PARIS STUDY ABROAD SUMMER 2024

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The Musée de Cluny

A. A SYNTHESIS OF HISTORICAL FACTS AND CULTURAL FEATURES SURROUNDING THE SITE:

The Middle Ages took place from 500 AD to 1500 AD, beginning at the fall of the Roman Empire in Western Europe and ending at the start of the Renaissance. This time period is characterized by the Catholic Church’s significant prominence, which casted its influence across the continent. This is notable in the art of the Middle Ages, which primarily held a religious purpose. 

The Musée de Cluny provides visitors with a sense of the religious infatuation that took place during the Middle Ages. The museum itself was once a hotel, named the “Hôtel de Cluny” which was built in the late 15th century on the site of ancient Roman baths and was utilized by abbots that were visiting Paris. The hotel was purchased by a man named Alexandre Du Sommerard, who filled the hotel with his collection of objects from the Middle Ages. His goal was to create a public museum to showcase his collection to the rest of the world. After his death, France acquired the hotel and officially opened the museum to the public in 1843. 

The architecture of the museum gives us a glimpse of Gothic architecture which was prominent at the time. The pointed arches, gargoyles, and stone walls allow the visitor to truly immerse themselves and experience the architecture of the Middle Ages. The collections displayed in the museum contain colorful manuscripts, iconography, bibles, religious paintings, etc. It is notable that the art in the collections focus immensely on Christ, saints, and other religious icons. Much of the art located in the museum all has a relatively similar style and looks very similar to one another.

B. A DIALECTICAL DISCUSSION:

After visiting the Musée de Cluny, I felt that I experienced a sense of the “dimness” that took place during the Middle Ages. The architecture, culture, and art of the museum is undoubtedly beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, but the contents and ideas behind the art felt stale. Walking around the museum and looking at the collections felt repetitive and uninspiring.

It is easy to argue that the Middle Ages experienced artistic stagnation. At a time all artistic expression was centered around the desires and orders of the Catholic Church. It’s expected that the art would be dominated by religious themes. However, experiencing firsthand the works that were created during the era provides better demonstration in favor of the “artistic stagnation” argument. The art displayed throughout the museum made it evident that the artists that were commissioned to paint these paintings were limited and held back from exploring human emotion, experience, beauty, and creativity. The pervasive influence of the Church clearly discouraged artistic expression during this time, as it is obvious to the viewer when you walk around the halls of the museum. The suppression of all non-religious themes caused a “dimness” in artistic expression of this era and disabled artists from exploring art that could potentially have more profound meaning than a photo of a saint.

A majority of the art showcased in the museum also has a tragic feel to it, often displaying very emotional and sad faces on the saints and on Christ. The saints are also all painted in the exact same way, usually in a sort of 2 dimensional form with a ring around their head, signifying their holiness. This repetitive style overall makes the art of the Middle Ages mundane, boring, and uncreative. That doesn't mean that the art is not beautiful. I think many of the paintings are lovely and highlight the talents of the people of the Middle Ages. However, the significance and value of the art begins to decline after the same idea has been reused hundreds of times. Looking at a painting of a saint or something biblical no longer becomes amusing or thought provoking. Instead, it feels like I am seeing a copy of every other painting in the building. However, this artistic stagnation surely allowed for the buildup of the beautiful era that was soon to come, the Renaissance. When thinking about the Middle Ages, it is also valuable to compare it with the art of the Renaissance, because it is helpful to understand the importance of creativity and the provocation of thought in art.

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Louvre Museum

A. A SYNTHESIS OF HISTORICAL FACTS AND CULTURAL FEATURES SURROUNDING THE SITE:

During the supremacy of Philippe Auguste in 1190, the creation of the Louvre Museum in Paris was started. The museum has become the most well-known and largest art museum in the world. In the late 12th century, the origin of Louvre was initiated and became more of a residence for the French royal family by the 14th century. After moving the court to the Palace of Versailles of King Louis XIV, the palace was the residence place of the king until 1682. The king moved the court to Versailles because he was desirous of more power and control over his court. This desire alleviated the interest of the royal family in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The monumental size of the palace was left to fall into disorder as artists and writers still occupied it and removed some parts of the palace. 

