The Musée du Quai Branly: a new institution engaged in the dialogue of cultures and civilizations

Bridging cultures

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© Quai Branly museum
© Quai Branly museum
Photo : Daniel Ponsard

Supported by French President Jacques Chirac, the Musée du Quai Branly is setting out to showcase the importance of the art and civilization of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas at the crossroads of many different cultural, religious and historical influences. Situated on the banks of the Seine at the foot of the Eiffel Towel, the museum is a forum for scientific and artistic dialogue, a crossroads of exchange between the public, researchers, students as well as contemporary creators.

A new, multifaceted institution right in the heart of Paris

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© Quai Branly museum
© Quai Branly museum
Photo : Daniel Ponsard

Designed by architect Jean Nouvel, the Musée du Quai Branly will exhibit 3,500 objects from this universal heritage permanently and devotes nearly 5,000 m2 to temporary exhibits. The public can also enjoy a 500-seat theatre, a screening room, several classrooms, a reading room and a multimedia library with a room for consulting highly valuable collections.

Conceived by Gilles Clément, featuring 180 trees that are more than de 15 meters tall and many different plant species, the garden has been designed to be a border of greenery surrounding the museum. 15,000 plants of 150 species from the entire world have been planted over 800 m², composing CNRS researcher Patrick Blanc’s plant wall, which covers the façade of the administrative building, “Branly”.

The “Université” building demonstrates the important place reserved for contemporary art at the Musée du Quai Branly. Eight of the most famous Australian Aboriginal artists have stamped their worldview on the ceilings and façade.

Facing the Seine, the 200-meter-long, 12-meter-high glass fence acts as an initial barrier to access to the museum and its activities. Protecting and promoting the collections

From October 2001 through September 2004, the collection construction site made it possible to identify, treat, decontaminate, clean, restore, computerize, take 2D and 3D photos and document all 300,000 works from the ethnology laboratory of the Musée de l’Homme and the Musée National des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie. This collection construction site is a technical and scientific first in France, serving as an example for many museums today.

The 3,500 works exhibited in the permanent collections are presented in a vast space with no partitions, spread out over large continental “zones”: Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. The objects are accessible to as many people as possible thanks to contextualization supported by different levels of information: identification cards, texts or multimedia, including photographs, films and music.

In addition to the permanent collection displays, there will be ten temporary collections each year, distributed among the collections’ hanging galleries and the Galerie Jardin, a space for major international exhibitions, making it possible to present fundamental themes, while showcasing the treasures of the collections.

The Musée du Quai Branly: a new proposal

Resolutely modern, the institution structures its offering around several areas:

Protection and promotion of leading collections, in association with temporary exhibits, capitalizing on the museum’s diverse resources, or taken from international collaborations. An informational Internet portal also provides access to all the collections.

Research and education, with the creation of an interdisciplinary research centre. At once a museum and a university campus, the Musée du Quai Branly makes the information resources of its 230-seat multimedia library available to the general public. In addition, members of the research community have access to a top-notch study centre there.

A genuine crossroads of the world’s cultures, open to the greatest number of people, the Musée du Quai Branly also offers a programme of living shows in its theatre - performing arts, theatre, dance and music - thereby creating a veritable cultural city featuring non-European arts.

Lastly, the Université Populaire du Quai Branly, accessible to all, opens the debate on historic and contemporary challenges and encourages dialogue on issues related to the Other through its series of lectures.

The world’s most famous painting has the Louvre all aflutter...

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la joconde - mona lisa
la joconde - mona lisa

Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Florentine merchant Francesco Del Giocondo, is the most famous woman in the world. She looks much younger than her 500 years. In fact, she radiates health. Her eyes continue to follow - perhaps even haunt - viewers, her smile is as enigmatic as ever, and her folded hands have never looked smoother. Yet there is one noticeable difference: for the eighth time, she has changed locations within the Louvre, the former palace that has been her home since 1798. But this time, the move is final...

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Louvre Museum
Louvre Museum

Immortalised in the early 16th century by painter Leonardo de Vinci (1452-1519), she is also known as the Mona Lisa - or “La Joconde” in French (Monna is an abbreviation of Madonna, or Madame in Italian). To help her feel at home in her new quarters and because she was a bit cramped in her previous location, the Salle des Etats (the lady’s previous address) was closed for a four-year makeover and entirely refurbished by Peruvian architect Lorenzo Piqueras.

The main objective was to give the six million people who visit the Louvre every year to admire the Mona Lisa a better viewing experience while avoiding traffic jams in this section of the museum. In the past, high visitor affluence had blocked access to many masterpieces of Italian painting.

