PARIS - “Finally, we lift the veil,” says Milanese architect Mario Bellini.
The eight-time winner of the Compasso d’Oro industrial design award, together with his French colleague Rudy Ricciotti, are the creators of the most important addition to the Louvre since I.M. Pei’s pyramid opened more than two decades ago.
The work is a “veil” indeed, sinuous, wavy and very light, covering the Cour Visconti of the world’s most famous museum. It will cover three floors and 4,600 square meters of new exhibition space.
All of this will hold the fabulous Islamic Art collection that until now has been confined to a few tight rooms. And for the occasion, the Islamic Art section became a department of the museum.
The project has been carried out with impressive haste. Ten years have passed since French President Jacques Chirac decided to expand the Louvre. The public competition was announced in 2004, and Bellini & Ricciotti were announced as the winners the following year.
The duo had the satisfaction of beating a star like Baghdad-born, British-based architect Zaha Hadid. “With all the affection that I have for her, because I am a friend of Zaha’s, it has been very satisfying,” says Bellini.
The first stone on the new wing was laid in the summer of 2008, and now construction is nearly complete. By next month, the showcases will be ready, and by later this spring some 3,000 (out of a total collection of 13,000) works of art will be permanently displayed. The inauguration is slated for this summer.
From an architectural point of view, the fundamental challenge was to find a way to have the new contemporary structure coexist with the 19th century facades of the Visconti court. Bellini’s solution is this light and transparent structure that seems to be floating in the air, and allows everyone to see and to be seen from the other parts of the museum.
When Bellini talks about “his” veil he becomes almost lyrical: “You can see as if you were looking through the wing of a dragonfly.” More simply put, everything has been studied at length to obtain enough light for a proper view of the artworks, but not too much to risk ruining them.
The rest of it, a second and a third floor for the facilities, is underground. And here the architects had an important technical challenge: having to lower the foundation with the banks of the Seine so close.
Still, the overall impression that you get while walking through the still very active construction site -- full of dust, noise and workers – is one of great lightness. This goes for the “foulard” that covers the garden (and weights 135 tons), and even for the glass walls.
The other half of the team, Ricciotti, has an exuberant personality, referring to the elaborate construction as “almost gastronomical”, claiming that it “strikes minimalism like an axe.”
For certain, the costs were not minimal: 98.5 million euros, with the French state pitching in 31 million (and the Louvre a half-million). The rest comes from 30 private patrons and from other states, 26 in total. And indeed, they are 10 million short, and Louvre director Henri Loyrette is busy searching for the remaining funds.
The list of donors is politically rather interesting. The most generous private donor (17 million euros) is the foundation of prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, from the Saudi royal family. The states that have contributed are Morocco, Kuwait, Oman and Azerbaijan, part of the moderate face of Islam.
Inevitably this artistic operation is going to be read also as a political act, especially in this moment when the Islamic world generates both hopeful springs and looming concerns. Loyrette explains that in the new space of his museum, “the luminous face of a civilization” will be on display.
As a matter of fact, one of the most beautiful and famous works that is going to shine under the veil is the “Baptistery of Saint Louis,” an Egyptian or Syrian basin from the 14th century, made of gold and silver-plated copper. Undoubtedly of Islamic origin, it was also the font that was used, since the Middle Ages, generation after generation, for the baptism of the French king’s sons.
Read the original article in Italian
Photo - Musée du Louvre