In 1793, the Louvre was opened as a museum called the Napoleon Musem. The museum was decorated with 537 paintings which captured the attention and interest of many visitors.The museum was called the Napoleon Museum after Emperor Napoleon who added the art in the museum through military campaigns and private donations. Napoleon's reign ended in 1814, leading to the return of over 5,000 artworks to their countries of origin. The history of the Louvre Museum is interesting because the visitors mostly spend all day visiting each artwork without any break. The Louvre's collection has grown significantly, now housing over 7,500 paintings across its vast 165 acres. Divided into sections, the museum offers a journey through art history, from Egyptian wonders to 19th-century masterpieces. This impressive variety is evident in iconic works like the Winged Victory of Samothrace, a symbol of victory, the Venus de Milo, and the Mona Lisa. The renowned Renaissance work of the Mona Lisa in a protected wall is the most attractive thing for visitors. For the protection and festivity of artistic works, the Louvre Museum in Paris demonstrates France's rich cultural tradition and its commitment.

B. A DIALECTICAL DISCUSSION:

The Louvre Museum might seem an unlikely champion of tolerance. Yet, within its grand halls lies a paradoxical connection to the Renaissance, a period that brought Europe towards a form of tolerance, particularly in the realm of art and thought.

The Renaissance was a cultural rebirth that happened in Europe from the 14th to the 17th centuries, it was a time of questioning established authority and embracing classical ideals. This spirit of intellectual curiosity extended to the arts. Artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci departed from the repetitive and religious confines of medieval art and expanding nto anatomy, perspective, and the beauty of the human form. The Louvre, under the patronage of King Francis I, became a magnet for these Renaissance ideals. 

Furthermore, the Renaissance emphasis on humanism a philosophy that placed human potential and experience at the center of art, indirectly challenged the dominance of the Church. It paved he way for a more individualized interpretation of faith and the arts. This shift in perspective reflected in some Renaissance masterpieces located in the Louvre, can be seen as a precursor to a more open minded approach to religious beliefs. So many of these Renaissance artists challenged religious ideas and began making non-religious subjects the center of their paintings. For example, the portrait of the Mona Lisa is so revolutionary because Da Vinci placed a normal woman as the main focus of the painting instead of a religious icon. This was innovative and revolutionary for its time.

The Louvre with its collection of Renaissance masterpieces offers the visitor a glimpse into a period where tolerance was taking its first tentative steps and becoming a normalized ideal. The museum showcases the works that revolutionized the arts and instigated a  cultural shift that emphasized human potential and artistic exploration beyond religious limitations. It serves as a bridge between the rigidity of the Middle Ages and the openness to diverse perspectives that would define later centuries. Ultimately the Louvre's collections can remind us that tolerance is a continuous evolution, that began with small steps in the grand halls of a palace and continues to shape our understanding of the world today.


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The Palace of Versailles

A. A SYNTHESIS OF HISTORICAL FACTS AND CULTURAL FEATURES SURROUNDING THE SITE:

The Palace of Versailles was founded in the year 1607 by the young Dauphin who later on became known as Louis XIII. It began as a hunting lodge for Louis XIII, and during his reign, oversaw a major expansion of the building. In 1623 the king had a small lodge built and in 1631 the king decided to rebuild it and started the beginning of what is the palace today. 

He first came in 1641 to escape a smallpox epidemic at Saint-Germain-en-Laye and had a patronage connection with the palace for the rest of his life. The early form of Versailles was militantly plain and was not considered stylish, yet it became the Royals’ private residence and a hunting château. However, it was transformed into a beautiful residence where eventually the king’s court would live in. The hall of mirrors, one of the beautiful rooms of the Palace of Versailles, was commonly used for state ceremonies and royal weddings.

Thus, after the death of his Prime Minister in 1661, new grand initiatives in France began to be implemented by Louis XIV. Originally the chateau was just a hunting lodge but in time it became the emblem of royal might and splendor. Then between the period of 1668-1670 the “Le Vau Envelope” was inaugurated and then in between 1700 the celebrated “Hall of Mirrors”, which was finalized in the year 1684 was used as the focus area for all the grand functions of the state. The measures that were taken by Louis XIV helped transform Versailles into the primary palace of French royalty and the official royal court and government by 1682. Versailles was then left abandoned after the death of Louis XIV in the year 1715 but then, in the year 1722, this image was changed by the arrival of Louis XV. Louis XV’s plan was to finish the palace begun by his great-grandfather and the same time provide the palace with more personal and confined areas.

The French Revolution dramatically transformed Versailles, stripping it of its former status as a symbol of royal arrogance. The palace was hurriedly repurposed as a revolutionary hospital, town hall, and finally a grain distribution center, largely escaping radical destruction thanks to the royal family's absence. This vacancy also facilitated repairs and renovations, something that would have been more difficult to do with the court in residence.

