It’s no secret that the Louvre is one of the famous museums in not just Paris, but the world. It’s the largest art museum in the world and the most visited art museum with 8.1 million visitors in 2017. The 782,910 square foot museum in the 1st arrondissement is home to approximately 38,000 objects ranging from antiquity to the 21st century.
That is to say, it’s a pretty magnificent museum. I’ve gone a plethora of times but it’s quite magical to be able to go there just on a whim for a couple of hours or for a class field trip. I recently went to observe various portraits of French political figures for my French Revolution and Napoleon class. Venturing there and making my way through the hordes of tourists could be categorized as a bit of a hassle. But I suppose that’s what comes with going to the busiest museum in the world.
It’s also a *huge* place. Upon arriving with a friend, Megan, and making our way through security, we got horrendously lost. We went towards the main wing of the museum only to be told that we were in the wrong place. The exhibit we were trying to see was small and hidden and on the other side of the museum than where we were. Cue a 10-minute walk through the “lobby” and we arrived at the entrance to the Theatre du Pouvoir. I took out my student I.D. (which incorrectly lists my birthday as being in 1967 instead of 1997 – an administrative error) and my Washington State I.D. and was nearly turned away. The woman checking tickets spent a solid minute or two looking at my I.D.s, up to me, back to my I.D.s, etc. She finally let me in and Megan and I made our way to the exhibit.
We were there to observe the changes in portraits of political figures in France throughout the past three centuries. Starting with Henry IV, Louis XVI, and Napoleon, the exhibit showcased paintings, sculptures, and photographs, culminating in contemporary Presidential portraits. The art demonstrated how political images, opinions, and visual rhetoric have changed throughout time in France.
I’ve never seen any portraits in person of United States Presidents but in France, there is an aura of regalness in the portraits. Generally, the political climate here is one of respect – something pretty absent in the current government of the United States. The recent portraits of the Obamas did display many of the same qualities observed in the French paintings, which was quite fascinating.
Walking through the museum, I couldn’t help but wonder what the portrait of the 45th President of the United States will look like. Even though he generally is quite disapproved of, will the portrait be overtly regal like the ruthless Napoleon? Or relaxed like the Obamas? I’ll be curious to see.
Political portraiture in France mainly attempts to show the power and intensity of the rulers. It was, and is, a form of rhetoric that shows the pride that France generally has had in their political system and leaders.