Thursday, 20 December 2012

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios: "Wig Off, Napoleon"


Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios
Introduction 
by Sab Will,  wannabe offbeat Paris street guru

The title says it all: quirks and curiosities. And as luck would have it, Paris is packed with them; you just have to know where to look!

In this on-going series I offer you some hand picked, photographed and commented oddities which particularly interested me, and I hope will do the same for you.

I'm an avid collector of such items so any comments and suggestions you may have would be very welcome. So, without further ado, let's get straight onto...

Sab's Paris Quirks & Curios
1st Arrondissement: Quirk 12 ~ "Wig Off, Napoleon"

The story starts, for want of a better place, with Louis XIV's burning desire to 'finish' the Louvre.

His wish was to definitively complete the sealing off of the Cour Carré by completing the frontispiece up until then left bare. He wanted a fancy one no doubt proclaiming his glory, obviously. It was not to come to pass.

Despite his 70 year reign, he would never see it completed. And when it was, he would have turned in his proverbial tomb.

Turns out it's the first Emperor who gets his name up on the pediment, the cheeky bleeder. And that despite the fact that the rest of the magnifique Colonnade has Louis' 'L' moniker plastered all over it.


So anyway, along comes Bonaparte, sees the empty triangle and says, 'I'll have that!', or French to the same effect.

To be fair, some of the esteemed leaders, with Napoleon III a notable example, were far less into blowing their own bugle than some of their doubtless sychophantic sculptors and architects thought they should be. Napoleon I probably wasn't one of them however. Hence the Louvre's regal replique to the Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois church gets a bust of Napoleon surrounded by various swooning muses forever grateful for his having consecrated their temple.

One of them, who looks like she's picking nits out of an angel's hair, is in fact writing the modest little phrase for all to have no doubt: Napoléon a terminé le Louvre (Napoleon finished the Louvre, nah-na na-nah-nah).

Detail. The Emperor is crowned by a laurel wreath in the purest of Greek traditions.

Oops. Along comes Louis XVIII under the Restauration a few years later. Seriously unimpressed. Decides to do away with this sacreligious travesty. Only problem, funds are short. So shortcuts are taken.

Instead of ordering up another complete bust they decide to bust up what was already there and recycle what they could. It was high up enough, so who would notice if they simply got rid of Napoleon's laurel wreath and replaced it with a curly wig in the best Louis XIV, Sun King stylie?

Which is what they did. Slapped a wig on Napoleon and Louis's your uncle. Oh, and replace that embarrassing Napoleon finished the Louvre nonsense with the far more appropriate LVDOVICO MAGNO, you know, Louis the Great, that sort of thing.

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But our story doesn't quite end there. You see, they forgot another detail, and not a minor one. The shield. It's literally swarming with bees, and a rather terrifying imperial eagle.

More Napoleonic symbolism you could not wish for.

So now you know the story of the curly headed chappy up there on the Colonnade pediment and can impress your friends with your in-depth knowledge of all things French. The Louvre is indeed full of such quirks.

Given the choice, as a virtual emperor, of being replaced completely or having a curly wig slapped on me I honestly don't know which I'd choose. Probably the former to 'save face', as it were.

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* Sab Will runs Photo and Curios Tours in Paris, and also manages a variety of Paris and photography-themed sites and blogs. He writes an illustrated Paris Chronicle every day, runs a Meetup group for Paris lovers, interviews Paris personalities and reviews Paris books (on this blog), and even contributes to the city's street art (shh), so feel free to browse some of the links below and in the right-hand column to find out more about what he gets up to out there...

                       
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© 2012 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and offers always welcome!

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