Travel Guide: The Art History You Need to Know Before Visiting the Louvre

When I first visited Paris, France, I only stayed for two short days. In those forty-eight hours, the school group I traveled with squeezed in as many sights and destinations they could, trying to educate us of a culture and history worth more than those two days. I was not too fond of Paris on my initial arrival, as it gave off a dirty tourist vibe. At least that’s what I gathered in the two days I spent there. I definitely feel that my opinion would have changed if the group stayed there longer. Maybe if I could have stayed longer, I could understand the hype and praise for the  so-called city of love.  But one monumental building full of culture and artwork stood out to me, and grew near to my heart.

The one place I loved, and the whole reason I was excited about going to France, was the famous art museum, the Louvre. From its sprawling hallways, to the large pyramid set in the outer center of the building, it holds many wonders, inside and out. I grew up in an artistic atmosphere, and although my own talents didn’t meet my own expectations, I could indulge in the talents of others. As soon as I stepped inside, it welcomed me into its halls.The louvre fed this hunger of mine and defied all of my already high expectations for art museums. Classical artwork lines all of its walls, and each deserves some attention. In this blog, I hope to share some of the most noteworthy artworks and history of this world-renowned museum.

Enter The Louvre: History, Past and Present

When looking at the Louvre, its own history can be considered as creative and rich as the artworks it holds. Originally built during Louis XIII’s reign (approximately in the years 1610-1643), the museum originally operated as a medieval fortress. After the fall of the medieval system, King Francois I then turned the Louvre into his own palace. Even among the artworks , the building also holds importance in both history and culture. Turned officially into an art museum in 1793, The Louvre serves as its own living history. Visitors visit not just for  the artworks, but the building itself. As the building is like a living

A bar graph with Blue bars indicating that 2019 had the highest visitation rates
Yearly visitation rates (in millions) of the Louvre. Source: Statista.com

breathing exhibit of its past existence. When we step foot on its noble floors, we take ourselves to its past lives, breathing the same air as its nobles and kings once did.

Nowadays, the Louvre is open every day, except for Tuesdays. According to a study performed by Statista.com, approximately nine-point-six million visitors flocked to see the artworks in the Louvre- making it the most visited museum worldwide. Although the numbers lost themselves to the Covid-19 pandemic, a resurgence of visitors are returning to the once empty halls. Artwork can be seen again and appreciated as it should be. That being said, the Louvre holds artwork that is very culturally important. Important enough, that everyone should see them at least once.

 

Notable Artwork in the Louvre #1: The Mona Lisa

A photo of the Mona Lisa, surrounded in aglass box with a railing in front of it
The Mona Lisa in its spot on exhibition. Source: Louvre.fr

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obviously, this wouldn’t be a list of notable artwork at the Louvre without the inclusion of Leonardo Divinci’s most famous work. Painted in 1503 with oils on a plank of wood, Mona Lisa earned the hearts and respect of art fans and critics all over the world. Her mystery is what makes her so appealing, as not much isknown about the physical subject of Divinci’s painting. Recently, research came out with the identity of the woman- she was the wife of a man by the name of Fancecseo del Giocondo. For a while, this mystery kept her fans drawn to her, as her soft eyes and gentle smile seemed to air a mood of mystery.

The Mona Lisa is considered the star of the Louvre. Because of this,The Mona Lisa sits in a shatter-proof glass box, and guards surround her constantly. You must take time to visit her on your trip. She awaits you.

a photo of the Venus De Milo, a white statue of a woman with no arms, and a cloth covering her waist
The Venus de Milo in the Louvre. Source: Britannica.com

 Artwork  #2:  The Venus de Milo

Introduced to the Louvre in 1821, Venus de Milo has sat comfortably since. Most famous for her lack of arms, Venus de Milo came into the Louvre’s possession through King Louis XVII, but her origins stemmed from the Greek Island of Melos.That island today goes by Milo, hence where this artwork got her name.