In late August 1793, the palace's art collection was transferred to the Louvre, marking the birth of the Central Museum for the Arts. However, Versailles remained popular, drawing crowds and serving as a public repository for seized goods. The revolution fundamentally reshaped Versailles, transitioning it from a royal residence to a public building and, ultimately, a French history museum.

B. A DIALECTICAL DISCUSSION:

The history of Versailles is a perfect representation of the division between the rich and the poor and the injustices of the royal authorities that led to the revolution. The lavishness of the palace clearly illustrates the opulence of the royalty, while the peasants continue to groan under the pressure of taxes as well as extreme poverty. Coming to Versailles today makes people see how these two classes operated and the extravagance that led to the revolution. Civil disobedience was so provoked by the tone deaf policies of Louis XVI and his queen, Marie-Antoinette, to what the French populace were subjected to. The public's discontent with the monarchy stemmed from several factors. The extravagant spending of Queen Marie Antoinette, exemplified by the infamous Affair of the Diamond Necklace, and the growing burden of maintaining numerous royal properties, plus the yearning for social justice and an end to absolute monarchy, fueled the rebellion.

Looking at the Versailles’ history, it is possible to observe the need for the French Revolution to resolve these societal issues. The French Revolution stands as a critical moment in history that aimed for a radical transformation of the existing social order. Its main motives included dismantling the entrenched class system and establishing a more egalitarian society. Thus, Versailles following its past luxurious glory that transformed into the palace that it is today, is an embodiment of revolution and the facelift that it brought in. In the contemporary world, Versailles symbolizes the consequences of unlimited authority and the necessity of fighting against social injustice. Visiting the palace, it is important to remember not only about beauty and the result of people’s creative work but also about the need to constantly protect justice and equality. Study about the Versailles’ background enables one to grasp the main events of the French Revolution and its effects on the modern world.



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The Pantheon

A. A SYNTHESIS OF HISTORICAL FACTS AND CULTURAL FEATURES SURROUNDING THE SITE:

The Panthéon is an exquisite building situated in Paris, its construction started in 1757 by Jacques-Germain Soufflot. Originally, it was designed as the Church of Sainte-Geneviève which was to be a part of the replacement for an older church located in the same area. This grand building exemplifies the Neoclassical style through a cruciform plan, a high central dome, and Corinthian columns. These elements follow the fundamental principles of classical architecture. The architectural design of the building also has a hint of Ancient Rome and the large porch and the triangular pediment blend alongside the facade with the rest of the construction The interior of the building is enriched with such masterpieces of mosaics and paintings by such masters as the painter Puvis de Chavannes.

The French Revolution could be said to have signified a change for the building that houses the Panthéon. The building was secularized and transformed into a mausoleum honoring France's illustrious figures. This transition was inspired by the spirit of Enlightenment as well as the Revolution which was in fact demanding intellectualism and achievements over religious practice. During the 19th century, the building changed its nature and purposes between the cemetery that also acted as the church and the mausoleum that could symbolically also be the temple dedicated to France. Originally the Pantheon was planned for catholic saints; it only became the temple of great men and women under the Third Republic with Victor Hugo in 1885 and has housed the remains of Great men like Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo, Zola, and Curie. Now it is one of the symbols of France’s historical, innovative, cultural, academic achievement that develops with the present-day artists such as Anselm Kiefer and Pascal Dusapin in 2020. 

B. A DIALECTICAL DISCUSSION:

The case of the building commonly referred to as the Panthéon brings into light a gracious history lesson of the need to separate church from state. This concept which went through a vigorous debate during the French Revolution was very instrumental in defining the modern secular societies. The French revolutionaries assaulted the Catholic church vehemently because to them it was a symbol of oppression and a hindrance to reason and civilization. The Church remained a powerful force as it cooperated with monarchs to keep society in check. As the Church was proclaimed as one of the main enemies of the revolutionaries, their goal was to destroy this power and populate society with people who were guided by reason, equal to each other, and protected by individual rights. To build the Panthéon as a secular temple was intentional so that great people should be memorialized based on what they have done for the society, not whether they were “holy” or not. And of course, it was a shift away from the days when religious bodies set moral standards for society. 

