Lately it’s been rainy and cold here, so we had this great idea – let’s go to the Louvre. We signed up for a guided tour offered by Paris Walks and saw a lot in two and a half hours, plus we hung around for another couple hours after the tour to expand our horizons. Just the work to write this article confirms that we missed a lot and will need to go back. The Louvre is one of the world’s largest museums with over 35,000 objects of art – we’ll show maybe 35 in our slide show below – and is the world’s most visited museum. The Louvre web site in English is a great resource for the many details we don’t cover here. Also you can get a great overview with Wikipedia – The Louvre.
So first the history of the Musée du Louvre – in a paragraph. The Louvre started out as a fortress built by King Philippe Augustus in 1190. The name comes from a villa called Luvra left to an abbey in the area in the 7th century. The fortress was the entry to the walled city of Paris. You can see what the old fortress looked like in our slide show-note that in the basement of the Louvre there are still visible portions of the old fortress. Since the 14th century there have been many modifications and enlargements of the original structure, which above ground are long gone. In the mid 1500s the Louvre was razed and reconstructed in the French Renaissance style. Francis I also acquired some of the most famous pieces, including the Mona Lisa, during this period. After Louis XIV moved to the Palace at Versailles in 1682, the Louvre primarily was used to hold pieces from the Royal collection and as a residence for artists. During the reigns of Louis the XV and XVI, the kingdom continued to collect many pieces of art, and the idea that the Louvre become the royal museum became more popular. Although Louis XVI approved of the conversion, it never came about before the French Revolution in 1789. In 1792 the King was imprisoned and the Royal Collection became public. The palace was converted to a museum to hold the public art and opened in 1793. Even after the Revolution the museum was modified and enlarged extensively, first by Napoleon I as part of the French empire, then as the 2nd Republic, then by Napoleon III as part of the 2nd French Empire, and then as the 3rd Republic, which lasted from 1870 until World War II, when most of the collection was moved from the Louvre to safer locations until after the war. In the 1980’s French President François Mitterrand, as part of a series of sweeping public works projects, proposed a large renovation and relocation of the French Finance Ministry so that the entire building could be used by the museum. Architect I.M. Pei was awarded the project, which resulted in the pyramidal entry that is so famous today.
Our tour could hardly begin to see all of the 35,000 works of art. Paris Walks guide Mary Ellen Manny took us efficiently through the museum to see a surprising number of the most famous works of art, some of which you can see in our slide show linked below. We met at the Statue of Louis XIV outside, then proceeded into the Pyramid entry and quickly into the museum to see 2 large covered courtyards, Cour Puget and Cour Marly, which house originals of many outdoor sculptures that were previously displayed at the Tuileries Garden and at Versailles. We then went through several rooms of royal crypts and funerary art, then to several rooms housing famous furniture, such as Napoleon I’s throne when he became emperor, as well as 2 crowns that are all that is left of the crown jewels. Napoleon III used the Louvre as an apartment, and the furnishings have been marvelously preserved. Entry to the apartment was from a spectacular circular drive way that his young son used as a track for riding his pony, and the living room and dining room – see the slide show – are to die for.
The tour went through some spaces with artwork and royal pieces in cases. One notable piece was a madonna and child carved from a single elephant tusk. Mary Ellen liked a tapestry showing the king and queen in romantic love. In our slideshow is also an ivory alter piece with finely detailed ivory carvings. Then we plunged into the basement to view the foundation of the old fortress, then over to the Egyptian section to view the largest sphinx outside of Egypt. It weighs 26 tons and couldn’t be lifted by any crane in those days, so they made a hole in the wall and pushed it into the building – don’t count on it moving soon.
We headed to the classical Greek sculpture area, where we saw many many sculptures, including the pictured Athena. We stopped at the statue of Venus de Milo, which was distinct because the sculptor had introduced the appearance of movement into the art. We ended up at the very famous and extrordinary Winged Victory of Samothrace, which was recovered in many pieces from the Aegean Sea and assembled in 1863. After traversing the striking Gallery of Apollo, part of the restorations started by Louis XIV, we focused on Italian and French art, starting with some older paintings by Fra Angelico and then into a grand hall with paintings and sculptures of many masters, including Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, and Caravaggio. Mona Lisa is ensconced in a large room with many other famous paintings. We first spent time with The Wedding Feast at Cana by Veronese. It’s larger than our apartment (60 square meters) and is the largest painting in the Louvre. Then we saw Mona Lisa, which was surrounded by such a crowd you can’t really get near it. We spent some time discussing the Raft of the Medusa by Theodore Gericåult, based on a true story of a ship wreck and the abandoned crew who floated adrift for a nightmarish 12 days before being recovered. Art had with that work entered a new era of realism. In our slide show you can see a few other famous paintings besides those I’ve mentioned here.
We finished with a stroll through several rooms of sculpture, including Michelangelo’s unfinished work called Slaves, as well as the incredible Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Antonio Canova – carved from a single piece of marble. See the slide show for additional details.
Overall, our trip to the world’s greatest museum was quite remarkable.