SKY OVER THE LOUVRE
Written by Jean-Claude Carriere and Bernar Yslaire and Drawn by Bernar Yslaire
Published by NBM
Reviewed by Marc Mason
Reviewer’s note: I left my role with NBM publishing at the end of 2010 and no longer receive any form of compensation from the company.
One of the most unique but fruitful graphic novel publishing ventures in the last five years has been the series of works commissioned by the Louvre. The output has been stunning- GLACIAL PERIOD, MUSEUM VAULTS, and ON THE ODD HOURS have each been visual feasts, and their stories have been captivating. Now the fourth in the series has arrived, and it is easily on par with the previous efforts. THE SKY OVER THE LOUVRE is an artistic tour-de-force, yet it also tells the most relatable story we’ve seen from these books so far.
SKY takes us back into the past. The French Revolution is in swing, and the Louvre has passed from being the private playground of the monarchy to being a public museum. The citizens tribunal that decided who would met the guillotine was doing its dirty work, led by Robespierre The Incorruptible, and the great artist David was participating alongside him. David, though, had more than reforming France on his mind; he was a painter, and painters paint. Thus, while he was happy to take on commissions that were meant to advance the goal of The Terror (which is what Robespierre’s reign would come to be known as) he was also heavily concerned with the integrity of his work. Thus we come to the crux of the story here: David is commissioned to paint the new “supreme being” that Robespierre is hoping to use to help France start fresh. But David becomes obsessed with finishing a painting of a young boy named Bara who died trying to protect the nation from foreign invasion. That obsession bleeds into David’s personal obsession with using a young foreign boy for his model, even though he is strictly told he cannot.
Needless to say, things between Robespierre and David are heading for conflict.
What makes SKY work so well is that the creators do a superb job of helping the reader understand the timeframe in which the story takes place. The motivations, the social mores, the clothing, the abject terror… it leaps off the page and surrounds you as you go through the pages. They also use a very effective selection of real artworks in the backgrounds, lending not only authenticity but also added emotional heft to various scenes. We also get a strong sense of who David is and what is driving him; less so with Robespierre, but still enough that he feels rounded as a “character.”
The look of the book itself is remarkable. This is the first of the series to be printed in hardcover, and it is an oversized hardcover at that. Honestly, I’d like to see the company go back and reprint the earlier books in this same format so they could all sit together nicely on the shelf. Yslaire’s art is beautiful; his people are distinct, their body language tells the reader vital information, and the colors are a character unto themselves. I went through this book very slowly, taking it all in.
In short: highly recommended. Just like all the previous books in the Louvre series.