The Louvre, being such a huge museum, is divided up into three “wings”:
- The big hollow square at the back, meaning the East, is called the Sully Wing, named after Maximilien de Béthune, the first Duke of Sully (1560–1641), who was the finance minister and chief advisor to King Henry IV.
- The north wing, which runs for several blocks along the Rue de Rivoli, is called the Richelieu Wing after Cardinal Richelieu (Armand Jean du Plessis, 1585–1642), who was not only a Cardinal but also the Chief Minister of King Louis XIII, the son of Henry IV.
- The south wing, which stretches along the right bank of the Seine, is called the Denon Wing after Dominique Vivant, Baron Denon (1747–1825), an archeologist, diplomat, author and artist who was appointed by Napoléon as the first director of the Louvre Museum in 1802. The Denon Wing is the most popular of the three (and hence the most crowded), because the Mona Lisa is on display there, also the Crowning of Napoleon and other well-known works.
In 2013, I had the great pleasure of spending a day at the Louvre in the company of the Belgian art connoisseur Eddy Dijssel, whom I had met through the now-defunct website VirtualTourist. We decided in advance to concentrate on the Richelieu Wing, where I hadn’t been for six years, because he wanted to show me some of his favorite paintings there and because I wanted to see the large collection of medieval and renaissance tapestries under his guidance.
In my first photo (above) Eddy is taking pictures of two famous paintings by Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675). On the left is The Lacemaker, from 1669-1671, and on the right is The Astronomer from 1668. These paintings are on display in room 38 on the second floor of the Richelieu Wing.
This portrait of Saint Madeleine (aka Mary Magdalene), by the Flemish painter Quentin Metsys (1466-1530), was bought by the Louvre in 2006 for a reported five million Euros. It is on display in room 9 on the second floor of the Richelieu Wing, along with three other paintings by the same artist.
This is another painting by the same artist, Quentin Metsys, called The Moneylender and His Wife. Here we have a contrast between the greedy money-lender, who is weighing pearls, jewels, and pieces of gold, and his pious wife, who is being distracted from the religious book she is reading. The Louvre’s website says that this painting “is an allegorical and moral work, condemning avarice and exalting honesty,” and that it was once owned by the painter Peter Paul Rubens.
A point to note is that the moneylender’s wife is reading a religious book, but it is not the Bible. In Catholic Flanders in the sixteenth century, reading the Bible was considered a subversive act, something only Protestants would do. In 1543, thirteen years after the death of Quentin Metsys, his sister Catherine and her husband were both put to death for reading the Bible — his head was chopped off and she was buried alive in the square in front of the church.
In another post, I quoted a short passage from the novel L’Œuvre au Noir, by Marguerite Yourcenar, which is set mainly in Flanders in the sixteenth century. This passage was about “the hanging of a certain tailor named Adrian, who had been convicted of Calvinism. His wife was also guilty, but since it would be indecent to have a creature of her sex hanging in the open air with her skirts dangling above the heads of the passers-by, it was decided to follow the age-old custom and bury her alive.”
So far, I have read two books by Marguerite Yourcenar, L’Œuvre au Noir and Mémoires d’Hadrien, both of which were recommended to me by Eddy Dijssel.
Another painting in the same room is this one of Saint Jerome in the desert by Joachim Patinir (1480-1524). Patinir was a student and friend of Quentin Metsys; when Patinir died in 1524, Metsys became the guardian of his children.
Next door in room 10 is this famous French painting from the Fontainebleau school of the late 16th century. It is presumed to be a portrait of Gabrielle d’Estrées, the chief mistress of Henry IV, and her sister, the Duchess of Villars. According to the label by the painting, the “ostentatious gesture” of the Duchess pinching her sister’s nipple “may be an allusion to Gabrielle’s pregnancy and the birth in 1594 of César de Vendôme, the illegitimate son of Henry IV.”
Location and aerial view of the Louvre on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2013. I revised the text in 2021.
See more posts on the Louvre in Paris.