April 28, 2017

Beware, for men will dazzle you but they will never enlighten you...

If you have lived in Paris for a while you know that Mme Pompadour is an important figure in French history. Asked by my husband over breakfast about why this Madame was famous, I answered promptly: "Why, she was the King's mistress of course!" After all, we are talking about France.

Not a great fan of the overwhelming Musée du Louvre, a guided tour by my favourite English-speaking tour guide convinced me to sign up on a visit anyway.

Winding our way through the thousands of tourists and the 38,000 objects the Louvre showcases, we headed straight for the 18th century collection of French paintings in the Denon wing which include works of Watteau, Fragonard and Chardin.

I was ready to admire an endless collection of portraits and landscapes knowing that our lovely tour guide Kelly could make them all come alive in an instant. What I was not prepared for was that we were only to study about 10 works of art - although the painting collection has more than 7500 works - and spend nearly three hours in absolute awe listening to Mme Pompadour's life, love and death.

Our Anglo-Greek guide has the gift of being an extraordinary story teller. Not only does she talk about lust, love, husbands, mistresses, jealousy, illness and death, she also enacts, even sings, rending her historical accounts fascinating and captivating.

Her account of real people and events told for entertainment would not be credible were it not for her profound knowledge of history, art, architecture, religion, mythology as well as political, social and economic demographics. Her narratives put France's cultural heritage into storylines that are fascinating to follow but also allow for some fun anecdotes to recall when guiding my visiting family and friends around Paris.

To enter the world of Watteau or Chardin, an imaginative effort is required, and our lovely guide managed to take us there within minutes of starting the tour. Her scenarios were designed to engage her audience by numerous strategies, such as intriguing narrative, humor, tearful drama, moral example, social outrage, sweet sentiment, and titillation.

Making my way out of the huge labyrinth that the Louvre resembles, I felt I had just watched a movie that I so much enjoyed I did not want it to end.

Maybe I should have left the last five pages of our guide's tale unread in order to keep on dreaming of Mme Pompadour's adventures, chief mistress of King Louis XV, the thirteenth lady in waiting to the queen, patron of the arts and a champion of French pride.

Checking out the surroundings before entering the almighty building.

During the eight-year regency that followed the death of Louis XIV in 1715, the center of French society shifted from the royal palace at Versailles to Paris. The refined social life that flourished in the more intimate and private town houses of Paris replaced the pomp and ceremony of Versailles and set the tone for the rest of the century. 

A sophisticated elite cultivated a life refined to a degree scarcely seen before or since, with intimate social and intellectual gatherings, conversation, letter writing, and a fascination with the movements of the heart...

... and not only the heart!

Portrait of the Marquise de Pompadour by Maurice-Quentin Delatour. 
One of her famous quotes is: "Champagne is the only wine that enhances a woman's beauty."

No need for a break, Kelly's storytelling is fascinating.

A fragment of the Louvre's 18th century art collection 

A quick peek out onto the impressive courtyard.

Tourists everywhere you look!

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