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the Department of Islamic Art, The Louvre

Rudy Ricciotti | Mario Bellini

the Department of Islamic Art, The Louvre
By Caterina Testa -

Along with its collections, the Louvre itself testifies to almost one thousand years of history, from its medieval foundations and 17th century Cour Carrée through to the Pei pyramids of 1989. The story continues with the recent inauguration of Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti’s pavilion in the Cour Visconti. Like Pei’s pure stark volumes, the new addition fits into its setting like a design object, careful not to touch the Baroque walls around it. In contrast to Pei’s sharp angles though, Bellini and Ricciotti’s golden canopy is an ephemeral impalpable veil fluttering in the breeze above its confined court.

Winner of the 2005 competition for the Louvre’s new Department of Islamic Arts, the pavilion is tasked with linking the artefacts on display with their architectural container, Islamic art with Baroque surfaces, symbol with image.

The sensation of impalpable lightness, apparent from the very first renders, has been achieved with a truss structure enclosed on all sides by extra-clear glass walls with invisible joints, supporting a roof covering comprising a double layer of gold and silver stretched aluminium mesh.

The uninterrupted undulating canopy covers a single huge exhibition space beneath. Openings at ground level lead down to lower-level exhibition areas. The same extra-clear glass of the outer walls has been used for the display cases. All discontinuity is eliminated: between inside and out, visitor and artefact, and between the new pavilion and the ancient court in which it stands. Natural light filtering through the iridescent silver and gold coloured mesh bathes the satin-finish grey cement floor with warm burnished luminosity. 

Bellini and Ricciotti’s “dragonfly-wing” canopy is both respectful and daring. Its gossamer-like structure seems to tiptoe into its majestic surrounds but at the same time proclaim its vibrant shining presence. 

Caterina Testa

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