant avec sainte Anne - 275* 275 px
La Vierge à l'Enfant avec sainte Anne - 275* 275 px

© RMN - Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre) / René-Gabriel Ojéda

00Introduction

While the great European powers battled for control of Italy, Italian fifteenth- and sixteenth-century artists broadened the field of Western painting.

The arts developed in a specific political context. Italy was not a united country, and each prince or each family that governed a town wanted to display their splendor and might. The works and vast building sites—all involving commissions—served to demonstrate the magnificence of their patrons. Though Tuscan artists were used as models, from the fourteenth century onwards, each artistic center had its own specialty, and pronounced regional differences persisted throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: Florentine painting gave priority to draftsmanship; Venetian painting valued color above all; while, in the early sixteenth century, papal and princely patronage made Rome an increasingly important artistic hub. The presence of Italian artists at Fontainebleau turned the French sovereign's castle into a hotbed of forms and a European crossroads for the spread of Italian art. The Renaissance artist was an all-round artist, frequently a painter and goldsmith, sculptor and architect, theorist and poet, in the manner of Leonardo da Vinci, Verrocchio and Michelangelo. The artist was also a scholar, who wrote or applied theoretical treatises, understood the rules of perspective, and schooled himself in human anatomy by undertaking dissections, observing and experimenting. In the course of the fifteenth century, as the intellectual purport of the works created was recognized to the same degree as their manual dimension, the artist's status in society evolved. Painting entered the ranks of the Liberal Arts.

How to get to the next stop:
Starting from the Pyramid, head toward the Denon wing. Turn left and continue through the Greek Antiquities collection (room 170, level 1, Denon wing) then go up the staircase with the Winged Victory of Samothrace at the top. Turn right on the landing into room 707 (Italian Paintings). Botticelli’s mural is to your left.

Un jeune homme présenté par Vénus ? aux sept Arts libéraux
Un jeune homme présenté par Vénus ? aux sept Arts libéraux

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

01The Allegory of the Liberal Arts

Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, known as Botticelli

Sandro Botticelli received the commission to decorate the Villa Tornabuoni, home of a family allied to the Medici, in about 1483. The frescoes, which had been painted over with whitewash, were rediscovered in 1873. The Allegory of the Liberal Arts shows an initiation scene, in which a bare-footed girl leads a youth—possibly the young Lorenzo Tornabuoni—by the hand, apparently introducing him to a circle of female figures, each bearing an attribute associated with the Liberal Arts. Note that Music (the figure holding a portable organ) is regarded as a science on an equal footing with Arithmetic, Geometry and Astronomy, and that she enjoys a special relationship with Astronomy (the figure carrying a globe): earthly music was thought to be simply a weaker echo of celestial harmony. On the contrary, Painting is not represented. Late fifteenth-century and early sixteenth-century painters would prove their determination to see their craft elevated to the rank of Liberal Arts. Venus and the Graces, the companion piece to the Allegory of the Liberal Arts, may also have been an initiation scene, in which the gifts received by the young woman might be Grace, Love and Fertility. The graceful curves of the bodies clothed in light fabrics, the dancing silhouettes, and the elegance of the draftsmanship testify to Botticelli's search for beauty and grace, as explained in the treatise written by Alberti.


How to get to the next stop:
After the glass door at the end of the room, walk through the Salon Carré (room 708, level 1, Denon wing) and enter the Grande Galerie (room 710, level 1, Denon wing) to your right. You will find our next artwork on the wall to your right.

La Bataille de San Romano : la contre-attaque de Micheletto da Cotignola.
La Bataille de San Romano : la contre-attaque de Micheletto da Cotignola.

© 1997 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

02The Battle of San Romano

Paolo di Dono, known as Uccello

Commissioned by the Salimbeni, a Florentine family, Paolo Uccello painted three panels on the theme of the Battle of San Romano, a skirmish between Florentine and Sienese mercenaries that took place in 1432. These three works were later hung in the Palazzo Medici, in Via Larga. Today they are divided between Florence’s Uffizi Galleries,  London’s National Gallery, and the Louvre. The fundamental quality of the Louvre panel is the expression of movement. The lances indicate the direction of the fighting, from right to left; movement is broken down through the position of the legs of the four horses in the foreground and the fanlike treatment of their bodies; banners flap in the wind; the gold of the ornamental studs and the armor formerly covered in silver-leaf catch the light. Vasari wrote that Uccello was obsessed with problems of perspective; this is conveyed in his use of forms reduced to volumes, foreshortening and mazzocchi (the multi-faceted wooden hoops covered with cloth forming the headgear of the central figure here), a veritable virtuoso exercise for painters. This exploration of geometrical, almost abstract forms fascinated the Surrealists and Cubists.

