Recovered Armor Stolen from Louvre Invites Look at Italian Renaissance

1983 theft resolved with return of artifacts to famous museum

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Renaissance-era stolen armor has been returned to the Louvre after a 1983 theft. The Italian Renaissance is one of the most famous periods of creative flourishment in human history and the Louvre houses many masterpieces from it. What else is in the Louvre’s Renaissance collection?

Death of the Virgin Mary
Baroque master Michelangelo Caravaggio’s “Death of the Virgin” (1606) is among the collection of Caravaggio paintings at the Louvre. Photo by The Yorck Project (2002) / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The theft of priceless Renaissance-era armor that happened nearly 40 years ago has finally been resolved after a family’s appraisal of artwork led police to the stolen items. While a current investigation is underway, the armor has been returned to the Louvre, along with a priceless collection of other artwork from the Italian Renaissance.

Lush Venetian paintings and Baroque masterpieces fill the Louvre, from Titian’s The Crowning of Thorns to portraits by Caravaggio. In his video series Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre, Dr. Richard Brettell, the Margaret McDermott Distinguished Professor of Art and Aesthetics at The University of Texas at Dallas, spent time in the Renaissance section of the famous museum.

Clash of Titians

One artist celebrated in the Louvre is Titian, a 16th-century Venetian painter whose works were often religious. Two of his paintings adorn the Louvre. The first, created c. 1520, is called The Entombment of Christ.

“It was painted early in his own career when he was a rather young artist, and it represents the highly serious subject of the entombment of Christ, Christ being transported to his tomb,” Dr. Brettell said. “We can hardly see Christ’s face, and it’s the sense that the painting is really more about the mourners of Christ and about the heaviness and mortality of moving him as a body, in his human body, that makes the painting so deeply moving.

“One sees the way in which all of those closest to him both hold his mortal remains and look aghast and at each other for a kind of explanation of how and why his death had occurred.”

Next to this foreboding, nocturnal masterpiece is a later work by Titian called The Crowning with Thorns. Gone is the solemn, passive nature of The Entombment. The Crowning is a violent altarpiece from the 1540s, commissioned for a Milanese church, depicting Christ being attacked and stabbed with spears shortly before his crucifixion. It depicts such motion and agony that Dr. Brettell said it has “a kind of dramatic intensity unknown in earlier art.”

If It Ain’t Baroque…

Perhaps the most influential of the Baroque painters is Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, who worked in Rome most of his life, but also spent time in Malta, Sicily, and Tuscany.

“[Caravaggio] is a painter who represented lower life and the kind of powerful contrast between light and dark, which one sees in The Fortune Teller: a wonderful young man whose fortune is being read by a gypsy and who looks as if the future is not quite clear,” Dr. Brettell said. “This is a picture that is both secular and sacred. It has a kind of oddness to it, and we can’t quite interpret it.”

Caravaggio’s most striking work in the Louvre is Death of the Virgin. It depicts a mortal virgin, dead and bloated, with mourners grieving over her body, which is draped in a red sheet. Dr. Brettell said that the subjects of Caravaggio’s paintings are so powerful that his works stand apart from other paintings in the museum.

“It suggests a kind of pictorial world that will be responded to all over Europe—in Spain, in Flanders, and in France—as the century of Caravaggio continues.”

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily