Architecture: L’Arc de Triomphe

Written by Jasmine Grace,
High School Intern

 

L’Arc de Triomphe is one of the most recognizable monuments in Paris. Originally inspired by Napoleon Bonaparte I at the height of his power, it has since stood as a monument to the past and present glory of France. And for 16 days last year, it stood for something different entirely. 

Beginning

Arch of Titus

After Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, he commissioned the Arch to celebrate his miliraty’s accomplishments. Jean-François Thérèse Chalgrin designed it in the neoclassical style, and inspired by the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum.  It would be built in the Place de l’Étoile,  a circle plaza with 12 large avenues radiating outwards to form an étoile (a star). Although the location of the Arch remains the same, the location is now called Place Charles de Gaulle.

Construction

Emperor Napoleon

Work began in 1806, on Napoleon’s birthday, August 15. By 1810, when Napoleon married Archduchess Marie-Louisean, only the foundation was complete. So for their wedding, a full-scale wood and painted canvas model was built on the site. This gave the archetest a chance to see how his creation would look in the Parisian setting, and he tweaked his original design just slightly. Just a year later, construction slowed, then stopped completely after the Bourbon Restoration of 1814. The arch sat unfinished for nearly a decade. King Louis XVIII, however, ordered work to resume following a successful invasion of Spain. The Arch was officially completed in 1836, under King Louis-Philippe.  

 

 

Wrapped

Aside from periodic cleaning and maintenance, the Arch has remained unchanged for centuries. Until 2021, when an artist realized a vision after decades of dreaming. For 16 days, the Arch became an artist’s exhibition.

L’Arc de Triomphe

Artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude first had the idea to wrap the Arch in the 60s, while both lived in Paris. They created thought-provoking pieces in other parts of the world, but this project didn’t come to be until 2021, 11 years after Jeanne-Claude’s death. Christo didn’t live to see the project complete, and his devoted nephew completed the work.

The pandemic delayed construction, and breeding habits of falcons found to be nesting on the monument shifted the construction from summer to fall. But after 3 months of labor by 1,200 workers, almost two miles of red cord, and thousands of square feet of silver-blue fabric, the project was complete. Mixed reviews greeted the finished work. Some thought it disgraced the monument, others didn’t understand and wondered if the ‘real’ art was under the wrapping. But some appreciated the perspectives this piece offers.

The wrapping on the arc can be interpreted as an analysis of the timeline of beauty. The Arc underneath had stood for centuries, its beauty remaining unchanged through the years. But the wrapping moved with every breeze, and the exhibition ended after only 16 days. If one were to look deeper into the meaning and inspiration of the piece, one might also analyze the meaning of the Arc itself. Napoleon built it as a tribute to the military glory of France, but what glory is there truly in war? If there was any glory, it didn’t last. Napoleon’s might faltered, and soon collapsed in on itself, giving way to a new order in France. Christo loved beauty, but he also loved deeper meaning in art.

 

The Arc has held a special place in France since it was first built, and has stood for a variety of things since it’s construction. It holds a special place in the center of Paris, at the center of the main roads that connect all of France.

 

Exploring Biliteracy in Everyday Life

Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence – high school Intern

Introduction

When someone thinks about being biliterate, they often have a narrow focus of what possibilities this opens them up to. When I first started to explore the opportunities presented by being biliterate, I was focused on travel opportunities, teaching the language, and other bare-bones ideas about the benefits of multilingualism. This perception, however, is incredibly flawed and ignores the major benefits of understanding two (or perhaps more) languages. One day last fall, my perception was permanently altered by a seemingly mundane event.

 

The Clark Art Institute

Last fall, a group of students in my high school’s French Program visited the Clark Art Institute in northern Massachusetts. At the Institute, they have a full art museum where they give guided tours and foster interest in higher education in the field of art. The museum possesses some unique pieces of art, ranging from around the world and spanning several centuries of history. At the Clark Art Institute, they have a team of docents, who act as tour guides through the museum, that speak a variety of languages. Our docent, Sylvia, was fluent in French and provided a bulk of our tour in French. During the tour, I became enthralled by the idea of using French in this way; it was such a unique way to use the French language in one’s everyday life, far beyond what I had ever imagined as possible. 

 

The Interview & Revelations

After our tour, I reached out to Sylvia about an interview, which she agreed to participate in. This interview provided me with even more insight into how Sylvia used language in her everyday life. I began asking her about her experience with language as a docent. She expressed how being bilingual had helped her connect to the people that she was giving tours to. Not only could she provide information about the art, but she could provide vocabulary about art in French. This idea of using language to connect with the people around you resonated with me; it was this major revelation that actively changed my perception. I began to understand, almost immediately, that language was more than just traveling or teaching: it could foster personal connections. 

 

Sylvia didn’t start learning language to become a docent, and that’s not the only place she has used it, either. Somewhere that she was most proud of using the language in her life was with her kids. As she raised her kids they traveled back and forth between France and the United States, exposing them to the language and culture of both. Because of this, French has long been ingrained in the life of Sylvia’s children, providing them with that cultural connection that she fell in love with. Once more, this brought new ideas of biliteracy and bilingualism to my mind. It seemed so fundamental to one’s life to learn a new language, to become invested in connecting with others via language and experience. 

 

Closing Thoughts

Sylvia opened my mind to a more complete understanding of how bilingualism, and biliteracy, is useful in life. It is my goal to pass this message on to others. When I consider the way that French has changed Sylvia’s life, I find a powerful story that moves me to continue my own study of language, something that I hope to pass on to the people around me now and in the future. 

 

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