Thursday, January 02, 2014

Le Louvre: ancient Orient and Egypt

Code de Hammurabi. Musée du Louvre.
Musée du Louvre, 75058 Paris - France. + 33 (0)1 40 20 53 17. Horaires: Ouvert tous les jours de 9h à 18h sauf le mardi. Nocturnes jusqu’à 21h45 le mercredi et le vendredi. Visited on 2 Jan 2014

On this first visit of mine I embarked on a chronological journey, starting with ancient Egypt and Orient (Mesopotamia, Iran, Levant), 9000 years ago. Today I reached the last pharaon of Egypt, Cleopatra, a few decades before Christ, plus the extension to Coptic Egypt.

7000 years of history and pre-history in a day-long superficial overview (I skipped the most recent 2000 years in my visit of today). Bérénice Geoffroy-Schneiter writes in A Guide to the Louvre (2005) that the history of the Louvre's Department of Oriental Antiquities is "inseparable from that of French archaeological discoveries in the Near and Middle East".

The reconstruction of Le Cour Khorsabad, discovered by Paul-Emile Botta, is a monumental display of the power of the kingdom of Sargon II, king of Assyria.

But I am more impressed by the "birth of writing" exhibition (rez-de-chaussée: antiquités orientales, room 1), focusing on Sumerians around the year 2130 BC, and the Code of Hammurabi (room 3, 1800 BC), "the birth of the law" in its brutal variant of the lex talionis.

Many great archaeologists and diplomats have contributed to the building of the huge collections. They still do. From Meskene (Emar) excavations, in agreement with Jordan, came to be displayed in 1997 a remarkable statue of Ain Ghazal, from 7000  BC, the oldest major work at Le Louvre (Room D in this section).

The ancient Egyptian department was founded by Jean-François Champollion, the scholar who cracked the code of the Rosetta Stone. The stone itself, discovered by Frenchmen, was confiscated by the British during Napoleon's wars and is in the British Museum ever since.

The ancient Egyptian collection is currently displayed in two exhibitions. There is a thematic circuit (rez-de-chaussée, Égypte pharaonique, rooms 1-19). There are rooms devoted to maps, writing, arts and crafts, home, jewels, leisure, temples, Osiris, sarchophagi, mummies, tombs, the Book of the Dead, and gods and magic. The sphinxes and the temple sculptures are displays of majestic power. The obsession with afterlife is uncanny; as if the life on this side were but a prelude to the eternal afterlife.

In the next floor there is a chronological circuit (1er étage, Égypte pharaonique, rooms 20-30), starting with pre Pharaonic art (room 20 from 4500-3800 and room 21 from 3800-2700), and proceeding to Ancien Empire (2700-2200), Moyen Empire (2033-1710), Le Nouvel Empire (2033-1710), Akhenaton and Nefertiti (1353-1337), Tutankhamon and Horemheb (1337-1296), Ramses (1295-1000), the Persian rule (1000- ), the last Pharaohs, Cleopatra [VII], and the Roman rule. In the entresol there are also rooms about the Coptic Egypt.

The time leap of the ancient Egyptian collections is staggering. It is also staggering how rigid and formal Egyptian art was for thousands of years, but not always. There are periods of realism in the beginning and towards the end, and there is the most fascinating period of Akhenaton, breaking with traditional formalism, and venturing both into realism and grotesque exaggeration.

Having visited le Musée de l'érotisme a week ago I discover now the earliest male figurines sporting mighty erections, and the earliest female figurines showcasing their bare breasts with their hands. They are fertility cult figures from an age before the concept of art, and also from an age when the corporeal and the spiritual were undivided. Sexuality was natural and sacred.

Among my favourite discoveries: The Book of the Dead (rez-de-chaussée, Égypte pharaonique, room 17, papyrus roll opened in a vitrine in a very long corridor).
My itinerary 2 Jan 2014

1  3500-2900
1  naissance d'écriture *
1 bis
2  Mesopotamia
3  La Code de Hammurabi *
    Assyrie, Pazuzu
4  Cour Khorsabad *
5  "
6  "
7  La Susiane
8  Susa
9  Iran, Bactriane (Uzbekistan, N. Afghanistan)
10  Iran, la Susiane
11  Iran: iron age *
12  Iran - Empire Perse Archemenide / Darius
A  4000: Levant: Chypre
B  Levant: Syrie: Ougarit, Byblos
C  Levant: Syrie intérieure
D  7000: Levant: Palestine & Transjordanie. Ain Ghazal (7000). *
13-19 fermés
20-21 fermés aujourd'hui

1  A sphinx *
2  Nakhthorheb *
3  Maps
4  Tomb of Akhethetep *

6  Writing
7  Crafts *
8  Home
9  La parure
10  Les loisirs
11  A sphinx passage
12  Mighty temple sculptures *
12 bis "
13  Osiris
14  Sarchophagi
15  A mummy
16  Tombs
17  Book of the Dead (papyrus roll opened in a very long corridor) *
18  Gods and magic *
19  "

Égypte pharaonique, circuit chronologique
Corridor: guarded by two sphinxes
20  4500-3800 human figurines, roi-serpents, courtesanes
21  3800-2700 more pre-Pharaonic art
22  2700-2200 Ancien Empire
23  2033-1710 Moyen Empire
24  1550-1353 Le Nouvel Empire
25  1353-1337 Akhenaton, Nefertiti, naturalisme, libre [expr.]
26  1337-1295 Tutankhamon, Horemheb [real.]
27  1295-1009 Ramses
28  "
29  1000- Persia
30  Les derniers pharaons. Cléopatre [VII] [real.]. Roman period.

Égypte copte: Le Christ et l'abbé Ména.

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