After building Islamic wing, Louvre cancels Eastern Christianity department

by 1389 on April 23, 2014

in 1389 (blog admin), France, icons, Orthodox Christianity

If the Louvre is unwilling to display all of its Orthodox Christian treasures to the public, then it should return each item to its country of origin. I wonder how many of them were looted from churches to begin with.

“The scholar explained that the Louvre has decided to use the vacant exhibition halls previously dedicated to Islamic art, as welcome areas for school group visits to the museum.”

What a low-priority use of valuable museum space!

GalliaWatch has the story:

[h/t: Blazing Cat Fur]

Having spent a fortune building a prestigious and highly-acclaimed Islamic wing to the Louvre museum, the French ministry of Culture has now cancelled plans to build a much-needed wing dedicated to Eastern Christianity, in particular the Byzantine Empire.

This story has not received the full media coverage it deserves. I found this report by Giorgio Bernardelli in English at Vatican Insider:

The Louvre will be dedicating a new section to the Artistic heritage of Eastern Christians, the Byzantine Empire and the slaves,” Nicholas Sarkozy announced back in January 2010. Just a few months later, the former president of the prestigious Parisian museum – Henri Loyerette – set out a plan and time frame for the initiative: “It will occupy a 1000 m² space of exhibition rooms previously allocated to the Islamic art section (which in 2012 was moved to another part of the Louvre, Ed.) and visitors will have access to it as of 2014,” he explained.

Now 2014 is here and not only has the project not gone ahead, it was completely scrapped by the museum’s new management, with the approval of François Hollande’s culture ministry. Professor Marie-Hélène Rutschowscaya – former head of the Louvre’s Coptic section and one of the world’s top scholars specialising in the treasures of Eastern Christianity – denounced the move in an open letter to French Catholic newspaper La Croix. The scholar explained that the Louvre has decided to use the vacant exhibition halls previously dedicated to Islamic art, as welcome areas for school group visits to the museum. This meant shelving the idea of putting on show the precious treasures of Eastern Christianity which the museum possesses. These are currently spread across different sections and some are even sitting in boxes in the museum’s warehouses.

Professor Rutschowscaya is frank in saying that the Louvre’s decision constitutes a secularist cultural prejudice by the Hollande government. Shouldn’t we condemn the fact that France has decided to adopt such a cold cultural policy towards countries whose culture has been deeply marked by Byzantine and post-Byzantine era Christianity leaving our Medieval West with such a rich legacy? The dramatic events we are currently seeing in the Middle East and Eastern Europe should instead spur us to do more to promote lasting cultural ties,” the professor wrote in her letter.

In an interview with La Croix, the current president of the Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez, justified the decision by claiming that the creation of a new section on Eastern Christianity would have involved a lengthy rethinking of the use of the current spaces (though this did not prevent the Louvre from launching the Islamic art section back in 2003). Martinez said he was generally in favour of the idea of grouping Byzantine art into one single section of the museum but he added that the priority today is to sort out the public’s access to the spaces in the pyramid. Work on these will begin in July and last two years, so the Byzantine art will have to wait, at least until 2017.

Besides the cultural war, this whole affair seems set to dig the knife deeper into the wounded relations between France and Eastern Christians. Since 1500, the Sultans of the East gave entrusted the kings of Paris with the task of protecting the rights of Christian communities in The Middle East. This is partly why François Hollande’s support to the Syrian opposition forces fighting the Bashar al Assad regime, was seen by most Eastern Christians as a nod to Islamist militias. When Hervé Magro took up his new post as French consul general in Jerusalem he hastened to underline how important the role of protector of Middle Eastern Christians really was to France and that the memory of this lives on. But for now, the museum that represents the highest temple of French culture seems to have put this memory on hold. Despite the ordeal Eastern Christians are currently experiencing first hand.

In a French article at La Croix, Isabelle de Gaulmynstates:

“While in Turkey they are razing Armenian and Syriac cemeteries, and in Syria the entire Christian heritage is being bombed, destroyed or pillaged amidst general indifference, the inglorious burial of this project that aimed to restore its true value to the civilization of Eastern Christianity leaves a bitter taste.”

She goes on to regret the cancellation of the wing on grounds that it would have provided an opportunity for discussions on religion in a museum and not in a religious context. She praises the Islamic wing:

“It allows the young people of the immigrant population to reappropriate a part of their history and others to admire its richness.”

Note: In other words, the Islamic wing of the Louvre is teaching us how great Islam is.

Another article at La Croix by Sabine Gignoux states that some of the Louvre’s curators feared a grouping of works according to religious criteria. Then-president of the Louvre Henri Loyrette attempted to allay their fears:

“It is a civilizational approach founded on an empire and “Christian kingdoms that were political entities, from Holy Russia to Cyprus, as well as Armenia.” 

The scientific plans for this now-scrapped wing stated:

“The Byzantine collections of the Louvre constitute one of the premier collections on an international scale. They rival in importance those of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, the Bode Museum in Berlin and even the Byzantine museums of Athens and Thessalonika, and they surpass those of the British Museum or the Metropolitan Museum of New York…” 

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