How to get to the next stop:
Continue along the Grande Galerie: the next artwork is on your left.

Portrait d'homme, dit Le Condottiere
Portrait d'homme, dit Le Condottiere

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

03Portrait of a man, known as Il Condottiere

Antonello da Messina

Antonello da Messina's male portraits differed from conventional medallion-style profile views by setting three-quarter bust portraits against a dark background and behind a parapet. The face in the Louvre painting is highly individual; no detail has escaped the artist's attention: the rings under the eyes, the scar on the upper lip, the tension in the jaw. The imperious gaze meets the spectator's, as if seeking to detain him. The technique of oil painting used here, which Antonello had learnt in the court of Naples, enabled him to render the subtlety of the reflections in the irises, the hairstyle with the thick fringe that catches the light, the precision of the shadows on the right wing of the nose, the right cheekbone, and the chin. The face emerges out of the dark background and the black garment highlighted by a simple white edging. The Louvre portrait is signed "Antonellus messaneus me pinxit 1475" on the cartellino fixed to the stone parapet by two dots of red wax. At that time, the artist was in Venice. The technique he employed here spread northwards from Naples to Venice, and was soon used by his contemporaries. Antonello da Messina's male portraits were inspired by those of the Netherlandish painters Van Eyck and Campin, in which the frame was extremely tight. He must have been particularly struck by the way that the sitter's eyes addressed the spectator; this was, of course, impossible to reproduce in the profile view adopted in Italian portraits until then.

How to get to the next stop:
Continue walking along the Grande Galerie until you’ve passed the columns. Saint John the Baptist is now on your left.

Léonard de Vinci, Saint Jean-Baptiste
Léonard de Vinci, Saint Jean-Baptiste

© RMN - Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre) / Tony Querrec

04Saint John the Baptist

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, known as Leonardo da Vinci

Saint John the Baptist, the Herald, the Forerunner of Christ was also "He who came to the Light." Leonardo da Vinci conveyed this theme through the gesture of the index finger pointing heavenward and the spiraling body emerging into the light. The "right distribution of light" is what gives the figure its sculptural volume, and what expresses the imperceptible transitions between background and form. Here is a masterful demonstration of sfumato "which blurs the contours in a light mist." Owing to the way in which light is used, the body seems to "turn" and the painter thus holds his own against any sculptor. Color is scarcely used at all: on the contrary, the work reaches even greater heights of perfection by avoiding the artifice of hues. The face of Saint John the Baptist with its gentle smile is androgynous, in accordance with a doctrine identifying the Forerunner as the New Adam, who was created with a dual nature. Leonardo's search for ideal beauty is also shown in his use of light. Since Plato, through the writings of Saint Augustine, light had always been in the service of Beauty and Good. Marsilio Ficino drew his ideas from both Plato and Saint Augustine, and Leonardo da Vinci sought to translate them in his paintings.

How to get to the next stop:
You will find the next artwork on the same wall, just next to Saint John the Baptist.

La Vierge aux rochers
La Vierge aux rochers

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

05The Virgin of the Rocks

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, known as Leonardo da Vinci

Painted as part of an altarpiece commissioned for a Milanese church, the Virgin of the Rocks appeared in the French royal collection at Fontainebleau in the early 17th century. Featuring a composition that foreshadows Leonardo’s Saint Anne, the painting depicts the legendary encounter between the infant Saint John the Baptist and Jesus during the flight to Egypt. A tender expression on her face, the Virgin Mary shelters the little John kneeling in front of Jesus under her mantle, while her other hand hovers above her son’s head. In his turn, the Child Jesus blesses the young saint, who, having recognized him as the Messiah, is already praying to him. Seemingly inviting us into the scene, the angel propping up Jesus completes this subtle interplay of hands. We can see Leonardo’s masterful hand in the painstakingly painted mineral landscape of cave and rock formations, as well as the various symbolic plants dotting the image. The precipice in the foreground alludes to the tragic fate awaiting the two children. The entire scene is bathed in a soft light, revealing the brilliantly executed texture of the protagonists’ skin, which Leonardo created using his signature chiaroscuro technique.

How to get to the next stop:
You will find the next artwork on the same wall, just next to the Virgin of the Rocks.

Sainte Anne, la Vierge et l’Enfant jouant avec un agneau, dite La Sainte Anne.
Sainte Anne, la Vierge et l’Enfant jouant avec un agneau, dite La Sainte Anne.