Constructed from Parian marble, the statue is best believed to be an interpretation of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Researchers wondered about the deity that the Venus de Milo represented at first; often statues of gods would hold symbols and motifs of who they were in their hands. With the lack of arms on this artwork, they had to guess off the nature of the statue itself. Where her discovery site lay, a carved hand of the same material lay on the ground. Apples connected to Aphrodite, and that was where her identity was discovered.

Notable Artwork in the Louvre #3: Liberty Leading the People

Painted by Eugene Delacroix in the Autumn of 1830, this symbolism-heavy painting is another well-known artwork located in the Louvre. This painting may sound unfamiliar to the ear at first, but upon seeing it, many viewers are able to recognize it, even if they’ve never stepped into the Louvre before. That’s because the band Cold Play used it for the album cover of their hit album “Viva La Vida”. In this painting, a metaphorical depiction of Lady Liberty leads the French people to freedom on the streets of Paris. This Lady Liberty figure is known best in France as Marianne, the personification of the French republic, and the ultimate symbol of freedom. Liberty Leading the People stands out to art fans as it serves both a symbolic and literal sense of how the French Revolution went down, and the beliefs that came with it.

An image of Liberty leading the People with a white text that says "VIVa La VIDA"
Coldplay’s album cover, with artwork from the Louvre. Source: Wikipedia.com

Statue in the Louvre #4: The Mummy

a darkly lit room with a mummy wrapped in yellowish bandages. On its chest rests a collar
The Louvre’s own Mummy, in its Egyptian wing. Source:Lourve.tinymogul.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tucked away in the quiet and dimly-lit Egyptian section of the museum lays one of the only full-standing mummies in the world. Now, one could argue that this mummy is not a traditional artwork; but I digress. It takes quite a bit of craft and workmanship to perfectly preserve a body and have it last long enough for people to see it hundreds of years later. The embalming methods were perfected on it , as the body came from the  Ptolemaic period, around the year 305. Once the Louvre hosted more mummies in its collection, but now only carries this singular one, who lays quietly in the same way he did when first mummified. The concept of mummies might not be for everyone, but for those who are interested in Ancient Egypt or death practices (like myself), this artwork of preserving creatures is worth checking out.

Artwork #5 :  The Raft of the Medusa

A painting of violence on a poorly constructed raft. Bodies are sliding into the waters and there's fighting
The Raft of Medusa. Source: John Gloves

Painted by Theodore Gericault, this oil-based painting depicts the image of  crewmates turning on each other on a raft at sea with limited supplies. The basis of this story follows the real-life sinking of a naval ship which did not have enough lifeboats for everyone. This got a lot of people stuck on a poorly made raft.  This emotionally raw artwork renders the emotion of helplessness. Gerucault portrays the hunger and rage of being stranded with no supplies in the middle of the sea very well.  Despite the darkness and turmoil, the purpose of this art was to raise an emotional response. And

it does this greatly. Displayed at the Louvre, it allows everyone to take in the rage and upset it puts off; and this facet makes the trip worthwhile alone.

Statue in the Louvre #6:  Saint Marie-Madeleine

Sculpted by Gregor Erhart between the years 1515-1520 , Saint Marie-Madeleine found her place in the Louvre in 1902. The style of her carving grabs many eyes. This may be because  Erharts’ work on this religious figure finds a way to replicate both Gothic and Renaissance artwork traditions. Saint Marie Madeline came originally from a church-alongside her sides angels carried her. But when the Louvre received her, she arrived all by herself. She appears rather controversial towards the standards to which Earhart sculpted her. She appears as a holy figure, but her nudity and sensual appearance creates a juxtaposition

towards religion. But her details are phenomenal, and definitely worth checking out while you’re in the Louvre.

