This article was published in first issue of Sanlian Life Weekly in 2020. The original title was Journey to Discover Beauty of Human Body.
The ancient Greeks considered most beautiful age to be puberty before growing a beard, and ancient Romans believed that wisdom, morality and a sense of responsibility increase charm of a person. They were looking for "Virtus" (represents masculinity, perfection and courage).
Chief Writer / Zhang Yulin
Kaufmann's Head in Room 344 on ground floor of Syrian Room, a Hellenistic work from 150 BC
When Louvre opened in 1793, it had only two departments: paintings and antique works of art, which became ancient Greek, Etruscan and ancient Roman departments. This department differs from other departments in that it has two qualitatively different components: one is decorative sculpture of 17th and 18th centuries, and other is excavations from Mediterranean of ancient Greece and Rome. To this day, this department is third largest (306 collections) after arts and crafts (320 collections) and painting (314 collections).
In addition to collections of ancient Greek pottery and some excavated cultural relics, main category of this department is sculpture. The origin and development of sculpture, especially round sculpture, has a clear and traceable context in this department, embodying exploration and understanding of "beauty of human body" at dawn of Western civilization.
How to get to museum
The best way to see ancient sculptures is to enter through entrance to Denon Pavilion in Louvre, first go down to basement and you can see evidence of existence of Aegean civilization before Greek. One of them is "Head of a female figurine" in room 170 (c. 2700-2300 BC, marble, height 27 cm). This is a very special sculpture from Cyclades between mainland Greece and Crete in ancient times. The sculpture often embodies whole body of a woman. The face is an elongated oval with a small top and a large bottom, without eyes, nose is an elongated trapezoid. Due to its remarkably simplistic, geometric and abstract nature, this form has been favored by contemporary artists who are clearly influenced by Picasso, Brancusi and Modigliani. Another is work No. 26 "Mrs. Oxygen" (ca. 640-630 BC, limestone, height 75 cm) in same room. This work was discovered during time of Cretan civilization. This civilization pays attention to worship of mother goddess, their typical sculpture of goddess holding a snake with both hands and a cat on her head. The form of goddess is often a long skirt with a thin waist and bare breasts in upper body, which is exactly same as that of Madame Oxai's sculpture. And her U-shaped face, neatly styled hair and a strict frontal look are just style of Daedalus, legendary sculptor from island of Crete. She is not only evidence that Aegean civilization was influenced by Oriental style, but also prototype of female "Cora" (Cora) in tomb sculptures that began to appear in later Greek civilization.
Sculpture "Lady Oxysi", discovered during civilization of Crete
After reaching first floor of Louvre, we will make a journey of retrograde sculpture: from Rome to Greece. In room 420 on this floor, you can see clay coffins of Etruscans, ancestors of Romans. Among them, most representative is "paired pottery coffin" (about 520-510 BC, colored clay, height 111 cm, length 194 cm, width 69 cm). The work was discovered in Cerveteri, an area famous in antiquity for its clay products. On a clay coffin on its side lies a couple. The women are all dressed up, wearing round hats and leather shoes. The man's upper body is naked, he lies behind woman's side and supports woman. This posture is a popular banquet position in Middle East and Greece, but Etruscan civilization was civilization with highest status of women in world at time, and it was also only area where women could enter a banquet and hold a more important position than male host. This sculpture is most important evidence. The woman's left hand is supported by a leather wineskin, and her right hand, like man's left hand, probably holds vessels for wine. Another feature of Etruscan civilization is holding of a banquet at funeral of dead and toasts to deceased and living colleagues, and gesture of "drinking in pairs" proves that husband and wife are an important basic relationship in this society. This statue was also printed as a poster and displayed in Paris metro with text: "The joy of a couple is not in dramatic ecstasy, but in daily joy."
Next, enter room 410 where you can see a statue of Roman general Agrippa (ca. 64 BC - 12 century BC) (ca. 25 BC - 24 AD). BC, marble, height 46 cm). This marble statue is one of most elaborate statues of General Agrippa. The Romans had a different view of most beautiful age of man than ancient Greeks. Ancient Greece considered most beautiful age to be puberty before growing a beard, while ancient Romans believed that wisdom, morality and a sense of responsibility increase a person's charm. and courage). Thus, middle age and even old age became popular objects of depiction in Roman statues. In this statue, Agrippa's middle-aged appearance is reflected in his facial muscles and serious expression. The hairstyle shows that this statue is a copy of another bronze statue, and its mother is probably a full-length bronze statue of Agrippa in Pantheon in Rome, built in 25 BC. Completed in Rome, there are many copies of this version. Agrippa was son-in-law of Roman emperor Augustus and an important political and military figure. His statue, like other statues of important historical figures in Rome, was copied countless times, proving that ancient Romans were well versed in ideology. The importance of image artifacts in propaganda and power of "repetition" .
Pavilion of Syria, ancient Greek statues in exhibition hall of Parthenon
From Denon Pavilion to Sully Pavilion, he truly entered heyday of ancient Greek sculpture. Here it is necessary to point out that one of main foundations of our study of ancient Greek sculpture today is a replica of ancient Rome. A large number of ancient Greek sculptures that can be seen in museums today are Roman copies, which also explains phenomenon of multiple versions of sculptures under same name. On basis of fidelity to original works, reproductions of ancient Romans were often modified in accordance with situation of time, and most of bronze sculptures were replaced with raw marble.
