"Niobides suppliantes". "Niobides en fuite".
As I made my way through the Louvre one evening, it felt like every artwork that intrigued me was some version of a Niobid. I would be pulled to one Ancient Greek statuette, and then another, and each time the label would say “Niobid”.
But what, I thought to myself, is a Niobid?
A quick online search led me to a rather grim Greek myth. Niobe, a mere mortal, boasted about having many more children than the goddess Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis. This did not go over very well on Mount Olympus. Apollo and Artemis quickly defended their mother’s honor by slaying all of Niobe’s children, the Niobids.
So, these statues of Niobids are actually representing dying Niobids.
I was slightly horrified to learn the sad fate of my new friends. And I was also curious about why I had been so consistently intrigued by different representations of the same myth. What is it about these macabre statues that is so attractive?
I think it is because these figures display so much movement, twisting and gesturing, even their garments are dynamic. They look like they are dancing. I erroneously interpreted this motion as joie de vivre, rather than a painful death. Oops.
The artworks are also beautifully presented. These galleries in the Sully Wing are my favorite in the Louvre (I’ve written about them here). Ancient objects are displayed in distinguished cases, under ornately painted ceilings, making this a cabinet of sculpted curiosities.
Do you find these gruesome artworks beautiful?
Musée du Louvre (Sully wing, first 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