Down the Louvre Rabbit Hole

by theresamoritz

40-07-07/50Entry 7 April 6, 2013

As promised in the last post, I’m going to write here about the difficulties I had when trying to locate an electronic reproduction of Titian’s The Madonna of the Rabbit. The story has a happy ending: I eventually found a copy of the painting that I was able to include in this post, as well as a substantial online video analysis. But it isn’t all good news: the problems I had with The Madonna of the Rabbit are similar to ones I have often had when working with the Louvre book’s companion DVD and also when consulting the Louvre’s website (www.louvre.fr).

Let me start with the happy ending: access to an excellent analysis of the Madonna of the Rabbit. Here is the URL: http://musee.louvre.fr/oal/viergeaulapinTitien/indexEN.html.

Now here’s the bad news: I found this analysis by chance after having run into problems with both the DVD and the Louvre website.

First, I’ll describe the pitfalls of using the DVD to locate the painting. I opened the home page and selected the single menu choice, “Enter the Museum,” which appears in the lower righthand corner. The next page has four menu options: “Artists,” “Collections,” “Rooms,” and “Search.” I have worked primarily with “Artists” and “Search”; I am interested in the others, but I will limit myself here to the two I have spent most time with. I started with “Artists” rather than “Search” because I usually get better results from it. The “Artists” page has a display of portraits and a white dialog box labeled “Search Artists”. When I typed in Titian’s name and hit “Enter”, a white box appeared to the right and above the dialog box; it showed two very small reproductions of paintings, both by Titian, but neither of them The Madonna of the Rabbit. According to the Louvre book, Titian has 13 works in the museum. I tried entering Titian’s full name, Tiziano Vecellio, but I got the same two results. Clicking on one of them led to a much larger reproduction of the painting, along with details of artist, painting title, dimensions, etc., such as appear in the book; moreover, this larger reproduction has a zoom function for use in examining the painting. So, if The Madonna of the Rabbit had appeared in the list of results for Titian, I would have been taken to a larger reproduction and been able to examine it, as well as save a copy of it.

At this point, I was actually quite close to The Madonna of the Rabbit, but there was nothing on the “Artists” page that directed me to it. I found it by clicking on the reproduction of one of the two paintings the search had located and then scrolling down below the reproduction. There was a much smaller reproduction displayed, along with two lines, with arrows on either end, and between them a line of type that contained, along with other words, Titian’s name. I touched one of the arrows, and the type moved. Soon another small reproduction of a Titian work appeared. The Madonna of the Rabbit soon followed. Touching the small reproduction produced the larger reproduction.

Thus, the DVD database did contain The Madonna of the Rabbit, but “Artists” did not provide a clear path to the painting through its main search function. I decided to go back to the main “Search”. I found that Titian’s name led me to a painting in the same database that my other search had gone to, but this time the first painting shown was not by Titian but by Alexander Hesse. I believe it was included because the painting’s title, Funeral Rites for Titian after his Death in Venice during the Plague of 1576, included Titian’s name. Still, from this starting point, I was able to locate The Madonna of the Rabbit; I also tried the “Advanced Search” option under “Search”, which I hadn’t tried before; I found that entering Titian’s name and the painting’s name, The Madonna of the Rabbit, led directly to the painting in the same database.

I tried one other search the DVD provides, which is a link to the Louvre website, or, rather, to the Atlas Database, which is described on the site as covering “all the works exhibited in the museum.” I have visited it frequently and found information beyond what accompanies pictures in the DVD’s own database, as well as expanded views of details of some works. When I typed Titian’s name into the Atlas Database, I received 17 results, but none of them The Madonna of the Rabbit. Typing in Madonna of the Rabbit produced no results. Several other paintings presented in the Louvre book also were not included in the 17, whereas Hesse’s painting and works by several other artists were. As with the results I got from using the keyword search on the DVD’s main “Search” menu, I was getting results where Titian’s name was mentioned anywhere, whether in the artist’s name, the work’s title, or in the additional information provided by the Atlas Database. So, one of the resources that I have frequently used was disappointingly ineffective in locating the Louvre’s Titian collection.

Second, I will comment on problems with the Louvre website. I used the “Search the Collection” feature under “Collections and Louvre Palace,” the fourth of five options on the Louvre home page; there is no search function on the home page itself. The default search under “Search the Collection” is called “Simple Search.” Titian’s name produced 26 results, which included all media, not paintings only. The works were alphabetized by title; only four of them were works by Titian; none of them was The Madonna of the Rabbit. The works that are located by the “Simple Search” are of interest, however, because each is linked to a detailed commentary. The “Simple Search” also separately reports results from the Atlas Database; a list of these works—essentially the same list I was taken to when linking to the database through the DVD—appeared below the 26 results I described above. It was frustrating to discover that a search for “Titien” in the French-language version of the website produced 42 results in the Atlas Database, including The Madonna of the Rabbit.

Having found, at last, although in French, the Atlas Database’s additional information on The Madonna of the Rabbit, I still had no idea that the website actually contained a much richer resource on the painting than any I had seen to that point. The discovery of this resource was quite by chance. I was looking at the Louvre home page, wondering what to try next. I was watching a sequence of pictures repeat through a space at the top of the page, when I noticed that one of them appeared to be a detail of The Madonna of the Rabbit. There was a counter at the bottom of the space; I clicked on it and brought up the detail again, confirming it was from The Madonna of the Rabbit, but then the sequence resumed. Then I tried clicking on the image of the painting itself, and I was taken to a page entitled “A Closer Look.” Here is the description from the page: “Our ‘Closer Look’ interactive multimedia modules allow you to see the details of an artwork through a magnifying glass, while commentaries and animations give you its historical and artistic background.” Scrolling down reveals an image of the Mona Lisa and a brief description of what is contained in the “Closer Look” at the painting. The Madonna of the Rabbit is the sixth work for which a “Closer Look” is provided; the video presents more than 20 minutes of narration accompanying a detailed visual analysis of the component elements of the work, along with a biography of Titian and a history of the painting’s creation, based on x-ray analysis of the canvas.

I’m very happy to have found it, but I am puzzled as to why such a wonderful resource was not more clearly marked. Even the existence of the “Closer Look” collection, where this resource is housed, is not obvious from home page; rather, it is only a menu option under “Learning About Art,” one of the home page’s five menu options.

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