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Evening at the Museum


   Jan 18

Evening at the Museum

The Legion of Honor (or, to use its full title, The California Palace of the Legion of Honor) is one of my favorite museums in San Francisco. It may actually be my favorite. Its setting is beautiful, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge:

and it is lovely and classical:

a little jewel box for a small but good collection. Despite the long trip, it refreshed me just to be there.

Speaking of long trips, the Lincoln Highway, which turns 100 this year, ends at the Legion. It starts in Times Square, and was the first road built across the country specifically for cars:

Going to the museum late on a Wednesday afternoon is the perfect time to go. It’s not crowded, and you can stop to admire the conservationists, hard at work restoring 18th century French gilded wooden doors:

The exhibit I went to see was called “Royal Treasures from the Louvre”, which focused on the lovely possessions accumulated by the Sun King, Louis XIV, who we can thank for the beauty that is Versailles, through to the ill-fated Louis XVI and his Queen, Marie-Antoinette.

As usual, the things I liked most were not available either in postcard form or in photos on the museum’s website, and the public is forbidden to take pictures. I loved the gold and diamond snuffboxes; a cabinet inlaid in a zigzag pattern that surprisingly opened up to a writing desk, glass fronted bookcase, and a plush footstool; a pair of deep turquoise Chinese porcelain vases set in bronze and swagged with delicate chains, belonging to Marie-Antoinette; and a silver tureen graced with silver pomegranates, twigs, and leaves. One of the pomegranates was split open to reveal its silvery seeds.

I love how these patrons of the arts were able to find artists who made every day, useful objects works of art, such as Madame de Pompadour’s gold and ivory coffee grinder:

Madame de Pompadour was Louis XIV’s favorite for many years. When she died at a still youthful 42, he watched her coffin being carried from Versailles in the rain with the wistful words, “The Marquise will not have good weather for her journey.”

Miniature of Louis XIV, the Sun King, with huge, original diamonds:

Amazing that the diamonds survived the anti-monarchy frenzy of the Revolution.

Louis XIV was a great collector what he called “gemmes”, semi-precious stones carved into bowls, pitchers, and cups, set with bronze and jewels and sometimes enamelled. Here is an agate ewer set with enamel and gems:

This is Marie Antoinette’s inlaid rolltop desk from the Tuileries:

Many people don’t know that Louis XVI was in the process of creating a public museum to display the beautiful objects his he, his grandfather, and father had amassed and commissioned, when the Revolution broke out. The Revolutionaries got all the credit, and the fact that it was Louis’ inspiration was forgotten.

Monday marks the 220th anniversary of Louis XVI’s execution, and it has just been discovered that some of his blood was preserved, proving the legend that someone dipped their handkerchief in his blood and preserved it in a gourd to be true.

Truth really is stranger than fiction.

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4 Comments

  1. Guy Charbonneau says:

    How wonderful for man to have kept and protected all these treasures throughout centuries, it gives one hope to mankind that not all people are here to destroy but to share the beauty around him.

  2. LisaB says:

    so jealous – what a cool exhibit!

  3. Joy says:

    What an interesting Entry. And what a mine of information. Love the photos too..or postcards? Thanks
    jx

  4. suzy says:

    I borrowed the pictures from the museum’s website!

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