France the French way


The Louvre – Forbidden Love

Posted: 2011-12-12

Lessons from the Louvre – Part 3

This is the third part of my series on paintings in the Louvre. This is my attempt to cure those suffering from MLS syndrome, and opening your eyes to art highlights other than the Mona Lisa! Over the next month there will be weekly articles on my highlights, which tend not to be the normal selections! I last wrote about the Kim Kardashian of the 1600s, featuring Marie de Medici. If you don’t want to miss out on my next articles on the Louvre please just click on the “Blog Notification” button just to the right.

We all lead very busy lives. There are always deadlines and appointments to make. One of my greatest treats is to be able to visit the Louvre and sit and look at one painting. 

The painting I am going to share with you today is “Atala in the Tomb” painted by Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson. 

The inspiration of this painting came from the tragic love story of the French author Chateaubriand called “The Two Loves of Two Savages in the Desert”.

This painting tells the story of the Christian maiden Atala, who frees the Indian brave Chactas from his enemies and finds refuge with him in the cave of the religious hermit Father Aubry. Having consecrated herself to God and a life of chastity, Atala takes poison when she fears that she is falling in love with Chactas. After her death, Chactas vows to become a Christian himself.


Atala in the Tomb

Words are not really required to describe the scene. We have a heart-breaking image of purity, beauty, despair and sensuality, as Chactas clings to Atala’s legs refusing to lay her in the tomb, which he has already prepared. I think we have all experienced similar grief at some stage of our lives – the pain of having to say goodbye, of having to let go? We see Atala draped lightly in a white sheet with the last of the day’s sun making her radiate light, as if she were still alive, her hands clasped as if in prayer. She had such a struggle between her spiritual values of faith and her sensual values of love, but we look out of the cave to see the cross on the hill, which in a way reminds the viewer of the Christian promise of eternal life.  

If you click on the photo of the painting you will make out some writing etched on the wall of the cave. These words are from the book of Job and they read in French  “I have faded like a flower, I have withered like the grass in the fields”.

So click on the photo to enlarge it, and take a moment looking at the painting, and feel the pain in this story of forbidden love.

To find “Atala in the Tomb” in the Louvre:

The room where this painting is located is my favourite room in the whole Louvre. You just follow signs to French 19th century! Here you also have stunning collections of David, Ingres et al, as well as this painting by Girodet.

Denon wing
1st Floor (ground floor, first floor)
Room 75