Praise for My Books

"Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a gifted writer of great promise. I have a gut feeling we have a new star rising in Punjab's literary horizon. She has an excellent command of English and a sly sense of humour."
- Khushwant Singh on The Long Walk Home

"An enjoyable tale of a sassy girl's headlong race up the corporate ladder."
- India Today on Earning the Laundry Stripes

Friday, 16 September 2011

My Louvre Top Ten

"As I emerged from the porch of Santa Croce, I was seized with a fierce palpitation of the heart; the wellspring of life was dried up within me, and I walked in constant fear of falling to the ground."

No, the above is not taken out of a horror story, nor is it excerpted from my upcoming thriller - in fact, the narrator, though in Italy, is not even being pursued by anything remotely mafiosi... So, what is happening exactly?

The narrator is an author, Marie-Henrie Beyle, who recorded the above in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio. It describes his reaction upon encountering Renaissance masterpieces in Florence in 1817. He wasn't alone. Rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion have been reported by innumerable people when exposed to art - it became so frequent that an Italian psychiatrist who observed and recorded several such cases termed it Stendhal Syndrome (Stendhal was the pen name of the sentient Marie-Henrie).

I can confess to having suffered a version of that syndrome during my own peregrinations in the Vatican museums and the Uffizi - when I came face to face with Michelangelo's Pieta, I had this overwhelming sense to kneel in front of it, much like I do in a Gurudwara ... so there, Stendhal, you aren't alone. However, since then I have developed my own prescription for dealing with the syndrome - checklists!

Over Easter we had a chance to visit the Louvre and since I am a believer in forewarned is forearmed, I had gone with my personal emollient in the eventuality that its treasures made me run like a headless chicken: Halt, Deep breathing, Course correction, Time for the checklist.

It doesn't help that Musee du Louvre is one of the largest museums in the world, the most visited art museum in the world, and a historic museum on account of it being the first public museum. Ahem! That first-time visitors to the Louvre will be overwhelmed is a given. Question is: how do you deal with it? Be selective, see the choicest ones, and believe firmly that life will not be so unfair as to not allow you another visit - mera number phir se aayega!

On that note, here's my Louvre Top Ten:

1. Portrait of Lisa Gheradini, known as Mona Lisa
    Leonardo da Vinci
    Location: Denon, 1st Floor - Painting (Italy)

You cannot not see the most famous painting in the world. My advice, see it and get it over with. Meeting Mona is a bit like encountering a celebrity in Chandni chowk - she's smaller than you thought, and before you can even begin to feast upon her, persistent elbowing from other anxious visitors will drown her in front of your eyes - crawl away.

 2. The Wedding Feast at Cana
     Paolo Caliari, known as Veronese
     Location: Denon, 1st Floor - Painting (Italian)

Crawl, in fact, toward the opposite wall where all is quiet as a sea of people behind is focussed on Mona. You'll not be disappointed - it is the biggest painting in the Louvre, 22 feet high and 32 feet wide. The painting recounts the first miracle (when Jesus turned water to wine) and also recalls the Last Supper in its representation (Christ at the center of the table, the groom and bride relegated to the extreme left) - in one single stroke Veronese has illustrated Jesus's entire divinity.

3.  The Death of the Virgin
     Michelangelo Merisi, also known as Caravaggio
     Location: Denon, 1st Floor - Painting (Italian)

Bias alert - this striking picture is one of my personal favourites. Caravaggio was a realist and his portrait of a dead Mary shows a mortal who, despite her holy self, was a woman. And yet, there is an intense spirituality to the harrowing scene of grief, which the painter coveys through his trademark use of chiaroscuro, the play of light against dark that Caravaggio pioneered.

4. The Fortune-Teller
    Michelangelo Merisi, also known as Caravaggio
    Location: Denon, 1st Floor - Painting (Italian)

Caravaggio's life was a humdinger - mixing with working-class people while being patronised by wealthy collectors and aristocrats. The blunt realities of everyday life lend an immediacy to his paintings such that even 500 years later they seem contemporary.