© RMN (Musée du Louvre) / René-Gabriel Ojéda

06Saint Anne, the Virgin Mary, and the Infant Jesus Playing with a Lamb

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, known as Leonardo da Vinci

Saint Anne, the Virgin Mary, and the Infant Jesus Playing with a Lamb is Leonardo da Vinci’s most ambitious composition from his later years, along with The Battle of Anghiari. The fruit of much thought over the last twenty years of his life (1501–1519), the work greatly influenced the evolution of the arts in Italy in the early 16th century. This is the culmination of da Vinci’s research in the domains of nature and art, and it shows his ability to revisit a subject that was highly codified in his time. The small works he painted during the same period testify to similar research pertaining to expression, movement, the relationship between painting and sculpture, the relief of figures against dark backgrounds and landscapes, and so forth. There are nevertheless many unanswered questions regarding this famous painting, especially concerning the commissioning client, the creation of the painting, and its early history.
The restoration of this major work was completed in 2011. The painting has regained its almost sculptural original depth and relief, along with a palette of deep lapis lazuli blue set off by red lacquers, and its counterpoints of vibrant grays and browns.

How to get to the next stop:
Continue down the Grande Galerie. The next artwork can be seen a little further along on the same wall, just before the columns

Saint Michel terrassant le démon, dit Le Grand Saint Michel
Saint Michel terrassant le démon, dit Le Grand Saint Michel

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

07Saint Michael Slaying the Devil

Raffaello Santi, known as Raphael

This immense painting, commissioned by Pope Leo X (originally Giovanni de' Medici) for the French sovereign, François I, was one of the diplomatic gifts sent in 1518 to strengthen the ties between France and the papacy. The handsome signature (RAPHAEL URBINAS MD XVIII) on the border of the tunic dates this work to the artist's Roman period, when he was inundated with commissions. The archangel's Apollonian beauty and victory over the hideous monster, which represents the enemies of the Church, is a homage to the king who won of the Battle of Marignan and conquered Milan —especially since François I was also the grand master of the Order of Saint Michael. The vast landscape that forms a backdrop to the captain of the heavenly host may possibly be an allusion to the order's motto: "Immensi tremor oceani". This huge work was immediately acclaimed for the extraordinary inventiveness of the motif, the archangel's superb pose in mid-flight, the outspread wings, the drapery flapping in the air, the powerful gesture, and the facial expression of calm serenity. Engravings of it were made shortly after its completion. Early records reveal that it occupied a distinguished space at Fontainebleau, was hung in the King's Cabinet at the Louvre, adorned the Tuileries Palace, and was then transferred to Versailles, where it was placed in the King's Bedchamber. The great Saint Michael had become a symbol of royal authority.

How to get to the next stop:
The next painting is on the left-hand side wall, between the columns.

Portrait de Baldassare Castiglione, écrivain et diplomate (1478 - 1529)
Portrait de Baldassare Castiglione, écrivain et diplomate (1478 - 1529)

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

08Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, Writer and Diplomat (1478-1529)

Raffaello Santi, known as Raphael

Artwork currently not on display; due to return in February 2021.

Author of the hugely successful Book of the Courtier, the diplomat Baldassare Castiglione was also Raphael's friend. The amicable relationship binding the painter to his model is conveyed in the intensity of the gaze that lights up the latter's face, shown frontally, while the bust is painted in a three-quarter view. In the foreground, the clasped hands are somewhat reminiscent of the Mona Lisa's, as is the general posture of the figure. The rapport between the painter and his model is like that between two people engaged in an informal conversation. The various shades of gray used for the black velvet doublet, warmly enhanced by the gray squirrel fur sleeves, the hat comprising a hairnet and a beret which encircles the face, the white patch of shirt, and the background against which the figure is set serve to embolden the flesh colors and highlight Baldassare's blue eyes. The very thin canvas on which this portrait is executed contributes to the magnificence of the sitter, because it helps the paint catch the light. Raphael seems to have used this new texture as a modulator. In the late quattrocento, wooden supports began to be replaced by canvas, which was to become increasingly widespread. Baldassare Castiglione was one of the great Renaissance humanists and, in his search for elegance, generosity and sobriety, Raphael was the perfect reflection of the ideals expressed in the book written by his friend.


How to get to the next stop:
On your left, enter Room 711. The Mona Lisa is in front of you.

