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“Paris – Athens” at the Louvre, a sprawling exhibition on modern Greece

The “Paris – Athens” exhibition, which opened at the Louvre on September 30, brings to mind the monster Scylla from mythology and the Odyssey, with its six heads and twelve legs. Subtitled “Birth of Modern Greece 1675-1919”, it deals with four subjects together. In the order of their appearance during the visit, this gives: political relations between France and Greece from the reign of Louis XIV to the war for the country’s independence and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in 1829; the different forms of passion for ancient Greece at the end of the 18th centurye century at the beginning of the XXe ; during the same long period, curiosity for Byzantine art; and finally the first manifestations of Greek artistic life, until the 1920s. That is much, too much.

Each of these themes would be enough to feed a good-sized exhibition as their conjunction gives rise to a sprawling manifestation. The developments are of unequal length: thus the archeology of so-called classical Greece occupies more than half of the route, while the Byzantine section is on two walls, one at the beginning and the other towards the end. The war of independence takes place in a corridor, where the canvases suffer from the cramped nature of the space granted to them, which is all the more annoying that one of them is Greece on the ruins of Missolonghi, by Delacroix. Conversely, the French scholarly missions, from the Morée expedition from 1828 to 1833 to the excavations of Délos (1873-1913) and Delphi (1892-1903), including the creation of the French School of Athens in 1846, were celebrated with an overwhelming accumulation of plans, surveys, drawings, watercolors, books, photographs and casts.

Reflections on archeology

However, these, considered for themselves, would be worth a study. It would explain the techniques used and would pay tribute to practitioners whose names, often, were not retained while their dexterity was remarkable. In addition, it would recall that the molding has, among other virtues, that of respecting the monuments. One of the earliest plasters that we encounter reproduces a metope (part of a recessed bas-relief) of the Parthenon which is now in the British Museum, with all the others that Lord Elgin took to London from 1801 to 1811 and which are still there… Detail? Not really.

The French scholarly missions are celebrated by an accumulation of plans, surveys, drawings, watercolors, books, photographs and casts

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