The Louvre Audiobook and the Monuments of France

The French History Podcast
The French History Podcast
The Louvre Audiobook and the Monuments of France
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Hello everyone. I hope you had a manageable 2021. I’ve had quite a year myself, getting my doctorate and producing another 40 episodes. Moving forward I am excited to announce some big changes to the show. From now on, every year I will be doing special series episodes. 2022’s theme is the wonders of France, wherein I will deliver long-form episodes on the incredible monuments within the Hexagon, such as the Eiffel Tower, Mont St. Michel and Versailles. Our first episode is about France’s greatest monument: the Louvre. What began as a medieval castle transformed into a Renaissance palace. Today it is the largest, most-visited and most influential museum on Earth. While many books chronicle the Louvre’s minute architectural history and the history of its collections, my audiobook details the history of the Louvre within the changing geopolitical and artistic landscape of France and the incredible building’s impact on Paris, France and the world. I had originally intended to release a full audiobook, roughly 4 hours long all at once, but I decided I would instead release individual chapters as I finish them, before compiling them into an audiobook.

These special series episodes will be released exclusively to my patrons. While I have tried to keep the show as free as possible, I need to eat as much as the next person. During 2022 I am going to build up a large catalog of Patreon-exclusive content which you can access for just $1 a month. $5 or more per month will get you entered into our monthly raffle for our exclusive merchandise and $10 or more will get you guaranteed merchandise every year. There is a lot of awesome stuff on our Patreon for a very low price, and all of it goes towards supporting me and providing free, accessible education for all.

Over the past three years I have absolutely poured my heart and soul into this podcast, producing on average an episode every ten days. Each of those episodes has been meticulously researched as you can tell by my growing source list. Meanwhile I have worked to bring in world-renowned scholars to discuss their groundbreaking work. I also turned the FHP into a platform for burgeoning scholars of all disciplines overlapping with French history to get their voice out to a mass audience and make some money to support them during these difficult times. I am one of the few history podcasts that provides full transcriptions for every episode so that the hearing-impaired and English second-language listeners can enjoy free education as well. Huge shout-out to Momma FHP for help on those as I seriously just don’t have the time to do everything on my own. Furthermore, I allow educators to use the FHP as a free resource because I want to support teachers during these tumultuous times when our work is needed more than ever even while I feel we are less appreciated than at any time in my life. Finally, if you follow our social media you know that I post pictures of artifacts, historical photos, maps, beautiful modern photography, quotes and of course memes, at least four times a day. I have thrown myself whole-heartedly into this project as I truly believe in what we are doing; every day I become more convinced that knowledge of the past is more important than ever. If you want to help keep me doing this at the pace I’ve been going then I need your support until this podcast is large enough to secure regular sponsors. Given all we’ve been through in the past 2 years of a global pandemic I understand if you can’t support us financially. But if you can I encourage you to do so, as I truly think you’ll get a lot more than you give and you’ll be picking up the tab for everyone else. In the worst-case scenario that this show doesn’t get enough support, I will keep this going for…well, forever. Like I said, I am passionate about this project and can see myself doing it for the rest of my life. But just how much content I can make in a year depends on the amount of support I get. If you can’t donate, please feel free to recommend us to family, friends and everyone you meet and keep this community growing. Seriously, it means the world to me.

So that’s what’s happening in 2022. Starting with an audiobook on the Louvre, I am producing much more patrons-exclusive content which you can access for just a $1 a month. To get us kicked off, in this episode I am including the Preface for my Louvre audiobook. Chapter 1 is already up on Patreon, to be followed by all subsequent chapters. What follows is a small taste of the full audiobook, and the foundation for 2022’s special series on the monuments of France.

 

Preface:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

— ”Ozymandias,” by Percy Shelley, 1818, as read by Bry Rayburn of Pontifacts Podcast

Humanity is a long chain, stretching back into time immemorial. All of our thoughts and actions find their origins in prior events. Our recipes, songs, political systems and religions come to us via the past. However, you probably don’t think about time and your relation to the universe when you’re having breakfast, though even a croissant carries tradition with it. In 1683 the Ottoman Empire besieged the city of Vienna and threatened to push into the heart of continental Europe. This huge conflict lasted nearly 2 months and involved hundreds of thousands of soldiers. According to legend Viennese bakers, preparing bread in the early morning, heard Turkish sappers digging tunnels underneath the city and alerted the guards, saving the Austrian capital until reinforcements could arrive. In commemoration of this event the bakers crafted a crescent-shaped roll in mockery of the Ottoman sliver-moon on their battle-flags. During the 17thand 18th centuries the French kings regularly married the powerful Austrian Hapsburgs, such as when Louis XIII married Anne of Austria, and Louis XVI married Marie Antoinette. These queens brought attendants and bakers with them, popularizing Austrian baking in Paris. With Austrian pastries all the rage in Europe’s great city, Austrian August Zang, founded Boulangerie Viennoise at 92, rue de Richelieu, and made the modern croissant, which ever since has been a staple of French cuisine. Conflict between rival empires and faiths, political intrigue, entrepreneurism and popular culture are all there on your plate. But when you bite into a fluffy croissant, probably none of this is going through your head. The precedence for our actions slips into obscurity as we think about the here and now.

