The Musée Louvre is an incredible museum but can be very overwhelming to any visitor. The old masters works feel heavier than those exhibited in the neighboring Musée d’Orsay, but the Louvre is a must see. With this list you can see some of the highlights of the Louvre in less than two hours!
Fun fact: If you stretched out the three wings, the straight line would be 8 miles long. Its hard to choose artwork from a collection that displays 350,000 pieces. Happy touring!
Building History: The building itself is rich in history. In 12th century the building was a fortress which then became the royal palace and seat of government. During the Middle Ages the fortress protected Paris from the Anglo Norman armies. The Louvre later became the royal family residence until King Louis XIV moved it to Versailles. After the royal family vacated it, the building became a residence for artists while also displaying works owned by the royal family.
Museum History: The Louvre opened its doors as a museum in 1793 after the French Revolution. Most of the artwork displayed had been seized from the nobles and royals. Under Napoleon (1803) the collection expanded through his many war campaigns. He had a special position created in his army for a man who had a list of artworks he wanted seized in other countries and brought to France. Some of this artwork was returned whereas some remains. For example, apair of sculptures were taken from the Vatican called Nile and Tiber; one was returned to Italy and one remains at the Louvre.
During Napolean’s extensive Egyptian campaign, his armies discovered The Rosetta Stone and the Valley of the Kings. The stone was captured by British forces and remains at British Museum today. In 1939 during WWII, the museum removed valuable works to protect them from the Germans. Anything that wasn’t too heavy to move or not considered very valuable was stored in basement. Big works were removed to different Chateaus outside of Paris.
When the Nazis took Paris, they used one of the buildings in the Tuileries as a collection site for confiscated Jewish cultural property. At the end of war, some works were returned in 1945. Efforts were made to return stolen artwork and were displayed for 4 years after war. Until 1996 efforts were still being made to return artwork to its rightful owners.
The Pyramid de Louvre by I.M. Pei The Pyramid was commissioned by Mitterand in 1985, caused much controversy but it did alleviate the nightmare congestion of entering the Louvre. Controversy centered on four things: 1. Modern style not consistent with the classic French Renaissance style of the building; 2. A pyramid is a symbol of death from Egypt; 3. People thought it was an immodest pretentious project of Mitterand; 4. People thought Pei, a Chinese- American architect, was not up to task of working on a French landmark. One legend says there are 666 panels of glass, which is the devil’s number. But the Louvre says there are 670 made of triangles and rhombus.
Check out the must see works!
1. Winged Victory of Samothrace (B.C .190 Ancient Greece) (1st Floor Daru Staircase)
This 2000 yrs old sculpture exhibits the Winged Goddess of Nike who personifies victory. The woman appears perched on the bow of ship at a hill top sanctuary. The sculpture is made of grey marble which scholars believe came from Rhodes, Greece.
The piece is believed to have been created to mark a naval victory. The sculpture is an example of Hellenistic form (which is dated from the death of Alexander the Great onward). Hellentistic details included sculpture in the round, transparent drapery to see the body, and suppleness of poses which shows the character of person. The Winged Victory is sculpted to give the impression of the wind blowing the material that clings to her body. Her stance reflects her power and sure footedness. This sculpture was evacuated during WWII to a chateau with the Mona Lisa and the Venus De Milo.
2. Mona Lisa (1503-06) (1st floor Denon Wing, Rm 6)
The Mona Lisa is one of the most famous works created by Leonardo Da Vinci using oil on poplar wood. The painting was once stolen in 1911 by Peruggia, a Louvre employee. Picasso was a suspect for while! The painting has been on display since 1797. Mona Lisa is thought to be Lisa Gherardini (Mona meaning lady.) The painting is also referred to as La Giocanda or La Joconde, which was allegedly the name of her husband, a wealthy Florentine silk merchant.
Da Vinci used many techniques to add to the allure of the painting: her mysterious smile shows mastery of two things: chiaroscuro, the contrast of light and dark and sfumato, the subtle transition of colors. The painting is similar to many Italian portraits of the Madonna in 15th century. It was also one of first to show imaginary landscape with the horizon line eye level. It is unclear why she lacks eyebrows or eyelashes, possibly the fashion at the time or just worn off. The painting illustrates the cutting edge illusionism of the 15th century. It is said to have been Da Vinci’s favorite painting that he carried everywhere he went.
3. Liberty Leading the People (Denon Wing, 1st Floor, Rm 77)
This large painting (1830) by Eugene Delacroix illustrates Lady Liberté (aka Marianne) waving the Tri-colored French flag (the red, white and blue symbolize Liberty, Equality & Fraternity). Liberty appears to be striding forward to victory. This painting so embodies France that it was the face of the 100 Franc (before the € went into circulation in 2002 the currency of France was called the “Franc”.) Marianne is the national figure representing the triumph of the French Republic over the monarchy, and as such she appears everywhere from small stamps and euro coins to an oversized statue presiding over Place de la République. The work commemorates the French Revolution and the toppling of King Charles X. Delacroix uses wild brushstrokes and free color to represent the toppling of monarchy.
4. The Raft of the Medusa 1818 By Theodore Gericault (Denon Wing, 1st Floor Rm 77)
Theodore Gericault’s 1818 painting is an example of 19th century Romanticism. The subject is based on the true story of a shipwreck and cannibalism. Gericault painted it at the age of 27 after he studied bodies in the morge to depict the reality of bodies. The scene presented to us is the aftermath of the shipwreck of the French Vessel Medusa where 150 people struggled to survive on one raft. Only 10 were rescued, the others were eaten, committed suicide, were killed or died of the elements. The ship was on its way to colonize Senegal in 1816. The captain of the vessel hadn’t sailed in 20 years and ran the ship aground. There was a shortage of lifeboats so they built a raft. The painting depicts the moment when rescue appears imminent. Gericault represented the vain hope of the sailors to be rescued and life abandoned to its fate.
5. La Grande Odalisque by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1814) (Denon, 1st Floor, Rm 75)
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres painted this odalisque (a concubine in a harem) in 1814. He is most famous for the porcelain, icy look of his paintings. Ingres is a superb French Neoclassical artist who saw himself as a preserver of academic tradition rather than an innovator. He exaggerates the woman’s body to be five vertebrae too long with an impossible pose. Ingres gives her a seductive and strange expression, is her glance saying come-hither or get lost?
6. The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine on December 2, 1804 (Jacques-Louis David, 1806-1807) (1st floor Denon Wing, Rm 75)
Jacques-Louis David was commissioned by Napoleon I to paint this masterpiece. It stands at 6.2 meters high and 9.8 meters wide. The canvas captures the Coronation of the Emperor Napoleon I and the Crowning of the Empress Joséphine in Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on December 2, 1804. Napoleon is portrayed as the supreme ruler evenhigher than church officals.
7. Venus De Milo (Sully Wing, Rm 16) This sculpture portrays the Goddess of Love, Venus. Scholars believe it could also represent Amphitrite, a goddess worshipped by the poeple on the island of Milos, Greece. It is also believed to be a 100 B.C. replica. The Venus De Milo exhibits qualities of both the 5th century art and Hellenistic art. 5th century qualities include the harmony of her face, aloofness, impassive. Hellenistic qualities include her spiral stance, small breasts, elongated body, 3D and the sheer drapery on body.
8. Medieval Louvre: This is located on the lower level of the Louvre’s Sully wing. Explore the ruins of the castle that existed on this spot from the 12th century until the early 16th century. The fortress dates back to the reign of the French King, Philippe Auguste, who is famous for building a great wall around of Paris and paving the streets.