Photographer's Note

A detail of the figures in the painting "The Burial of Atala," by Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824). I saw this in the Louvre for the first time in August, 2000, and it instantly became my favorite painting ever... I don't know why, really; there are just things that appeal to you, and this one did. Some background about it: The French title is Atala au tombeau, dit aussi Les Funerailles d'Atala (1808). The artist Girodet was a student of David around the time of the French Revolution. The Art Institute Website states that: "Girodet often portrayed Romantic themes and those from literature that involved the irrational and the exotic, often portraying them in an erotic manner. In this way, his works embody an aesthetic ideal, breaking down the boundaries between poetry and painting. In the Burial of Atala, Girodet paints a scene from Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand's tragic love story, 'Atala,' or 'The Loves of Two Savages in the Desert.' This novel exemplifies the melancholic, exotic description of nature and evocative language that becme trademarks of Romantic fiction, and it was immensely popular when it was published in 1801. It tells the story of the Christian maidn Atala, who frees the Indian brave Chactas from his enemies and finds refuge with him in the cave of the religious hermit Father Aubry. Having consecrated herself to God and a life of chastity, Atala takes poison when she fears that she is falling in love with Chactas. After her death, Chactas vows to become a Christian himself." Thus, the painting is based on a story of forbidden love and shows the emotion of the characters. It was commissioned by the director of a newspaper who opposed the Empire. Interestingly, Girodet's painting crosses the boundary from contemporary literature to religion, and its many elements are familiar. There was just something about this painting... the way the light illuminated the figures, this exquisite, delicate depiction of the figure's folded hands, romantic, tragic and erotic at the same time... enjoy!

The Louvre Palace complex is located on the Right Bank of the Seine, directly across from another famous museum and former train station, the D'Orsay Museum. The former palace's origin dates back about a thousand years; it was first mentioned in 1198. The ancient foundations and towers can still be seen by visitors. There is a model located under the Room of the Caryatids that shows what the original palace looked like. It was once a fortified palace which resembled many other high-walled castles, and served as the seat of the French nobility until Louis XIV moved to Versailles in 1682. The present structure, remodeled to include royal apartments by Charles V was begun in 1535, and it has been extended significantly since the sixteenth century. Francois I and Henri II remodeled the structure completely. Perhaps it was eventually turned into a huge museum because of ties to the world of arts: Henri IV added a Grand Galarie along the Seine, the longest of its kind in the world at the time. He was also a great patron of the arts, and even invited hundreds of artists and craftsmen to live and work in the palace, a tradition which continued for two centuries, until the reign of Napoleon III. The museum is the second largest but the most visited in the world, housing famous works such as the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and many other important and unique collections. A record 8.3 million visitors passed through the complex in 2006.

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