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Sunday, 4 May 2014

Louvre scraps section on Eastern Christianity - Vatican Insider

The section was inaugurated under the Sarkozy presidency in 2010, as a tribute to the Byzantine heritage but the Hollande's Ministry of Culture has given other projects priority over this oneGiorgio Bernardelli, Rome - 9 April 2014

“The Louvre will be dedicating a new section to the Artistic heritage of Eastern Christians, the Byzantine Empire and the slaves,” Nicholas Sarkozy announced back in January 2010. Just a few months later, the former president of the prestigious Parisian museum – Henri Loyerette – set out a plan and time frame for the initiative: “It will occupy a 1000 m² space of exhibition rooms previously allocated to the Islamic art section (which in 2012 was moved to another part of the Louvre, Ed.) and visitors will have access to it as of 2014,” he explained.

Now 2014 is here and not only has the project not gone ahead, it was completely scrapped by the museum’s new management, with the approval of François Hollande’s culture ministry. Professor Marie-Hélène Rutschowscaya – former head of the Louvre’s Coptic section and one of the world’s top scholars specialising in the treasures of Eastern Christianity – denounced the move in an open letter to French Catholic newspaper La Croix. The scholar explained that the Louvre has decided to use the vacant exhibition halls previously dedicated to Islamic art, as welcome areas for school group visits to the museum. This meant shelving the idea of putting on show the precious treasures of Eastern Christianity which the museum possesses. These are currently spread across different sections and some are even sitting in boxes in the museum’s warehouses.

Professor Rutschowscaya is frank in saying that the Louvre’s decision constitutes a secularist cultural prejudice by the Hollande government. Shouldn’t we condemn the fact that France has decided to adopt such a cold cultural policy towards countries whose culture has been deeply marked by Byzantine and post-Byzantine era Christianity leaving our Medieval West with such a rich legacy? The dramatic events we are currently seeing in the Middle East and Eastern Europe should instead spur us to do more to promote lasting cultural ties,” the professor wrote in her letter.

In an interview with La Croix, the current president of the Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez, justified the decision by claiming that the creation of a new section on Eastern Christianity would have involved a lengthy rethinking of the use of the current spaces (though this did not prevent the Louvre from launching the Islamic art section back in 2003). Martinez said he was generally in favour of the idea of grouping Byzantine art into one single section of the museum but he added that the priority today is to sort out the public’s access to the spaces in the pyramid. Work on these will begin in July and last two years, so the Byzantine art will have to wait, at least until 2017.

Besides the cultural war, this whole affair seems set to dig the knife deeper into the wounded relations between France and Eastern Christians. Since 1500, the Sultans of the East gave entrusted the kings of Paris with the task of protecting the rights of Christian communities in The Middle East. This is partly why François Hollande’s support to the Syrian opposition forces fighting the Bashar al Assad regime, was seen by most Eastern Christians as a nod to Islamist militias. When Hervé Magro took up his new post as French consul general in Jerusalem he hastened to underline how important the role of protector of Middle Eastern Christians really was to France and that the memory of this lives on. But for now, the museum that represents the highest temple of French culture seems to have put this memory on hold. Despite the ordeal Eastern Christians are currently experiencing first hand.

See online here:

Louvre scraps section on Eastern Christianity - Vatican Insider
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