I’ve had The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, by David McCullough, on my bed-side table for the past few months. I read a couple of pages before I turn off the light at night (to encourage dreams of Paris). Last night I read a fascinating account of what happened to the Vénus de Milo during the Commune of 1871 when the mobs were burning and destroying everything in Paris that they could get their hands and their torches on. This is how the Louvre protected the Vénus de Milo:
“The incomparable Greek statue, dating from before the birth of Christ, had been buried during the siege in, of all places, the cellar of the Prefecture of Police. Packed into a giant oak crate filled with padding, it was taken in the dead of night to the end of one of the many secret passages in the Prefecture, where, as only a few knew, a wall was built to conceal it. Stacks of documents of obvious importance were piled against the wall, then a second wall built to make it appear the hiding place was for the documents. When the Prefecture caught fire the night so much of Paris went up in flames, the anxiety of those in the know about the Venus was extreme. It seems a broken water pipe “miraculously” saved the statue. Once the smoking ruins were removed, the oak crate was found intact and brought back to the Louvre to be opened.
‘Everyone leaned forward eagerly to look…. Lying in her soft bed…she seems to look gratefully on her preservers….All her features and limbs were complete, no injury has been done….’ [this part is from Galignani’s Messenger]
To many her return from the ashes seemed a resurrection of the Paris of art and culture, a Paris that would not die” (327).
What a great story! This video shows a 3D model of the Vénus de Milo based on sophisticated scans and suggests what it might have looked like when it had its arms. Speaking of arms, today’s expression “être dans les bras de Morphée” (etruh dahn lay bra duh morfay) means “to be asleep in the arms of Morpheus” the Greek god of sleep. I can’t say I dreamed of the Vénus de Milo last night after reading this account, nor of Paris, but it’s still a fascinating account. I think it would make a great Mission Impossible-style movie.