Secularism remains a fundamental principle in today's world. It ensures a separation of government and religion creating a more impartial society. This separation allows individuals, regardless of religious affiliation or lack of it, to enjoy equal rights and opportunities. Secularism provides principles that advocate against any religious influence on laws and policies. Policies should be made on a logical basis and ensure the protection of human rights for everyone. It is important to maintain these two aspects of society distinct to prevent tyranny by a specific religion or an attempt to force people into submission to the current mainstream religion. The Panthéon's history embodies the complex relationship between religion and state in France. Throughout its evolution from royal mausoleum to national necropolis to atheistic temple of the Republic, it has served as a potent symbol of both their association and their conflict. Rededicated by revolutionaries as a mausoleum for esteemed citizens like Voltaire and Rousseau, the Pantheon embodies their emphasis on secular ideals. These are the values that encompass the democratic societies of today and values that we should continue to strive to uphold in society.

The subject matter and the function of the Panthéon in French society reminds us of the timelessness of secularism. By embracing the co-existence of the sacred and the political in physical spaces, societies can cultivate a climate of religious tolerance and foster strong, inclusive communities. The Panthéon also serves as a symbol of this commitment and its desire to continue working for justice, equality, and the progressive development of society.

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The Orsay Museum

A. A SYNTHESIS OF HISTORICAL FACTS AND CULTURAL FEATURES SURROUNDING THE SITE:

Although Napoleon Bonaparte was the dominating personality of the late eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century, his contacts with Romanticism were rather diverse, including his relations with the representatives of this movement, like Madame de Staël and Victor Hugo. His reign took place at the same time as the Romanticism movement, which promotes feeling, personality, and impressment in art and literature. Romanticism often stood in opposition to the emphasis on reason and obedience promoted by Napoleon's government.

The prominent figure of the European eighteenth-century intellectual society writer, Madame de Staël was an opponent of Napoleon Bonaparte. The blog's subject, Germaine de Staël, is rightfully considered one of the pioneers of the Romantic trend in literature and philosophy; she was born in 1766. Her salon became the place to be for the intelligentsia who were against Napoleon’s dictatorship. The ideas of De Staël found in her novels such as “Delphine” (1802) and “Corinne” (1807) praised ideas of liberty and passion which were inapposite to the emperor who dreamed of order and control. 

Another great of Romantic literature, Victor Hugo, had a somewhat different attitude to Napoleon. Argal, Hugo was born in 1802 and in the beginning of his literary activity, he was an admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte as a winner of the French Revolution. However, as Hugo grew older, he seemed to develop many problems with the oppressive nature of Napoleon. The extensive work of his poetry “Les Châtiments” (1853) is a harsh satire on Crown Prince Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. Victor Hugo’s novels ‘Les Misérables’ published in 1862, and ‘Notre Dame of Paris’ published in 1831 depicts justice, the suffering of mankind, and reforms, which were processed by Romanticism with a focus on sympathy and human dignity.

While the Orsay Museum also in Paris is somewhat related to Napoleon, it has a vast collection of art that represents the Romantic movement. Located in the old Orsay train station, the museum began in 1986 and has focused on art from the mid-nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century. It also contains images of such great artists who were fellow-countrymen with de Staël and Hugo, for example, the painter Delacroix whose canvases so vividly reflect the Romantic’s love for passion and the out-of-the-ordinary. Thus, the Orsay Museum remains evidence of the Romanticism tradition and the latter’s opposition to the policies of authoritarianism.

B. A DIALECTICAL DISCUSSION:

Both, Madame de Staël and Victor Hugo created literature pieces and thoughts, which have their importance not just for arts but also for tolerance and mutual comprehension. Both of their books encourage people to wear other people’s shoes and feel their pains and struggles, thereby helping to cultivate a kinder and more tolerant society. Analyzing the novels and essays of Madame de Staël, it is possible to notice the elements of focus on the freedom and emotions of individuals. In “Corinne,” she describes the life hardships of a woman who wants to be an artist but has to be a wife and a mother. Analyzing details of the personal lives of De Staël’s characters, readers are to comprehend the hardships of their subjects and to accept emotions of freedom and the ability to perform as innate needs of all humans. What is most relevant to the Romantic agenda is her desire for bodily autonomy and access to one’s emotions. 

It is well known that Victor Hugo’s novel “Les Misérables” as well as many other works contain deep human compassion and convey social injustice. Thus, over the context of the story of Jean Valjean, Hugo gives the reader the concepts of such major themes as redemption, justice, and the role of the so-called ‘structures’ in people’s lives. He paints a brutally raw picture of the lives of those in the lower class living in a society that discriminates against them and makes the readers acknowledge their plight. Hugo’s work is unique. They can provide solutions to many of the modern tasks pointing to such primary principles as empathy and the recognition of the dignity of each person. Thus, empathy, which is advertised in the Romantic literature, is capable of closing the gap between different communities and thus creating a more tolerant society. 

