My favorite aspect of museums has always been their capacity to create a sense of atmosphere. To me, the way that museums best create atmosphere is through the arrangement of their most decorative rooms. At the Princeton University Art Museum, the room I find to be most “decorative” and evocative of a certain period is the Medieval/Islamic gallery, which I have previously written about here. At museums with decorative arts galleries, I love to linger in period rooms and wonder what it would have been like to live there. They make me feel surrounded by art, by beauty, and by wonder. These feelings particularly struck me on a recent trip to the Louvre.
With ART 400 (my junior seminar as an art history major), I got an amazing opportunity to travel to Paris over fall break and visit a variety of art museums, often led by curators and Princeton University professors. Though these guided experiences were certainly unique and valuable to my education, my favorite moments were the ones where I got to explore museums at my own leisure. We spent multiple hours at the Louvre, wandering through the galleries and doing our best not to get lost. There were two ways we could have gotten lost—either in the crowds, or in the never-ending maze of rooms on the second or third floors that not many people visited. Those were the rooms I liked the best, and a large number of them tended to be period rooms, which hold a special place in my heart.
My breath was taken away by the patterned curtains, upholstered chairs, gold-paneled walls, chandeliers, plush beds. The marble columns, the floral rugs, the intricate tapestries, the masterful paintings on the ceilings. It felt just as flowery to see these things as it was to read them just now. In each room I was transported to a different, golden moment in time. And because the Louvre is the Louvre—so large and rich in its collections—this mental transportation felt different than ever before. It felt as intense as it could be.