5. The Raft of the Medusa
    Theodore Gericault
    Location: Denon, 1st Floor - Painting (French)

Whilst in France's premier museum can't ignore the French painters, can we? And there are some brilliant works - The Raft is guaranteed to make you pause and study and feel, the despair, the panic, the utter helplessness of the group of people aboard the raft after their boat, the Medusa, sank. It is based on a true story wherein the survivors devoured the bodies of their dead companions to stay alive.

6. Liberty Guiding the People
    Eugene Delacroix
    Location: Denon, 1st Floor - Painting (French)

In this painting Delacroix relates his vision of the revolution that took place in Paris in 1830, an event he witnessed. The only woman in the scene dominates it completely - carrying a French flag, she represents the French republic. Why are her breasts bared? Er.. because she is French?! Jokes apart, since no woman would parade thus (true?!) she is unreal, and is an allegory, the artist's representation of an idea, the idea of liberty.

7. The Seated Scribe
    2600-2350 BC, anonymous
    Location: Sully, 1st Floor, Egyptian Antiquities

Sculpture time! The Seated Scribe is my ancient compatriot, a hoary scribbler seated cross-legged, a papyrus unrolled across his white loincloth, his missing brush poised to write. Believe you me, the scribe looks pretty real - his eyes looked deep into mine as I gazed at him in awe. His secret: those eyes are rock crystal set in copper!

8. The Winged Victory of Samothrace
    Around 190 BC, Statue in Paros marble, Anonymous
    Location: Denon, 1st Floor, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Daru Staircase

The headless, armless sculpture represents the goddess, Victory, also called Nike. When she was found in 1863, the statue resembled a jigsaw puzzle, shattered as she was in more than a hundred pieces! After the statue was painfully reconstituted, she posed another problem: where to place her? At 10 feet tall, she weighs a few tons, requiring something strong to support her. Displayed on the recently built staircase, she is the only sculpture of her weight on the upper floors!

9. Aphrodite, known as Venus de Milo
    Around 100 BC, marble, Anonymous
    Location: Sully, Ground Floor, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities

In the league tables of fame, Aphrodite ranks with Mona, and is invariably surrounded by trigger-happy visitors. Suffer them, she's worth it. She is of Greek provenance and it is believed that all later, Roman,  representations of female beauty are modelled on Aphrodite - Venus is the Roman name for her, the Goddess of love. She was designed to be viewed from various angles and the fact that she is displayed in the middle of the room means you can quietly circumambulate her without disrupting others. Enjoy!

10. Slaves, Dying Slave and Rebel Slave
      1513-1515, marble, Michelangelo Buonarroti
      Location: Denon, Ground Floor, Sculpture (Italy)

Last but never the least, Michelangelo's slave sculptures. It is very rare to find sculptures by Michelangelo outside of Italy - most of them are still in places for which they were commissioned. These slaves were meant for Pope Julius II's tomb - however, with changing fortunes, they weren't accepted for the final monument and Michelangelo gave them to Roberto Strozzi, a friend living in France. They are an ambitious representation in delivering the shape of a body from the matter that once entrapped it.

After you're done pounding the corridors of Musee du Louvre, reward yourself to crisp Chardonnay and molten chocolate at Cafe Melion as you savour stunning views from the rooftop terrace.

Finally, the Louvre is too bountiful for any list to even attempt an iota of justice. Inshallah, life is long ...


  1. I liked the "The Wedding Feast at Cana". Compared to Mona Liza, this one is bigger. I found it ironic to hang both of them face to face.

    On my visit to Louvre, I discovered Gericault & Delacroix. I loved their paintings. "Liberty guiding the people" is one of my favorites.

  2. @ Nona: The Mona Lisa owes her fame to the fact that she was famously stolen and retrieved and then there is this perennial tussle between the Italians and the French as to whom it rightfully belongs ... Nothing like some drama to spice up things!

  3. This comes a couple of years late :( But 6/10 I think isn't too bad. The Louvre is basically one huge maze where everyone is trying to find Mona Lisa. It's a pity!