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Loving Leo

I bet you thought I was serious about staying in to work and not going anywhere in Paris yesterday. I thought so too. But I got restless – it was a grey, chilly day, ideal for going somewhere. So I bundled up and hopped on the #27 bus across the street to see where it would take me – and it took me straight to the Louvre. It was 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon and the place closes at 6, so there was no line-up to get in and it wasn’t too crowded. That is, there were only one million, not two million people inside.

I headed straight for the special exhibit on Leonardo’s divine canvas, “La Sainte Anne,” a scene of the Virgin sitting on her mother Anne’s knee, reaching out for her son, who’s playing with the Lamb of God, actually pulling its ears as a child would. The exposition shows how Leonardo developed his ideas over nearly 20 years – how at first the trio were facing the other way, the lamb was John the Baptist, the backdrop was different – how he worked out meticulously, inch by inch, each facet. There are little sketches and then more detailed paintings, not only of faces and angles of perspective, but tiny details of light, of trees and drapery, of legs and arms and hands – the baby’s foot, the Virgin’s toes and her mother Anne’s. Just looking at Leonardo’s perfect sketch of a baby’s foot made me fall in love with humanity. We have all seen and loved that fat little foot.
How Mary is reaching out to her son is important – the fact that he’s holding the Lamb of God means he has accepted his fate, and in early “cartoons”, she’s trying to prevent him from holding the lamb, to save him. But by this final canvas, she has accepted her son’s future and simply reaches lovingly.
Talk about lovingly – have you ever seen such love, such grace and sweetness, in a painting? It was just restored over many months by a team of 16 Leonardo and restoration experts. The exposition shows how painstakingly they worked – and also, as was shown in London, shows the influence of this painter, and of this painting in particular, on the world of its time – how this work propelled younger artists like Michaelangelo and Raphael to the next heights of the Renaissance. In the last room were modern artists who similarly have copied and imitated, in their way, and a dissertation by Freud, who was fascinated that Mary and her mother seem almost the same age. My friend Lynn pointed out to me later that historically, Mary would have been about 13, so her mother might have been as young as 26. Leonardo’s two stunning, confident women do seem about the same age, and also ageless.
I bought a large reproduction – which is in the photo you see below – for my daughter. Soon she too will be playing with her baby boy, and her incredibly young-looking mother, just a tiny bit older than 26, will be beaming in the background. Not sure if we’ll have a lamb around, though.
I was in the Sully wing of this spectacular museum, so I went to find another special exhibition of the “Very Rich Hours of the Duc de Berry,” a series of exquisite paintings and lettering on paper, and then decided to explore the rest of the wing until closing time – the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, which I’d never visited before. Well, what to say – everything, beautiful. By the end, I was nearly alone, until we were shepherded out at just before six. By the exit, I got a sense of just how many people had been inside, even at closing time on a Sunday afternoon – many thousands.
I read some statistics – that Paris, with a population of 2.2 million, had 28.9 million visitors in 2011. There are 13,000 bars and restaurants, 970 art galleries, and 143 museums, and I just managed to make it to one. Well no, today I tried to make it two – I went to the Pompidou. But even getting there less than an hour after opening, I found the line-up endless, turned around, and walked home in the sun. It’s open later in the week till 11 p.m.; I’ll go back one evening. The best time to go, I found out yesterday, is late afternoon, when the tourists are getting tired and hungry.
So – walking and working and alone all day again today. Heaven. And also reading. Believe it or not, I left home with eight “New Yorker”s and have still got three or four to go. I just read two breathtaking stories – “Labyrinth,” by Roberto Bolano, and “Someone,” by Alice McDermott. Both highly recommended.
Time for a glass of wine. A bientot.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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