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The Eiffel Tower

A. A SYNTHESIS OF HISTORICAL FACTS AND CULTURAL FEATURES SURROUNDING THE SITE:

Paris's iconic Eiffel Tower, a marvel of engineering, was envisioned for the 1889 World's Fair, celebrating the French Revolution's centenary. To mark the fair's centerpiece, a competition launched in 1886 saw 107 proposals. The winning design, a feat of French engineering, came from Gustave Eiffel and his team of engineers Maurice Koechlin, Émile Nouguier, and Stephen Sauvestre. The construction started on January 26, 1887, and ended on March 31, 1889, in slightly over two years. The tower has a height of 300 meters and at first, is admired and at the same time gets some criticism. 18,038 metal components and 5,300 workshops were designed and utilized 2,500,000 rivets and 7,300 tonnes of iron. Casting needed 150 employees in the Eiffel’s metallurgical workshop in Levallois-Perret and between 150 to 300 employees in the building site.

The construction of the supports of the tower started on the first of July, 1887 and there were a lot of developments recorded. While the first floor was finished by April 1, 1888, the second floor was done mid-August 14, 1888, and the upper portion by March 31, 1889. The construction was carried out by simple wooden framework and small steam cranes which proved the skills of the Eiffel’s team. The construction of the lower part was very tedious as it took five months merely to create the foundations of the Caminanthus Building; all of the structure stands on concrete blocks some of which are underwater and need metal caissons along with compressed air. 

B. A DIALECTICAL DISCUSSION:

The Eiffel Tower is a clear indicator of a new form of architectural thinking and cultural approach, especially in the area of artists’ accessibility. In this context, the Eiffel Tower was a completely pragmatic construction and I think it is a rather secular edifice for an exhibition differing greatly from the religious architectural masterpieces, like the Notre-Dame Cathedral or the Sainte-Chapelle. It did not aim at praising a God or a King but, rather, emphasized human creativity and victory of modern engineering. The Ile de Gaulle was redesigned in both a characteristic and utilitarian sense to accommodate the Eiffel Tower in ways that were novel in several aspects. First of which the intention was to use it as an emblem of the new industrial age and the opportunities it brought with it. The incorporation of iron as a construction material which was completed for industrialization differed from the stone and wooden constructions characteristic of Paris. The choice of the material used as well as the height of the tower make this icon represent scientific and technological prowess.

It was so as the Eiffel Tower dominated the skyline with scientific and artsy facets instead of religious. As, for instance, Gustave Eiffel himself suggested, the tower was beautiful in that it was perfectly rational and truly beautiful because of its perfection and raison d’être as the structure that epitomized superior construction and mathematical exactness. He was convinced that one can apply the principles of engineering to achieve elegance and harmony in the expression of architecture and opposed the concepts according to which only monumental and religious construction could be beautiful. With narrow but long bands of metal embracing the main core of the construction, Le Corbusier had to mathematically determine how curved the tower’s uprights should be to minimize wind turbulence, proving how scientific techniques could result in stylistic methodologies. The tower also provided art and cultural experience to the common man. While various other religious constructions were open mostly to the parishioners, the Eiffel Tower was open to the public. It became a sign of freedom and was associated with the principles of equality as a result of the French Revolution. 

This put the Eiffel Tower as a symbol of the democratization of arts and the theme of revolution where science and art intersect and are democratized away from the religious and monarchical Parisian motifs. Being an icon of human creativity and amazingly affordable art, the Eiffel Tower represents the spirit of the late Nineteenth century optimistically looking into the future.

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Rodin Museum

A. A SYNTHESIS OF HISTORICAL FACTS AND CULTURAL FEATURES SURROUNDING THE SITE:

“The Thinker” is one of the sculptures by the French artist Auguste Rodin that depicts the most striking aspect of the human soul – contemplation. The sculpture which was created in the form of a naked male model, sitting and looking thoughtful, has created an immense impact across the world for its ability to embody a mode of thinking and feeling. The most famous rendition of “The Thinker” is the 6-foot statue bronze of 1904 now located at the gardens of the Rodin Museum in Paris. Also known originally as ‘The Lover’, the sculpture was envisioned as a part of a series ‘The Gates of Hell’, which Rodin started in 1880. This monumental project was initially performed to an order of two bronze doors envisaged for a museum of decorative arts in Paris. So, to create The Gate of Hell, Rodin found inspiration in Dante's ‘The Divine Comedy,’ one of the segments of which is Inferno, to sculpt a series of small clay figures of the lost souls present in the poems.  