It is the same with words. When your plans go awry, you may have used the word ‘disaster,’ not thinking that the word comes from the Greek ‘dus’ meaning ‘bad’ and ‘aster’ meaning ‘star;’ literally, you are under a bad star and the heavens themselves ordained your misfortune. If your plans go well you may describe it as a ‘triumph,’ not realizing it comes from the Latin triumphus, which was a parade held for great generals returning with the spoils of foreign wars. Before that, ‘triumphus’ finds it origin in the Greek thriambos or “hymn to Dionysus.” In a similar way, you may unconsciously use the word ‘monument’ or its adjective form ‘monumental’ to refer to something grand, impressive and awe-inspiring. This word, ‘monument’ entered the English language along with the other 1/3rd of its vocabulary, from Old French. The Old French word ‘monument’ meant ‘a sepulchre, grave, tomb, or monument,’ some construction which makes one think of the past, particularly of the deceased. The Old French word comes from the Latin ‘monumentum’ meaning, ‘some building or item which reminds us of something.’ Finally, this word’s earliest known origin dates back into the far-flung past, before cities, writing and the wheel, and comes from the proto-Indo-European word ‘moneie’ “to make think of, [or] remind.” A monument then, is something which forces humans to think about their origins, to free themselves from the unconsciousness of the present and reflect on their place in space and time. Monuments are not just buildings or landmarks that serve a utilitarian purpose. A monument is some human construction so artistically or historically powerful that it connects us with the past.

The first monuments humans made were holding places for the dead. What started as simple pits to dispose of corpses became burial mounds. The ritualization of burial gave symbolic meaning to these sites. As humans lived beside the dead they contemplated life, its end and wondered if there were something more, leading to more abstract thoughts and eventually spirituality. In the land we call France this occurred at an early period. Indeed, the second, third and fourth oldest still-surviving buildings on Earth are in western France. Early inhabitants of France built the passage grave at Barnanez and the tumuli of Bougon and Saint-Michel in the mid-5th millennium BCE to house their ancestors.

Monuments are never neutral but are sites of political power, spiritual authority and the identity of a people. Those people who followed the customs of their tribes could expect a place of honor in the tombs, perhaps alongside some of their treasured possessions. Their physical presence in the tomb became a living record, something that their descendants could visit and commemorate the greatness of their family. Those with decorated ancestors commanded respect and power. While tombs rewarded those who adhered to the tribe’s values they punished those who strayed. Those who the tribe deemed dishonorable would not receive a place in the tomb. In an era before writing was invented this meant they would pass completely out of memory, forgotten for all time. Meanwhile, the descendants of the dishonored and discarded would command less respect and authority since their family was not remembered in the history of the tribe. Thus, these monuments preserved the traditions of a society in stone, rewarded certain behaviors, condemned others, and served as a fixed point for a people and their identity.

How fascinating it is that certain buildings made of brick, stone, marble, steel and concrete have the power to make us more human. Through their artistic achievements which could only be made through human design and labor, their long-standing history, their place in our collective imagination and culture, certain places are more than landmarks on a map: they are landmarks on civilization. Napoléon Bonaparte recognized this when on 21 July 1798 he spoke to his soldiers in Egypt. He bid them look to the far horizon, where the greatest of all tombs, the pyramids, were faintly visible and said to them, “From the heights of these pyramids, forty centuries look down on us.” It was a call to his men to recognize the grandeur that they were a part of, that they aimed to conquer not just a country but a legacy. Just as the pharaohs were remembered so too would they, and it was on that day that Napoléon and his men won The Battle of the Pyramids.

The Louvre is without question the most important monument in France. It stands at the heart of Paris, shaping and defining the architecture of one of the world’s great cities. Through its influence over Paris it exerts itself across the globe, and takes its place as one of Earth’s great monuments. The Louvre is not as old as the Egyptian pyramids, the Parthenon or the Colosseum. It is roughly 1/11th the size of China’s Forbidden City. It does not have the religious significance of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Hagia Sophia or the Great Mosque in Mecca. Yet, the Louvre makes up for this through its continual use. As grand as the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Great Wall of China, the Colosseum and the Parthenon are, they are ruins. For roughly four centuries the Louvre was a fortress protecting Paris from the Normans and the English. For the next two centuries it was a palace and a symbol for monarchical power within France’s capital. During the Revolution the National Assembly turned it into a museum to collect the country’s great art. The leaders of every subsequent French government added to the museum and its collections in order to leave their mark on the city of Paris and establish their legitimacy. Considering how many French governments there were between the first revolution and the present you can understand how it developed so much.

Today, the Louvre holds 380,000 of the world’s most beautiful, important and influential artifacts and works of art, with 35,000 on display at any given time. It is also the world’s largest art museum by gallery space and easily the most visited. In 2018, 10.2 million people visited the Louvre compared to 8 million for the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. Covid-19 presents all new challenges for museums but even still the Louvre is leading the recovery with 2.7 million visitors in 2020, a million more than the National Museum of China in Beijing. For over two centuries the Louvre has been one of the world’s most important centers for art and historical artifacts. Today it is the undisputed leader in that field, and cements Paris’ reputation as a city of art and culture.

What follows is the history of one of humanity’s greatest monuments.

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