I wanted to find the oldest object in the Musée du Louvre. For a museum with the aim of being universal and showing humanity's heritage, where did they consider the beginning of this heritage to be?
The oldest object in the Louvre is a gypsum statue from Ain Ghazal (from around 7000 BC) in the Department of Near Eastern Antiquities. I was immediately drawn to this department, where I had spent a shamefully little amount of time.
I don't know much about ancient art and artifacts from the Near East, so I went to the Louvre's website for help with my visit. The museum offers printable trails on various themes: love, Christmas, scale, artistic genres... and Sumerian city-states.
Forgive me if my heart did not skip a beat at the idea of spending a Friday evening with Sumerian city-states. I was never enthralled by my studies of Mesopotamia in school. But I had always been taught that this was a major birthplace of civilization, and there were thus many 'beginnings' to examine: the beginnings of human representation, of cities, of writing...
This trail was very promising for my quest.
Was it an exciting Friday nocturne?
Yes and no. The text of the trail was dry like a textbook, reminding me of my initial boredom in studying these subjects. But, unlike my history class in high school, I was surrounded by beautiful and curious objects that illustrated what I was reading. The great ancientness of these artifacts was astonishing.
The trail covered two galleries. I was especially moved by two general themes and one impressive statue.
THE BIRTH OF WRITING
The objects bearing witness to the birth of of writing blew me away. I was so impressed by the physicality of these objects. Studying them in school, I only saw the transcription in pen of their pictographic signs; but, when these tablets are in front of you, you can walk around them and see how sturdy or delicate the objects are. It is mind-blowing to think of these records making their way through the millennia.
THE FEMALE FORM
There were quite a few nude women in these galleries. The trail suggested that they represent a protective deity, or a "mother-goddess", who embodied fertility, an important trait in these agricultural communities.
Look at the three Halaf figures in the photo below. The women are basically reduced to breasts and thighs, and look like they are in a position to give birth. These characteristics definitely point to a representation of fecundity!
Ebih-il, the Superintendent of Mari
This statue is stunning. After spending time with smallish objects in the previous gallery, the scale of this artwork is surprising. The statue represents a high dignitary praying, and it is much more realistic than the female forms above. He is wearing a traditional fleecy skirt called the kaunakes. I love his cheerful smile, lit up by intense blue eyes inlaid with lapis lazuli.
An interesting moment of juxtaposition occurs when you look beyond the statue to see the Cour Puget behind it. This courtyard displays French outdoor statuary from the 17th to 19th centuries. I love the unlikely interactions that can only be created in museums.
Musée du Louvre (Richelieu wing, ground floor)
Address: Palais du Louvre 75001 Paris ∣ Métro: Palais-Royal Musée du Louvre (line 1 or 7) ∣ Opening hours: Wednesday to Monday from 9am to 6pm, open until 9:45pm on Wednesday and Friday