A sculpture in front of a black background. THe sculpted woman in naked and has long flowing brown hair to her waist
An Image of Erharts Saint Marie Madeleine Statue. Source: Alchetron

Artwork #7: Drapery of a Seated Figure

 A pencil sketch done on brown paper to look as if someone is sittting underneath a sheet
da Vinci’s Drapery of a Seated Figure. Source: Wikiart.org

Another piece of art on this list by Leonardo Davinci, Drapery of a Seated Figure , focuses less on the mysterious energy of the aforementioned Mona Lisa, and more on the standards of craftsmanship. A great amount of care went into the detailing of this tempura piece on canvas, and even those less knowledgeable about art can tell the skill it takes. Made in 1470, this painting resembles a figure sitting or crouching underneath a cloth. But Davinci’s focus on shading and highlights makes this piece appear nearly photographic. Although nothing notably special is in this painting, the fascination stems from how realistic it is. Look and take note when you see how it appears near photorealistic, especially for that time period.

Statue in the Lourve#8: Seated Scribe

Discovered in 1805, the exact origins of the identity of the man sculpted are unknown. At his discovery, no inscription or carving located could identify him, and it still remains a mystery to this day. What researchers could figure out, however, was that the craftsmanship gives us

A terracotta sculpture of aseated man rests in a glass case. It is in a room with beige walls
The Seated Scribe on display at the Louvre. Source: flickr.com/ProfZucker

clues about who he might be. The detailing in his eyes suggest that he had some important role in the society in which he lived.The sculptor constructed them out of crystals and copper, giving them a realistic look, Historians do believe  that the earliest writing systems derived from ancient Egypt, so this man must have been well-educated. Especially in the fact that they sculpted him as a scribe, and not just a normal person.Writing meant sophistication, and with sophistication, came well-being in society. Historians suggest that although this man might not be a Pharaoh or king, he could have been the son of one. With this look into Egyptian history, the Seated Scribe should be on your Louvre list.

Artwork #9: Wedding Feast at Cana

An illustration of many people gathered around in a party sense
The Painting of the wedding where Jesus turned water to wine. Source: Wikipedia

Sitting on the opposite side of the hall where the Mona Lisa stands, another important painting exists. Painted by Paolo Veronese in 1562-1563, this artwork illustrates the story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding. This painting falls under the title of an old master of the mannerist style- making it a noteworthy piece to check in on. The act of Jesus turning water into wine exists in this painting to further the way of thinking at the time. This miracle was one of several divinations that Jesus performed in Christian belief. It’s also one of the more well-known. With the strong use of colors and the stronger historical background, people of all beliefs should take a look at this painting, if they get the time on their trip.

Statue in the Louvre 10:Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss

The delicate carving of this marble tells the elusive myth of how Psyche let her curiosity get the better of her. After opening a chalice Cupid’s mother forbade her to, she fell into a trance-like sleep. Only the kiss of Cupid woke Psyche up. Carved by Antonio Canova, this sculpture captures Cupid holding his loved one and checking if she’s still alive. This sculpture captures the motion of its subjects very well; we can almost see the act of Psyche tumbling to the ground and Cupid rushing in to save her. Canova’s skill in bringing his sculptures to life shows here. He has a strong capability of bringing the toughest and lifeless of marbles to a new story, and a new life. A sculpture such as this deserves a happy ending, and true to that, when Pschye awakes, she and Cupid wed. This is not one artwork you’d want to miss out on.

A picture of the statue off cupid cradling his asleep love
Source: Myddoa.com

Conclusion

I may have not found solace in the entirety of Paris, France. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t. There’s a little bit of something for everyone when you open your mind to new ideas and flexibility. There’s so much to do, that you must make smart choices that benefit yourself over others’ opinions.

That part for me is the artwork in the Louvre. It seemed romantic as I roamed the halls, taking in as much as I physically could. The Louvre made my trip all the more worthwhile. I’d definitely recommend making lots of time to visit here if you’re ever wondering what to do in Paris. It’ll be worth your time to acquaint yourself with the cultures and artwork in the greatest museum in the world.

 

 

 

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