A Visit to the Louvre

Mona Lisa
Mona Lisa

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.


Add Yours
  1. Gayle Heller

    Thanks so much for sharing your day at the Louvre, Hugh! Really enjoyed the history and slides!


  2. PK MacLean

    Thank you for a great tour. When I was there last fall we did an audio tour by Rick Steves hitting many of the same highlights. We missed the Napoleon dining/living room though. You should hit the maritime museum over by the Trocodero. Lot’s of maritime art, models of ships, one of the barges that floated on the canal at Versailles and also an interesting diarama of how the obelisk that is now in Place de la Concord was removed from Egypt and shipped to France. If you haven’t read it yet, Edward Rutherford’s “Paris” is a good read. It’s fiction and follows several families from the mid 1200’s to WWII. I actually had to get my maps of Paris out so I could have a clearer vision of which Paris streets and neighborhoods he was talking about. I think you’ll both enjoy it..
    I so appreciate you guys taking the time to take photographs, write your blog and sharing your adventures with all of us. I live vicariously through you. Merci!

    • Hugh Nelson

      PK – you have vast knowledge. Thanks for the museum and book suggestions. We’ll try to work these into our plans.

    • Hugh Nelson

      Dan, I’m not aware of an exhibit at the Louvre covering ancient cave paintings such as are found at Lascaux.

  3. Donna Bumgarner

    Merci beaucoup for the wonderful tour. So who were the guys with you in the last slide? Looks like you are having a ball.


    • Hugh Nelson

      Donna, sorry – I should have explained. The guys in the last slide (whom I referred to as our friends) were on a piece of art with a mirror and the photo was shot so that Brenda’s and my reflections were also in the mirror. The exhibit, which runs in various forms throughout the Louvre, is called Michelangelo Pistoletto Year 1 Earthly Paradise. The exhibition embodies three different time frames: the past, in the context of a retrospective; the present seen in the mirror works reflecting the visitors (such as Brenda and myself); and the future in a great obelisk topped with a triple loop, a symbol of this ongoing revolution. Thus the sign of the “third paradise” adorns the pyramid. You can also see it in the photo of Cour Marly.

      • Maureen

        I love the concept of that last photo / exhibit. I somehow missed the Napoleon banquet hall too when i was there, and enjoyed seeing it and ALL the other photos. Grazie mille!

  4. jane woodward

    Thanks for all the pictures and great history A guided tour is the best to get some of the great history looking forward to following you around thanks for sharing Jane

  5. Larae

    It always amazes me that you can take photos of these works of art…I guess the digital age provided that ability! Thanks for the tour, I especially love the marble statues!

  6. Ardis Morrow

    Hi there You Two: I am enjoying your sojourn in France more than I can possibly tell you.
    Keep ’em comin’ You are wonderful guides and fast becoming residents.

    • Hugh Nelson

      Ardis – great to hear from you. We still have a long way to go on the French. Seems like I say that to myself every night.

  7. Ann Pyles

    Brings back such wonderful memories. To travel and see the world is such a blessing! Journey on, dear friends. Enjoy all of the experiences.

  8. Peter Nelson

    …I am still trying to get my mind around the statement that Veronese’s The Wedding Feast at Cana is larger than your apartment. I try to picture you and Brenda walking around on that canvas for comparison…or imagine the painting covering your floor with the edges folded up to fit.
    Great tour!

    • Hugh Nelson

      Pete, at the bottom of the painting you’ll see some real people who were in front of me when I took the photo. They are about the same size as some of the near perspective figures in the painting, so you can imagine those people or figures standing up and walking around on the surface of the canvas. Pretty roomy compared to our apartment, which is 42 square meters. The painting is 60 square meters.

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