The reforming statues, such as “The Poet” which was later known as “The Thinker”, belonged to this category. The high relief appeared on the tympanum situated above the doors in the plaster model, which is located in the Musée d’Orsay, and the bronze doors cast after Rodin’s death. In the original design, it was placed over suffering non-liberated souls thus exploring the idea of existence and the world around him. This contrast emphasizes the heavy thinking and feeling encompassed by the figure. It has been claimed that the figure was to symbolize the poet, however, Rodin did not attempt fully to depict Dante; though the form presented does not convey slimness and elegance, typical for images of the poet. The French Government acquired the monumental cast bronze sculpture in the year 1906 at the request of a public meeting and was placed outside the Pantheon building as a gift from the French to the city of Paris. Ever since the statue was moved to the gardens of the Rodin Museum in 1922 it is a prominent feature of the museum. 

B. A DIALECTICAL DISCUSSION:

One can state that while Rodin’s work does not belong to such an artistic movement as Surrealism, some principles of this movement may be seen in the work under analysis with a focus on the insides of psyche and unconsciousness. Symbolic as it is provocative, the sculpture highlights the theme of reflection typical for the Surrealists’ effort to unveil the individual’s spiritual core. The great originality of Rodin’s work is shown in the fact that it does not depict an outward struggle but shows, instead, a moment of contemplation in its essence in the sculpture named “The Thinker”. The physical pose of the figure, a curved spine with a bent neck and furrowed brow, and the head resting on the fist also speak the same. This portrayal of the human brain in operation reflects the Surrealist’s preoccupation with the interior of the psyche and the submerged regions of consciousness. 

While not solely a Surrealist, Rodin reflected the movement’s ideas by incorporating emotion, and rough and vigorous textures into his sculptures, as well as using the theme of spontaneity in his works. The rough and unfinished skin of “the thinker” forces the viewers to touch or at least approach the statue on an empathetic and psychological level, deriving them a psychological connection to the figure of the statue. Also, Rodin’s unique ability and determination to work with clichéd resultant figures such as Dante portrays an interesting adherence to the Surrealists’ penchant for antimodernists were they like to disturb, disrupt, and of course, deconstruct the artistic contemporary norms. When creating ‘The Thinker’, Rodin does not depict him as a sensitive poet or a frail thinker, but rather a muscular and robust man, which yet again underlines that thoughts are a physical exercise and involve the fight to come into existence. 

“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin is a sculpture of world significance, it is even more so an analysis of the human mind. Some of its features can be interpreted as referring to such contemplation and introspection, linking this genre to the Surrealist endeavor of exploring the unconscious. The element of the form and the texture to which Rodin paid special attention only adds to the sculpture’s emotional and psychological depth and makes ‘The Thinker’ one of the enduring markers of the humanist inquiry.

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The Pompidou Center in Paris

A. A SYNTHESIS OF HISTORICAL FACTS AND CULTURAL FEATURES SURROUNDING THE SITE:

The Georges Pompidou National Art and Culture Centre is a masterpiece and eye-opener in the heart of the city. Opened in 1977, it is in the 4th district of Paris, commonly known as the ‘Beaubourg’ area. This multicultural type of institution was envisaged by the former president of the French Republic Georges Pompidou who presided from 1962 to 1968. Thus, Pompidou dreamed of a museum focused on the culture of the 20th and 21st centuries, involving art: visual and literary, music, film, and design. The Centre consists of large-scale galleries with temporary exhibitions and the stations of the modern and contemporary art collection which is one of the largest in the world. It also contains a theater, one of the city’s biggest public libraries, and other additional multipurpose exposition zones welcoming eight million people every year. While today the centre has all the chances to become one of the most known centers, its creation was not easy at all and was accompanied by several controversies. Paris had reeled from advanced art direction to New York in the 1970s; therefore, there was a want for a fresh, symbolic place. 

Competitions were organized for the architectural design of the building and the final design by Richard Rogers of Britain and Renzo Piano of Italy offered an altogether different paradigm. This deals with the physical framework and services that tend to be hidden from the naked eye and were given sensationalized aesthetics such as colored tubing, piping, elevators, and external staircases that are iconic. This innovative design was welcomed in some circles and has been referred to as “The Ship of Culture”, while in other circles they referred to it as “Our Lady of the Pipe”.  Nevertheless, people warmed up to the centre in the shortest time possible following the outrage. The structure was intended to accommodate 5,000 people per day; in the first year, it received five times that many. The two major exhibitions and the oversized public library were immediately developed and appreciated. After the appearance of a third theater space in the early 1990s and the Centre’s 20th anniversary in 1997, the Center went through a three-year refurbishment; it expanded internal areas, going beyond 8,000 sq meters in thickness for additional exhibitions and performance spaces.  

