In contrast to the free, and somewhat eccentric, medieval carving on the facade of the nearby church, these botanical details are carefully planned and controlled.  The oak branch, over an archway in the Cour Carrée of the Palais du Louvre, is a naturalistic portrait of part of a real tree, but it is shaped to fit a clearly defined space.  The branch the other side of the arch appears to be a perfect match but look closer and you’ll see that all the details are different.

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The oak is associated with strength and endurance in many cultures so it’s not a surprising choice for decoration of a royal palace.   The olive branch is a widely recognised symbol of peace but also a symbol of power.  The buildings of the Palais du Louvre were built and redeveloped for successive kings, from Charles V to Louis XIV, but the decoration of the Cour Carrée dates from the days of Napoleon Bonaparte.  The winged thunderbolts above the olive branch don’t suggest a peace offering.

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Iron panels in the heavy wooden doors of the courtyard reinforce the message.  The eagle and thunderbolt of the Bonaparte family crest is ‘hidden’ rather prominently among the botanical details.  Curled fronds around the gold N are transformed into eagles’ heads and decorative roses are divided by wings and thunderbolts.  There was no doubt about who was in charge round here.

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