Inspiration from the Past at the Louvre – Lydia Yi’ ’22

It’s no secret that the Louvre is perhaps the most well known museum in the world. Last summer, I visited Paris with my family for the first time and was thrilled at the chance to finally experience the museums I’d dreamed about— Musée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie, and of course, the Louvre. Though, as I passed the renowned glass Pyramid and the crowds of tourists,  I wondered if the experience of actually seeing world-famous works of art would live up to the anticipation. Nevertheless, the knowledge of standing in a labyrinth of art— the city’s largest museum, each work crafted from an artist’s own hands and a reflection of their heart and their respective places in society, was enough to remind me that there’s always something to learn for the willing viewer. 

View of the pyramid by I.M Pei in the courtyard (photograph by Lydia Yi)

Of course, the Mona Lisa (La Joconde) was shockingly small, covered by a glass protector, surrounded by a throng of people holding their phone cameras up, and at the end of a long line. Still, the experience of seeing a work of art face-to-face is something that cannot be replaced. As with other surrounding art, casting your eyes on the texture of the paint, the true proportions, and the unfiltered colors reminds us that someone long ago created this from a blank canvas and hoped that it would be remembered as a masterpiece by people in the future. 

The Winged Victory of Samothrace was as unflinching as the marble it was carved from, standing tall and appropriately set on a raised platform over its awe-struck viewers. Even millenia later, its strength and beauty remains, and is perhaps even greater when we acknowledge how long its painstaking detail has survived. Yet I was surprised to read that she is depicted standing on the prow of a ship, announcing the victory that she embodies and originally overlooking a sanctuary in honor of gods invoked to protect seafarers and grant naval strength. I often find myself forgetting that these objects we know as masterpieces, as exceptions that stand out in the history of artmaking, were tied to function as well. The intensity of the movement depicted in her wings and dress has meaning besides technical skill or beauty for its own sake; art is of service to life, in one way or another. 

One of my favorite sculptures: Winged Victory of Samothrace, c. 190 BCE (photograph by Lydia Yi)

Visiting room after room of art and history seemed to constantly reinforce the importance of art as deeply tied to the human experience. I found that I understood the beauty of ancient things and of delving into the remnants of past civilizations as a recognition that the same universal values are always present: love, endurance, family, and more. 

One profoundly relevant masterpiece I remember seeing is Liberty Leading the People, painted by Eugène Delacroix to commemorate the 1830 French Revolution. Up close and on a large scale, I found it impossible to forget that with all the richness of color and dramatic pathos, allegory lies in both truth and idealism. Amidst the horror of war and death, the personified Liberty leads the people of her country in pursuit of the future they believe in. 

Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830 (photograph by Lydia Yi)

Today, with all that is going on in the world, we can be reminded of the resilience of human nature. Change comes from not only belief and passion but from action, and I am encouraged by all we are doing to dismantle systems of oppression. Freedom is both an individual right and a collective responsibility, and I hope this piece inspires the solidarity that has driven change throughout history.