There is good reason the Louvre Museum is one of the absolute hard-hitters along side the Metropolitan, the Hermitage and British Museum. The Louvre was build in 1190 first as a fortress, then as a royal residence, and is now one of the largest museum in the world.
It’s huge, and you can’t see it all. I’ve been 4 times and have only seen a fraction. So to help you, I’ve selected 12 highlights besides “Mona Lisa”. You can also do a specialized tour, where you only focus on one department to save time, and I’ve also made some suggestions here to make it easier for you.
Right now they also have a temporary exhibition on Delacroix, which I didn’t see, but it’s suppose to be excellent. So always keep an eye out for special guest stars.
12 (OTHER) HIGHLIGHTS TOUR
If you do the highlights tour, remember to make time for finding the artworks. You’ll walk a bit, but you’ll see a glimpse of everything that Louvre has to offer. I did a 10 highlights tour in Prado Museum in Madrid in 1 hour, and it worked great. I can actually remember what I saw.
Here’s the 12 (other) highlights I’ve selected for you in chronological order:
1 “WINGED VICTORY FROM SAMOTHRACE”
I just love this Nike – the goddess’ real name. Look at those wings and imagine it in Ancient Greece standing on top of a cliff. She is “only” a monument to one specific naval victory – hence the boat. (200 BC)
2 “VENUS DE MILO”
Venus or more accurately: “Aphrodite from Melos”, since she is Greek, not Roman. She is an icon for classical beauty even though she has no arms. (100 BC)
Also turn around and see the maybe even more delightful Capitoline Venus as you can see in the pictures below.
3 THE FORTRESS LOUVRE
Go down to the lower ground floor and stand in the old moats. In 1190 – before going on a crusade – the King of France decided to protect Paris from English invaders. A wall around the capital was build, reinforced at the junction with the River Seine by a defensive castle – the Louvre! The structure was surrounded by a moat fed by the waters of the Seine, in which you are standing today.
4 “SAINT SEBASTIAN”
by Mantegna, who has a special way of using a colour that seems to be silver and extreme detailing. He like many others used tricks from the antique works like the posture. Saint Sebastian is a Catholic Saint and martyr. (1480)
5 “PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST HOLDING A THISTLE”
by Albrecht Dürer. This is one of the first selfies. Earlier self-portraits often show the portrayed as part of a large setting like a cathedral or battle. You just gotta love the audacity to stage yourself like this. (1493)
6 “THE REBELLIOUS SLAVE”
by Michelangelo. Actually you should see both the rebellious one and the dying one. The dying one seems like he’s in an erotic video. So I prefer the other one… They were part of a large tomb along with other unfinished slaves, so they ended up as a present to the King of France. (1510)
7 “THE LACEMAKER”
by Johannes Vermeer. As with his other works the richness in his textures and the fabulous colours just draws you in. Renoir called it the most beautiful painting in the world. (1670)
8 “PSYCHE REVIVED BY CUPID’S KISS”
by Canova. This is just the moment, when Cupid saves Psyche from a deathlike sleep, as you can read in “The Metamorphoses”. They are married, and she’s made goddess of the soul. Although another account tells a sadder story. (1793)
9 “THE CORONATION OF NAPOLEON I”
by Jacques-Louis David. Another great French painter. This final highlight shows a crucial moment in French history: Sunday December 2 1804. Napoleon crowns himself emperor and his wife Joséphine empress in Notre-Dame Cathedral. The French Revolution fought for equality, and then he does this…Notice he does himself and not as usual the pope. This is because there is no one above Napoleon! (1808)
by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Again the ancient nude, but now in a “modern eastern” style. You might notice that compared to the antique rolemodels and to the youngsters by Canova, it marks the beginning of a new freer line. Isn’t her breast weirdly located? Also she has too many vertebras. But who cares… (1814)
11 “THE RAFT OF MEDUSA”
by Theodore Gericault. This is one need a little more introduction… It shows the survivors of the French Fregat Medusa, that went down in 1816 near the coast of Africa. Only 15 out of 400 survived, and there’s no beauty in dying here as in the Ancient artworks and in later neoclassical works. This is a Romantic Movement heavyweight – brutal and realistic! (1819)
12 “LIBERTY LEADING THE PEOPLE”
by Eugene Delacroix. This painting is both by one of the best French painters, but also a national symbol of France inspired by real events. The bare- breasted (read natural) woman Marianne is holding the Tricolore and raising France up from the barricades to triumph. (1830) A great way to end the tour!
And of course, there’s is the Mona Lisa. It might be because of Dan Brown but these days the small iconic painting is heavily guarded, while all other masterpieces just hang freely. But it is a special painting, although it’s virtually impossible to drown in her mysterious smile with all the crowds. I was fortunate enough to see it in 1995 without so much fuss. In 2003, she was behind bulletproof glass, and on my visit last month, she was also flanked by 4 guards.
Mona Lisa “Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondoco del Gioconda”. If she had kept this title it might be so famous. What I like the most is the blue hills in the background. You can see them on many other of his paintings like “Virgin and child with Anne, where you’ll have the painting to yourself. Go as close as you can and just look at her – and not through a photo lens.
THE SPECIALIZED TOUR
If you choose a section you’ll have more time to sit and just look, but of course you’ll miss something.
On my recent visit I chose the Greek, Roman and Etruscan & Egyptian Antiquities, since it’s 2 great collections, and also I went to Egypt in January and furthermore I studied Ancient Culture. But further down there’s recommendations for other trails.
THE ANTIQUITY TRAIL
The Great Sphinx of Tanis shows some of the grandeur of Ancient Eygpt. The sphinx is the jewel in this very fine collection initiated by Champollion who first deciphered hieroglyphs (2000 BC).
Also look out for “The Seated Scribe from 2500 BC”, The Avenue of Sphinxes from Luxor, the recognizable “Portrait of Alexander the Great”, the sarcophagus box of Ramesses III, that once held his mummy and the famous Portrait of a woman, known as “L’Européenne”. Of course you also have to include “Venus de Milo” and “Winged Victory from Samothrace” both described above in the 12 other highlights tour.
I can also recommend the near eastern antiquities with artworks from some of the places being destroyed in war right now. For instance, the Winged Bulls from Mesopotamia from around 700 BC. They originate near Mosul in Iraq!
Since you’re in France, there are of course many French paintings and sculptures, which makes it an obvious choice for a specialized tour.
In the Decorative Arts section you will find the Regent Diamond, Napoleon’s tea set and fantastic interiors.
The Louvre also suggest a selection of works connected to the French Revolution, Landscape or Travel (!) if that’s more to your liking. See more here.
- The metro stops nearby
- There’s a security check.
- You can buy tickets online and also in ticket machines beside s the counter. It works really well and we didn’t wait in line at all.
- It’s popular, so try to arrive 2 hours before closing time.
- There are souvenir shops on all floors, but the largest one is on the lower level. I bought a replica of a red coral necklace the empress Joséphine wears in one of the paintings.
- The audioguide is a good thing, if you want to immerse yourself in the artworks (and try to keep the loud guides out)
- You are allowed to take pictures without flash!
Have you been to the Louvre?
Another top sight in Paris is Notre-Dame. Read more in Gothic gargoyles! Why Notre-Dame in Paris, France is worth a trip.