As a result, the immense room, which covers some 840 square metres, has been renamed the “Salle de la Joconde”. Illuminated by natural lighting flowing in through a new glass window, the room has also been fitted with new roofing and wood flooring, as well as air-conditioning and improved acoustics. Mona Lisa now sits regally in her new showcase, a temperature-controlled, completely airtight and meticulously locked enclosure. Mounted on a free-standing wall about two-thirds into the room, she hangs opposite a royal masterpiece, the monumental Marriage at Cana by Veronese (l528-l588): the Louvre’s largest painting, measuring 6.77 by 9.94 metres. Some fifty works from the Golden Century of Venetian painting (16th century) line the side walls and the back of the free-standing wall: pieces by illustrious artists such as Titian, Tintoretto, Bassano, Veronese and Lorenzo Lotto.

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Louvre Museum
Louvre Museum

Given the difference in size between the two “star” paintings (a thin poplar backing measuring 77 by 54cm and 13mm wide for the Mona Lisa!), they could not be mounted side by side. Architect Lorenzo Piqueras explains: “I wanted to avoid placing the Mona Lisa and the Marriage at Cana in the same field of vision. The best solution was to hang them across from each other, so that viewers would have to turn their backs on one of the paintings in order to admire the other”. In addition, the two masterpieces are separated by a distance of 28 metres, in keeping with the desire expressed by Veronese and his patron. The colossal painting was originally commissioned for the refectory of the convent of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, which is just over 28 metres in length.

Visitors now enter the Salle de La Joconde via the Grande Galerie, the highlight of the Louvre’s Italian collection, via two new openings on each side of the wall supporting the Marriage at Cana. Another entrance exists behind the Mona Lisa. When glimpsed from the main entryway to the room, the Mona Lisa appears very small indeed... She “beckons” visitors toward the room’s centre of gravity (in fact, judging from the opening day’s experience, admirers actually storm toward this area!), leaving a side path open for viewing the Venetian collection.

The entire room is top-lit (both naturally and artificially) via state-of-the-art techniques. The artificial lighting is diffused through invisible luminaries: fluorescent fixtures located in the roof trussing. Protected by thick, extra-clear and non-reflective glass (“the best on the market”, emphasizes Cécile Scailliérez, the curator who has been caring for the Mona Lisa for the past twenty years and has even written a book about her), La Joconde is also illuminated from below by a discrete spotlight integrated into the wooden podium encircling the painting and which contains a veritable electronic arsenal. The architect placed the famous painting so that viewers’ eyes would be at the same level as the Mona Lisa’s hands.

You may wonder how this unsigned and undated work - for which not a single preparatory drawing has ever been discovered - become the world’s most famous painting. The painting’s probable execution date (between 1502 and 1506) and the sitter’s identity were revealed by Florentine painter Giorgio Vasari, who published Leonardo’s biography in 1550, some 31 years after the celebrated artist’s death - even though he had never seen the work or met the painter!

In 1517, Leonardo took the unfinished work with him to France, where Francis I had invited him. The Mona Lisa was apparently acquired by the king in 1518 - for a considerable and undisclosed price. The piece was soon hailed as the masterpiece of the era, the apex of 16th century portrait painting, inspiring generations of painters - none of whom ever succeeded in reproducing the famous sfumato technique (“smoky” in Italian) invented by Leonardo and which, as Scailliérez explains, “aims to bring out contours and emphasize shapes by creating smoother contrasts and outlines”.

Yet it was not until the 20th century that the Mona Lisa became a global superstar. After enduring minor harassment from the young Cubist movement, which was up in arms against “official art”, the painting was stolen on 21 August 1911. French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had mischievously suggested that the Mona Lisa be burned, was arrested but the thief turned out to be an Italian immigrant who wanted to restore the painting to its country of origin. He was caught when attempting to sell it. In the midst of great pomp and circumstance, the Mona Lisa returned to Paris on 11 December 1913, after being displayed in Florence, Rome and Milan. But she continued to endure ridicule, inflicted for example by Dada painter Marcel Duchamp, who gave her a pointy moustache! During World War II, the painting was safely hidden in five different locations. The Mona Lisa completed two other triumphant trips: to Washington D.C. and New York in 1962-63, and to Japan in 1974, with a stopover in Moscow.

Nippon Television Network sponsored the renovation of the Mona Lisa’s new home, to the tune of 4.81 millions euros. But this time, the lady only took one day off from the public eye, to make her move.

Written by Claudine Canetti
taken from Actualité en France (magazine of the ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Louvre website:

Dernière modification : 09/02/2008

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