Thursday, May 21, 2009

Roman Antiquities Centerpiece of Musée des Antiquités Nationales

When I was in Paris last summer, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Greek, Roman, and Etruscan galleries at the Louvre. As a photographer, I was glad I wasn't having to dodge the crowds of visitors I encountered upstairs in the gallery containing the Mona Lisa. I was able to take my time and captured some excellent shots of the beautiful antiquities displayed there. I didn't really stop to wonder why so few visitors loitered in those spacious halls.

"It’s one of the best collections in the world and hardly anyone comes,” said Ludovic Laugier, a curator at the Louvre. “I want to stop people and say, ‘Look, look at what you’re missing!’"

Now, I find that I, too, missed an entire museum dedicated to Roman artifacts of ancient Lutetia (Paris). I thought I had covered most of the major museums in Paris. I may have to plan a return trip after all!

[Image - Fibula with cameo Roman 7th century C.E., gold, garnets, glass, cameo Charnay (Saône-et-Loire). Courtesy of Musée des Antiquités Nationales]

The Musée des Antiquités Nationales (Place Charles de Gaulle, St.-Germain-en-Laye; 33-1-3910-1300; is even less frequented. The museum, originally a chateau rebuilt by Francis I in the 16th century, was founded in the 1860s by Napoleon III, a history and archaeology buff who was obsessed with ancient Rome.

On display are a multitude of objects from Roman daily life: agricultural and carpentry tools, cooking pots and utensils, gold jewelry, sewing needles, surgical instruments, hunting lances, coins, musical instruments and playing dice. For a woman’s toilette, I found hand mirrors, perfume bottles, tweezers, a scraper to wipe off sweat, even an applicator for face powder in the shape of a human finger.

Patrick Périn, the museum’s director, showed me his favorite statue: a crude, grim-faced Mercury, carved not in fine marble, but in limestone. “He is the ugliest thing, a typical Gaul, in rough Gallic dress, not a Roman,” Mr. Périn said. “But look at his kind face. I love him.” - More: NY Times
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