B. A DIALECTICAL DISCUSSION:

Pompidou Center designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano is an architectural concept that implements a radical approach to architecture. The center shows components that would normally remain behind apparent, for instance, pipes and beams, and makes them rather obvious and contrasting in color. This bold and eye-catching ornamentation serves as a powerful symbol communicating the museum's commitment to creativity. The uninhibited utilization of utilities in the architectural style and the choice of colors directly rationalize the intended purpose of the center as the place that is charged with the task of provoking and expanding people’s perception of art. The works are diverse and complex too, encompassing the theme and subject of modern and contemporary art, requiring some in-depth analysis on the viewer’s part to find meaning in the forms. These collections also correlate with existentialist aesthetics in the way that they occur in the context of subjectivism and the aesthetic reception of art objects. 

The Center has several elements that can be associated with existentialist philosophy. Existentialism holds that man does not have any inherent purpose and it is up to him to give meaning to his existence. A work of art is to be a mirror that reflects the position of the spectator regarding himself and the world. This existentialist view is reflected in the Pompidou Centre’s abstract collections; its artworks thus prompt people to think about themselves by engaging with the works. In existentialism, as according to Jean-Paul Sartre, existence precedes essence. This means we define ourselves through our actions and choices, not through a predetermined nature. The Pompidou Centre's curatorial approach reflects this notion. They leave ample space within their exhibitions, allowing viewers to contemplate the art's multiple meanings and form their own interpretations. Hence, the Centre’s focus on contemporary and modern art, which frequently offers postcolonial or multicultural subject matter that questions and analyzes the dominant power relations, is in tune with Sartre’s notion of art which can trigger existentialist contemplation.

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The Quai Branly Museum

A. A SYNTHESIS OF HISTORICAL FACTS AND CULTURAL FEATURES SURROUNDING THE SITE:

Since 2006, the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris has brought visitors to observe the artwork and traditions of native individuals and French colonial societies. Former French President Jacques Chirac played a pivotal role in the conception of this museum and the institution is intended to promote cross-cultural understanding and stress the importance of the global cultures’ artwork. It is established to signify defining artworks from African, American, Asian, and Oceanic cultures, and its objective is to unite the culturally divided world. Current collection can be divided into three large categories. The instruments that are used for the production of music are displayed in the musical instruments category proving that music is a heritage in all cultures no matter how they differ. The textile collection is indeed vast; it comprises more than twenty-five thousand pieces from different parts of the world illustrating the diversity of textile tradition. These historical items are related to globalization and colonial history, which helps to understand the relationships between cultures and the effects of colonization. 

Each exhibit gallery and the building itself designed by the world-famous architect Jean Nouvel has great architectural value. Any organization or place that Nouvel visits takes modern elements and blends them with natural beauty, which is evident in this museum with beautiful gardens partially surrounding the outside of the building. Their is a single long footbridge going through wild gardens occupying 36,000 meters and it is located near the Eiffel Tower. The entrance is a 200-meter-long glass façade with a cascading 800-square-meter green wall by botanist Patrick Blanc. It’s a wall with quite a variety of plants originating from China and Japan, the United States, and Central Europe that captivate the visitors with greenery.  

B. A DIALECTICAL DISCUSSION:

The aspect worth pointing out is that the Quai Branly Museum houses the art of indigenous people and is dedicated to the cultures of non-Western civilizations which are valuable to study in order to recall France’s colonial past. French colonization took place for many centuries and reached many areas within Africa, Asia, America, and the Pacific region. Colonization as a process was primarily characterized by the domination of the native people, their aims, and their property by European people as well as the taking of resources and objects. This history is important for the French to accept and recall because it influences today’s trends and interactions in the community. The recognition of the cultures of the colonized nations in France has several objectives. Firstly, it is an attempt to recognize these societies and begin solving past injustices. Thus, focusing on art and historical roots of these nations, France will be able to emphasize the value of their people and their ability to resist colonialism. 

