Ancient Things found in Paris

Me at the Roman Baths

In Paris, I have seen Roman Baths in the Musée du Moyen-Age and some remains of the Roman wall and some of a hypocaust system on Ile-de-la-Cité beneath the Parvis de Notre-Dame.

But the Musée du Louvre is one of the best places for the Classicist in Paris.

This morning I saw a bunch of paintings (there was some wee pic of a lady called the Mona Lisa, but whatev), and then, besides the Victory of Samothrace, I observed with some enjoyment a bunch of Greek vases and some Cypriot artefacts, ending the morning with the quickest run through an Egyptian exhibit in my life.* Then I dined.

The Victory of Samothrace

Following lunch, I went off to visit the rest of the Greco-Roman antiquities at the Musée du Louvre. I saw a very lovley Etruscan funerary statue of a couple, then a variety of other interesting things.

But things got really exciting for me when I wandered into a gallery and saw the head of a woman from a three-quarter view from behind. There she was, with that bun at the lower back of her head as well as the distinctive pouff of hair at the front. The Empress Livia (58 BC – AD 29), wife of Augustus (63 BC – AD 14). I danced over, and proclaimed, ‘Yes!’ quietly as I surveyed the sign.

Empress Livia (d. AD 29), wife of Emperor Augustus

Emperor Augustus (d. AD 14)

Then I danced over to a statue of … yes, Augustus! (Fist-pump!) Plus three Augustus heads! This was an Early Imperial treasure trove! Smiling with glee, I made my way to the start of this particular gallery of Roman art. Ah, yes, a Late Republican head. You can tell, the realism and severity reflect the uncertainty of the times.

Severe Late Republican Head (c. 50 BC)

Like a child, I surveyed the art in this room. And … what’s this? The Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus? You don’t say! How exciting!

‘Altar’ of ‘Domitius Ahenobarbus’ (late 2nd c. BC)

Mars (detail from Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus)

Detail of the cow for sacrifice (Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus)

I was also quite smitten by the examples of Roman wall painting. Very nice. Especially the fairy-eared, winged fellow. Looks like what C S Lewis dubbed the longaevi in his book The Discarded Image.

A longaevus? (from a villa near Pompeii)

Roman portraiture is so vivid, so real. I felt like I was looking at Agrippa himself (right-hand man of Augustus, 63 – 12 BC). I mean, pallid and bodiless. But, still. Agrippa. The man himself.

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (63 -12 BC)

And then that heroic nude of Marcellus.

Marcus Claudius Marcellus, nephew and son-in-law of Augustus (42 -23 BC)

Also … indeed! Indeed! The Ara Pacis! How wonderful! I mean, a fragment. But, still! Look at the relief carving! Look at the folds of that drapery! The skill, the essence of the moment!

Ara Pacis Augustae (13-9 BC)

Indeed, the skill of the ancients at drapery is one of the things that most caught my eye today, as in this statue of Empress Messalina:

Empress Valeria Messalina (AD 17-48), third wife of Emperor Claudius (10 BC – AD 54), and their son Britannicus (AD 41-55)

Or cute, little Nero:

Nero (AD 37-68), c. AD 50

Not that statuary is all that those Romans were good at. No, indeed. There was also a mosaic:

The Judgement of Paris, from Antioch c. AD 115-150

Continuing along, after a lovely double-faced stele with relief carvings from the cult of Mithras, I happily identified Marcus Aurelius (fist-pump, ‘Yes!’), and was enraptured by the luscious locks of Lucius Verus.

I even saw the head of a flamen. That’s right.

A flamen, an ancient Roman priest, c. AD 250-265

And then I giggled with glee upon seeing my fifth-century imperial friends, Theodosius II and Leo I. Good seeing you, guys. Great, in fact.

(Eastern) Roman Emperor Theodosius II (r. AD 408-450)

(Eastern) Roman Emperor Leo I (r. AD 457-474)

I continued on to have many grand adventures amongst the Greek statuary, including the mob that continually throngs the Venus de Milo — with the excitement of a lady who actually stepped over the barrier and laid a hand upon the statue for a photo! AS IF! She got yelled at and merrily stepped out.

The Venus de Milo (c. 130 – 100 BC); Look at that drapery!

I am also fond of the less famous Venus of Arles, by the Athenian sculptor Praxiteles (370-330 BC)

‘Vieux Pecheur’ (aka Seneca Dying), 2nd century AD

There were other Roman statues I enjoyed, such as Sénèque Mourant and one of Trajan that stands within the tradition of the Prima Porta Augustus. And a lovely porphyra Minerva. Although things get blurred — is that Greek or Roman?

As I surveyed the various Graeco-Roman antiquities on display in the Louvre, I was a bit miffed at how many people breezed by. As though, if it’s not the Victory of Samothrace or Venus de Milo, who cares about ancient art? I mean — part of the Ara Pacis! Trajan in your face! Livia, identifiable across the room!

But as I ran out of steam and entered rooms I knew less about, containing paintings/artefacts I enjoyed less than the Roman world, I started breezing through. No doubt a Rubens enthusiast would have shaken her head or an expert on Van Dyck would have told me that King Charles I wasn’t the only thing worth noting in that room.

But there is too much, I only have my own specialised knowledge. Yet this serves as a reminder that my knowledge increases my love of the art — and the art makes the world I have studied that much more real.

*I have seen Egyptian exhibits at the Glenbow, the ROM, in Egypt, in Milan, in Scotland, and at the Ashmolean Museum. Not counting the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, until my most recent visit to the Ashmolean, there was rarely anything new to say.

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