<i>Portrait of Lisa Gherardini</i>, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, known as the <i>Mona Lisa</i> (the <i>Joconde</i> in French)
<i>Portrait of Lisa Gherardini</i>, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, known as the <i>Mona Lisa</i> (the <i>Joconde</i> in French)

© RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Michel Urtado

09Mona Lisa — Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, known as Leonardo da Vinci

The world's most celebrated painting has lost none of its mystery. Should it be regarded as a portrait of Mona Lisa, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, painted in Florence between 1503 and 1507, or as a representation of ideal beauty? The face is seen in front view, the bust in three-quarter view, with the sitter's hands crossed on an armrest. This manner of depiction is in keeping with Northern European portrait tradition, and would be borrowed by Leonardo's Italian contemporaries. He nevertheless infused his model with an essential quality: he brought her to life. The life-sized scale, the nearness of the figure whose hands are in the foreground, and the gaze turned towards the spectator all contribute to this sense of vitality. The famous smile, which Vasari described as "divine," invites the onlooker to meditate upon Platonic theories, according to which the smile on a graceful face is a reflection of the beauty of the soul. Could this smile lighting up her face simply be an onomastic reference that confirms La Gioconda's identity ("giocondo" in Italian meaning "light-hearted")? This impression of lifelikeness is also produced by Leonardo's use of sfumato, a technique that replaced firm outlines with hazy transitions from light to dark. It was the "right distribution of light" that gave rise to volume and suggested distance. The landscape behind the figure is bathed in a "light mist," and the mountains in the background are swathed in the atmospheric envelope.


How to get to the next stop:
Turn around to admire Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana.

Les Noces de Cana
Les Noces de Cana

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

10The Wedding Feast at Cana

Paolo Caliari, known as Veronese

Painted by Veronese between 1562 and 1563, this immense canvas once adorned the refectory wall of the Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice. The theme of the Marriage at Cana, drawn from the Gospel of Saint John, lent itself magnificently to the room. Instead of following the biblical text faithfully, Veronese based his work on Arentino's version of Saint John and transformed the scene into a lavish banquet, recalling a sumptuous Venetian lifestyle. And yet the work remains profoundly religious, as can be seen from the composition. The central vertical cuts through the body of Christ; the central horizontal lies on the balustrade: above Christ, the theme of the Eucharist is evoked by the butchering of the lamb; below Christ, the hourglass on the table and the dog chewing a bone, the symbol of death, evoke the destiny of mankind.
At the same time, the splendor of Venice is recalled through the beauty of the women, all dressed superbly and bedecked with jewels, and through the exoticism of certain figures wearing turbans. The sumptuous palette also pays tribute to Venice. The requirements concerning the pigments to be used imposed by Veronese's patrons here remind us how important color was for Venetian artists. This vast painting, which arrived at the Louvre in 1798, became a reference for young artists such as Delacroix. In his Salon reviews, Baudelaire also sang the praises of Veronese's "magical, heavenly, afternoon colors".

How to get to the next stop:
The next artwork is behind the wall of Mona Lisa.

Le Concert champêtre
Le Concert champêtre

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

11The Pastoral Concert

Tiziano Vecellio, known as Titian

Formerly attributed to his master Giorgione, this painting is now regarded as a youthful work by Titian, still bearing his master's influence. From the pastoral, elegiac atmosphere and the sensuality of the bodies caressed by the light, to the absence of biblical or mythological references, everything recalls Giorgionesque themes. Two young people, obviously from two different social classes, are engaged in conversation. One, clad in magnificent garments, plays the lute. The other, modestly dressed, turns his head towards his companion. Both of them ignore the two naked young women in the foreground, who are probably not human beings, but rather nymphs, allegories or deities. The one standing on the left seems to be dipping the vase she holds in her hand into the well, while the other, seated on the right and seen from the back, is a flute-player. Could the theme of the painting lie in this confrontation between the two musicians? Could it be an initiation scene in which the young shepherd is depicted the moment he abandons the woman playing the flute —the instrument associated with Dionysos, said to arouse human passions —in order to turn towards the man playing the lute, an Apollonian instrument that elevates the spirit? Giorgione was himself a lute player, and a familiar figure at the court of Catherine Cornaro in Asolo, where music and poetry were highly important. The "poems" were transposed into paintings that combined love, music and pastoral verse, but had no story.


How to get to the next stop:
The trail ends here. Take the exit behind you, then turn left. Continue all the way across the red room to the Mollien staircase. Walk down the stairs, then continue through the Michelangelo Gallery (room 403). Go down into room 405. Turn right to find the spiral staircase which will lead you up to the Pyramid exit.