Museums like the Quai Branly in Paris challenge the traditional Euro-American focus of art history by showcasing the artistic heritage of Asia, Africa, and other regions. Therefore, the inclusion of diverse perspectives in cultural products underscores the importance of diversification in representing art and heritage. This shift is important as today people from different cultures meet in international environments and they have to listen and respect each other. Thus, an attempt to embrace and appreciate the cultures of France's former colonies has clear social tones in a modern context. The populations of these areas have emigrated to France over the years and brought along with them family and genetics which are parts of the French populace today. It increases their self-esteem and an understanding of their cultural backgrounds since their cultures are promoted. It also enables its beneficiaries to counter racism and xenophobia by sharing the part they have played in enriching the society’s culture. The Quai Branly Museum looks like a symbol of the French Republic’s desire to respect and consider the work and culture of indigenous and non-European peoples. That way, it acts as a mediator between two cultures, so that inter-cultural dialogue exists not only between civilizations of the past and those of the present day. By recognizing colonial history and paying tribute to the cultures that suffered its impact, France can become a more tolerant state.

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The Natural History Museum of Paris

A. A SYNTHESIS OF HISTORICAL FACTS AND CULTURAL FEATURES SURROUNDING THE SITE:

One of the most whimsical yet academically formal institutions that can boast a glorious existence of several centuries is the National Museum of Natural History located in Paris, France. Thus, it was established during the French Revolution, yet its collections date back significantly earlier than that period. It has 14 venues all over France; however, the most visited is the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution in the Left Bank. This gallery is coated with Art Nouveau stuccowork and wrought-iron railings and has a soaring glass roof, and the interior reveals a rather macabre collection of articulated skeletons, taxidermy, and realistic reproductions back-lit by a 1,000 square meters of glass roof.

The roots of the museum can be considered to be traced back to the Royal Garden of Medicinal Plants which goes back to as early as 1635 founded by Louis XIII. At first, its educational program prioritized these three branches of studying plants, chemistry, and anatomy that were freely available for anyone, regardless of one’s background, and taught in French instead of scholarly Latin. Religious groups were against the construction of the garden however their development and expansion were noted when the garden transformed into a natural history theme in the 18th century. This change was begun by the Buffon Count whose fifty years term as superintendent from 1739 made the Jardin des Plantes to be one of the most creative scientific centers.

It became even more prominent after the French Revolution; the Constituent Assembly resolved that a new National Museum of Natural History was to be established in 1793. What is more, a new institution was focused on research, education, and management of collections, which now are the crucial points of the organization. The 19th century could be considered as the period of the museum’s activity based on the chemist Chevreul who received proper political backing. At that time, the museum also enlarged its collecting area and equally created research stations such as the maritime laboratory in Dinard and the botanical estate in Chèvreloup.

Modern expansion for the museum occurred in the 20th century as it became a science museum. Some of the new sites it obtained are the Paléosite de Sansan and the Val Rahmeh Botanical Garden in France. After the Second World War, the museum directly engaged in the sphere of environmentalism to help found the IUCN in 1948. It created various conservation services and raised consciousness concerning the effects of people on the environment. 

B. A DIALECTICAL DISCUSSION:

In this case, the National Museum of Natural History in Paris pushes people to see art in a different aspect, it was made by the earth. This perspective can also be seen in the objects collected and showcased in the museum such as the life-size elephants and giraffes, mounted butterflies, and most importantly the preserved ones. Capturing the attractiveness and the richness of living nature, the museum encourages a better understanding and, at the same time, recognition of the interdependence of all living things.

By producing works of art that provoke thought about one’s interaction with nature, this approach fosters the ideas of environmental morality. Acknowledging the fact that art can be made by people and made by the earth makes people appreciate the natural scenery. It provokes one to think of the effects that we have on the environment and gives one the feeling of wanting to safeguard it. The very act of acknowledging art created by natural forces compels us to reevaluate our relationship with the natural world. This introspection can spark a desire to protect the environment and safeguard the delicate balance between humanity and nature.

Increasing the level of empathy is considered to be vital in fighting such phenomena as global warming and numerous other environmental issues. It is possible for individuals visiting the museum to come out with such ethical sensitizations about ecosystems as well as the impacts of human beings. This type of understanding may result in ethically and sustainably sound actions and contribute to the shared objectives of reversing climate change and preserving our environment for generations to come.

After seeing on display the beauty that our Earth has to offer, it is easier for those who have not grown a sense of empathy for nature to come to terms with the ideas of environmental ethics. One can go outside everyday and never recognize the beauty or significance of plants or animals, but the way it is showcased in this museum invites the visitor to view nature as not just a place they inhabit, but as a work of art that is to be admired and taken care of.