As every student aspiring to become an art historian, once in Paris I promised myself to visit the Louvre very often, and experiencing it almost every week throughout the semester was indeed enchanting. All Art great names, one next to the other, along an almost endless line of walls, halls, and galleries. From the Borghese Gladiator to Camille Corot, just to name a few.
The Louvre was the answer to idle times: nothing in particular to do, an entire world to explore. And it was the answer for many other moments too: there I brought my friends and met new ones as well. The Louvre meant discovering a whole universe of cultures and places from the past through the taste of their most beautiful fruits.
For every Italian student aspiring to become an art historian, the Grande Galerie is one of the most exciting places in Paris. From Cimabue to Tiepolo, the alphabet of our artistic tradition is almost complete. Not only is it a real summary of my studies, but a summary of my personal path as well. Quite an emotional experience, almost recalling a Proustian one. And so, Mantegna’s Pala della Vittoria made me remember my favourite course at Ca’ Foscari and especially a late afternoon in San Basilio at the end of my first year, where, for the first time, I had listened to an entire lesson devoted to the history of a single, magnificent painting.
From the same wall, only a few steps away from Mantegna, Antonello da Messina brought me back to Genoa and to the museum where last summer I completed my first internship. A city where I used to go with my parents when I was a child, where I used to walk for hours, along the sea in the Porto Antico, in the labyrinth of the caruggi, on the cliffs of Nervi. During my stay, I learnt to love Genoa for more than a week-end. I learnt to love its rhythm, its incredible views, its astonishing palaces, its beautiful art.
More or less in front of it, Perugino’s paintings reminded me of a sweet weekend of last April, when I followed my roommate of two years in Perugia: he looked forward to taking part in the Journalism Festival and I to discovering a magnificent city with two of my beloved cousins who were studying there. Two sunny days of walks, conferences, museums and beauty in the heart of Umbria.
Further along the wall, the Venetians came. Bellini, Cima, Carpaccio, then, in the Mona Lisa‘s room, Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, Lorenzo Lotto, Paris Bordon, Sebastiano Luciani. You could easily spend the whole day in that room without caring for the Mona Lisa. Every single one of the other paintings could tell me a different story. The majority of them were about Venice, the city where I have been living for almost three years. Some of them told me something more. For example, Lotto made me see the Marche landscapes of my summers, between Recanati and Loreto, and the incredible amount of memories I have collected there with my family throughout the years.
Following the flow of memories, Venice came, and the last two years, so intense and unique that I don’t know how to start the next sentence. From the very first moment when I crossed the Ponte della Libertà with my mother – I remember how strong my heart was beating that time – to the daily vaporetti to San Servolo, my magical island; from the morning pastries and coffees with my friends, to the walks as far as Sant’Elena late in the evening. For the love I received, for the friendships I built, for the chances I got, for the beauty I learnt, Venice has been the treasure island in a grey world. Two enchanting years, which are now becoming three and coming to an end.
The wonders of Venice became palpable in a small room, after centuries of art and paintings. The cycle of Venetian festivities by Francesco Guardi completely absorbed my eyes and my mind. The series represents all the main ceremonies of the Serenissima a few years before its fall. Some of them still remain. So, even if there are no more ducal celebration at San Zaccaria for Easter, the Salute feast, as well as the Sensa, still structure Venetian calendars, even for the university students. The profiles of my everyday landscapes so superbly painted captured my eyes for hours and were a compulsory stop during the visits with my friends.
Going back toward the exit, a series of windows proposed their modern views on a bright city. Under the reddish-black sky, Paris and its traffic paraded next to the museum. From some of the windows, you could see that incredible, limitless axis that generates just under your feet, joining you to the Défense and passing through the Pyramide, the Arc du Carrousel, the Tuileries, Place de la Concorde, the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe. And next to it, a red and white line of lights indicates Rue de Rivoli. An enormous city, so dynamic that one can hardly follow its speed with the eyes.
From those windows, I could see how much I was learning. How to cook, how to live in my own apartment, how to get around with the underground. The rhythms of a huge city, the grandeur of its landscapes, the dimensions of its distances. The differences in teaching, the study method, the rules of the libraries. To be with other people from different cultures, to be with other Italian guys abroad, to be alone in an unfamiliar context.
Living Paris, like visiting the Louvre or writing these few lines, meant rethinking about my life, my goals, and my achievements. It meant looking back on my path from another perspective, personally and academically. It was an opportunity to recognise how valuable the experiences I have lived and the people I have met until now are.
And now that my mobility period is over, I still have to understand how much Paris weighed on me and my personality. Maybe – why not – I will discover it through the galleries of a museum, when a nostalgic Callebotte shows the rainy afternoons of November, the crowded trains of the underground, the black coats crossing the Jardins de Luxembourg; or when a sunny Renoir indicates me the evening walks along the Seine, the roofs from the Centre Pompidou, the bicycles crossing the streets of the Marais.