The "Sleeping Hermaphrodite" in room 348 (original ancient Greek work created in 2nd century BC, with a marble mattress in 17th century, marble, length 169 cm, height 89 cm) is such a copy of Taste. This sculpture embodies late Hellenistic style of Greece, which is direction of all late styles: theatricality. The back of sculpture looks like a naked woman with a voluptuous figure and round buttocks, but if you go to other side, you can find coexistence of protruding male organs and plump breasts. This typical Hellenistic style, half erotic, half humorous, depicts Hermaphrodite, child of Hermes and Aphrodite, a hermaphrodite. It also shows unity of two sexes in Plato's concept, as well as existence of most ideal person, possessing body and spirit of both sexes.
Compared to staging of Hermaphrodite, "Venus de Milo" in room 346 (also known as "Venus with Broken Arms", circa 1st century BC, marble, height 202 cm) would have been much more worthy. Although also from Hellenistic period, she seems to display inner spiritual strength due to loss of her arms. The sculpture is carved from two pieces of marble joined end-to-end at point where goddess's dress falls and her naked body joins. The proportion of his body, that is, navel as a dividing line, is famous golden ratio (1:1.618), which is also a guarantee of visual beauty. The sculptor Alexandros (c. 2nd century BC - 1st century BC) was influenced by sculptor Praxiteles (c. 4th century BC), and his sculptures no longer adhered strictly to ancient Greek classics. The idealized and aloof style of sculpture emphasizes a youthful body, an elusive psychology and a visual sense of nudity.
Rising one level, in front of entrance to pottery world of Ancient Greece, there is a semi-circular platform above a section of steps named after goddess of victory, on which stands "Goddess of Samothrace" (c. 190 BC). , marble, height 328 cm). This statue is a very rare piece of Ancient Greece that can be found locally. The place where they found her was a small hidden temple, and statue sat on prow of a marble ship carved in stone, facing pool, symbolizingwashing sea. Although it was discovered on island of Samothrace in northern Aegean, it has been proven that people of Rhode Island built it to commemorate victory in a naval battle. The sculpture is carved from a single piece of marble. The most surprising thing is pair of wings that goddess tried to spread, almost reaching limit of marble stretching and tension. The opposite balance of sculpture no longer comes from body itself, nor does legs bear weight, but from outstretched wings and whole body. The folds of goddess are located close to body, which not only shows her beautiful body lines, but more importantly, shows direction of wind, which greatly increases dynamics of whole sculpture. The goddess seemed to have just dived at great speed, and only at that moment landed on prow of ship, and her wings had not yet been retracted. Powerful potential energy raises air, forming a wind that blows clothes back. This detail connects sculpture of this moment with what happened earlier in time, and also hints at next action. It is a moment full of dynamics and implied stories, frozen in marble, and also connected with space around sculpture.
"Double coffin", a clay sculpture of Etruscans, ancestors of Romans, whose pose is a feasting pose
Heart of two strong men
An old sculptural part of Louvre is, in fact, desire of two strong men.
The first is Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717～1768), a well-known specialist in history of German art. Winckelmann's theory of art history defines exhibition strategy of Louvre. He believes that history of art, like human life, consists of processes of birth, growth and flourishing, aging and death. In same way, his periodization of art history is carried out. In Winckelmann's eyes, highest level of human art is ancient Greek and Roman period, and art after it is for him only a process of gradual decline. Also because of this position, he often deliberately transfers age of outstanding works of a later period to an earlier period. Important civilizations of non-Greco-Roman traditions such as Etruscan civilization were considered barbarian, placed in corridor, and were no longer studied or recognized until 19th century. Although Winckelmann is originator of white male Greek blue-blood tradition, and his theory has always been target of criticism from modern art theorists, Louvre museum system influenced by his theory has not been established since its opening in 1793. , has become a model for world's largest museums of antiquity, such as Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, National Archaeological Museum in Athens and Museum of Art and History in Vienna, all of which are built in accordance with it. An important physical basis for Winckelmann's theory is ancient sculpture.
Another strongman was Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). In 1806, Napoleon bought a collection of 695 antique sculptures from Roman prince Camillo Borghese (1775-1832). The Borghese family is most powerful collection family in Italy. Scipione Borghese (1577-1633) built palaces to store her collections from 17th century. At time, Prince Camille was Napoleon's brother-in-law and was in a financial crisis, although he did not want to sell his collection, he could not afford 13 million francs (still far below market price) that Napoleon had promised him. Napoleon is said to have paid him 8.3 million francs before he lost power in 1815. Napoleon handed over case to then curators Dominique-vivant. Denon (Dominique-vivant. Denon, 1747-1825, Denon pavilion is named after him) and Ennio Quirino Visconti (Ennio Quirino Visconti, 1751 ~ 1818). is curator of Musée Napoleon (predecessor of Louvre), and he is also one who evaluates each collection.
The Borghese collection bought by Napoleon includes Sleeping Hermaphrodites, Gladiator and Antinous, as well as a large amount of ancient Greek ceramics.
From abstract portrait of Cyclades to clumsy Lady Oxy; Inspired by wings of goddess of victory; from a fashionable and elegant Etruscan couple to a preoccupied General Agrhipps... The objects of these ancient sculptures are all "human bodies", which also reflect use of sculptor's own physical eyes. In early days of discovery of human body, there is a different understanding of its attractiveness. And builders behind it are from ancient Greek admirer and homosexual scientist Winckelmann to empire-builder and plunderer Napoleon... also penetrated this journey with their own experiences of beauty, strength and body.
[Zhang Yuling, a graduate of Peking University and Sorbonne University in Paris with a degree in art history, author of Bamboo Is Not Like Meat—Strength and Body in History of Western Art (CITIC Press, 2019 edition)] For more interesting reports, please refer to new edition of this issue "Understanding Louvre: Why we are obsessed with art", click product card below to buy