A Companion of Diana
Over the past month, I have often thought about how wonderful it was last year at this time to spend a week in Paris, which has led me to look again at the things I brought home with me, including photos, 102 of which are of art objects in the Louvre, taken during the one day I spent in the museum.
I have only included two of the photos in the blog so far, one in blog post 12 and the other in blog post 16. In blog post 12, I used one of them to illustrate what the crowds were like around the Mona Lisa. In blog post 16, I used another because, in the background of a statue I had been photographing, a portion of a wall painting by Giovanni Romanelli (1610-1662) could be seen. Only two photos, but they record the only Italian paintings I photographed while I was in the museum, and the second one really doesn’t count as a photo of a painting, because I was aiming at the statue and got the painting by chance. It won’t be much better when I move on to other national collections in The Louvre: All the Paintings; I took far more photos of statues—79—than I did of paintings—23 (seven of these were of the Mona Lisa and the crowd in front of it). The only other paintings I photographed were from 19th-century France, and they all were housed in room 77 of the first floor of Denon.
The rest of the photos are of statues. I like to look at paintings more than I like to look at statues, but in museum visits I tend to take more photos of statues than of paintings. My preferences put me on both sides of a rivalry that some Renaissance Italian painters felt between their art and the art of sculpture. I have mentioned this rivalry before in the blog, in blog post 20, when I was writing about Daniele da Volterra’s two-sided painting of David and Goliath. I said there that “according to the Atlas Database, he was attempting to demonstrate that painting had the potential of creating effects similar to sculpture’s rendering of three dimensions”. I gave a link to a photo of the two-sided painting in its present Louvre location, which shows that the term “two-sided” doesn’t do justice to the physical impressiveness of da Volterra’s effort.
I have also come across a number of references to this rivalry between painting and sculpture elsewhere in the Louvre book. For example, in the commentary on a Self-Portrait by Giovanni Gerolamo Savoldo (ca. 1480-1548), Savoldo’s motive is described as “to demonstrate the superiority of painting over sculpture”. The same phrase is used a few pages later in a commentary on Woman in a Mirror by Titian (ca. 1488-1576).
I’ve been wondering whether my preference for photographing statues is somehow connected to this painting/sculpture competition. It occurs to me that, on a much, much humbler scale, I am like the Renaissance painter whose goal is to demonstrate that the visual impression of three dimensions can be captured in a two-dimensional image. But standing in the museum in front of the work of art doesn’t give me an opportunity to create the environment around the object that I’m hoping to recreate in all its glory, including its three-dimensionality; rather, I’m working with the environment that the museum designers have provided. The environment around the statue—the open space it occupies, the depth and textures of the surfaces that bound the space, the play of light within the space—is as much what I’m photographing as the statue itself. The environment around a painting—the painting’s placement on a flat surface, almost as if it is a window into another world—is very different from what typically surrounds a statue in a gallery setting. It occurs to me that the three dimensions the statue occupies are not only in the figure but also in the space that it commands around itself, something like the personal space psychologists talk about so much nowadays.
I have included here one of my favorite images from my Louvre photographs. It is of a sculpture by René Frémin entitled A Companion of Diana (1717), created for Louis XIV’s gardens at Marly, outside of Paris, and housed now in the Marly Courtyard on the lower ground floor of the Richelieu wing. I like that the statue and the wall behind it are both gray and with a smooth stone surface; there is a strong contrast between the activity in gesture and movement of clothing shown in the statue and the monumental stillness of the background. The young woman’s right forearm and hand repeat the strong line of the stone molding behind them, but her extended fingers expressively stand out against the uniformity of the molding’s parallel lines. Light adds a great deal here; there is the brilliant definition of features and details, but the light also provides a strong contrast to the pools of shadow that form wherever the light does not reach.
For comparison, I include a reproduction of the statue from the Atlas Database. I wish I had done better with the dog, but I was lucky in the light and the surroundings that came with the statue on the day I was at the Louvre.