The Cour Marly in the Musée du Louvre is grand.
Filled with natural light and a forest of ficus trees, the courtyard houses an army of grand marble statuary. These stone figures display movement despite their insistent stillness, with rearing horses, racing gods and goddesses, harmonious allegories of rivers and seasons...
But the statues also display movement in their past lives, traveling and going on detours before finding refuge under this intricate glass ceiling.
FROM MARLY TO THE LOUVRE
This ensemble of statues was created to embellish the gardens of the Château de Marly, a country palace on the Seine where Louis XIV entertained his close acquaintances. The most celebrated artists of the day were commissioned for this ambitious project at the end of the Sun King's reign.
At the death of Louis XIV, the young Louis XV was installed in the Château des Tuileries, where the garden (designed by Le Nôtre) did not yet have any statues. Obviously, the solution was to move many of the statues from Marly to Paris.
The Revolution brought about more movement; the statues went to the Tuileries, which had become the "jardin national", to Brest, and even to the entrance of the Champs-Elysées.
After these detours, the statues were gradually given protection under the roof of the Louvre, starting in 1870. Life outdoors had been rough on the marble, under the damaging reign of wind, rain, dust, vandalism and bird poop.
And, just like that, the statues were once and for all expelled from the gardens,
FROM OUTSIDE TO INSIDE (SORT OF)
How to best display these artworks, that were conceived and crafted for such a specific context?
A room dedicated to these Marly statues was opened in the Louvre in 1972, but it was in 1993 that the Cour Marly that we know today came into being. I.M. Pei and Michel Macary covered the old Finance Minister's courtyard with glass, in the same mode as their newly installed glass pyramid.
Natural sunlight streams in the courtyard in orderly grids of shadow and light. A rational series of four ascending levels was installed, designed to imitate the intended angles of viewing the statues.
Beyond the sunlight, the original location of these artworks is evoked through modest ficus trees. Visitors can sit on what look like park benches, spending a moment amidst the statues, basking in the sun's light filtered through the glass ceiling. The museum also made a concerted effort to include reference images on many of the statues' labels that show period engravings of their original placements.
Through minimal elements, the visitor's imagination is free to place the statues back in the gardens.
TRACES OF PAST LIVES
Though the statues are are protected from the elements in their new home, they still bear the marks of their former lives. The textures of weathered marble cover the once smooth surfaces. Missing fingers, toes, and occasional noses are the casualties of a life lived outdoors.
The park of the Château de Marly is ever-present in this space.
Oh, and there are snails.
Well, one snail shell, tucked into a goddess's drapery, from when the statue was on display in Brest. This shell from an unknown era clings to the marble, claiming its space.
Musée du Louvre (Cour Marly, 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
Read more about an evening of dance in the Cour Marly.