The Louvre is one of the most well-known museums in the world. It’s extensive and you can easily spend a day or two or more, especially if you are a history buff. But since our two teens were more interested in IG (Instagrammable) moments, and wanted mostly the highlights, we charted out a path that was no more than a couple of hours and took us through the the must-see things in the Louvre (as identified by these teens).
Since we had arrived the previous evening in Paris, and were staying a stone throw’s away from the Louvre, we stopped by. The lights are simply beautiful and we were able to snag some amazing pictures.
First let’s start with what we know about the Louvre. The Louvre is a national museum in Paris, France. An iconic palace, it is one of the most visited sites in Paris. The building started with being a military fort built by Philip II in the 12th century. Francis I had the fort torn down and replaced with a palace for the royal family. He named his new home the Louvre, a name that has stuck. Subsequent kings continued to add buildings around the main building.
So, now let’s get moving.
Quick tips that worked for us: It’s best to get to the Louvre using a timed entry pass. We bought it online and arrived 15 minutes prior to the time on the ticket but even then there were long queues. Had we not bought a ticket ahead of time, it would have been worse. There are also three entrances to the Louvre. Most people will head to the glass pyramid entrance, but you can also enter through Porte des Lions or Le Carrousel du Louvre, and they are usually not as busy. Now, get an audio guide or tour guide. Have a plan, get a map (free at the info desk) and plan out your must-do sights. Time-box yourself – so much to see, lots to walk around and kids get bored. A plan with a set time limit was the best thing we did. We did carry our passports along since the museums are free for kids under 18. In this case, I wasn’t asked for proof but I’ve heard of friends who were asked to show proof.
Our first stop was to head down to the moat where we saw one of the old walls of the castle that is preserved in the Medieval Louvre. This is the wall facing the city with the support pillar of the drawbridge, the main entrance to the Louvre.
As we looked closely at bricks on the wall, we noticed that quite a few bricks have a symbol on it – a circle, heart, square, etc. That’s because each brickmaker had to account for the number of bricks they made. Tagging each brick by a symbol enabled them to do just that. In those days, a heart didn’t symbolize love, it was no different than a square, circle or similar symbols.
Then we were off to see the statues.
The Great Sphinx of Tanis is a granite sculpture of a sphinx, whose date may be as early as the 26th century BC. It has the body of a lion and the face of the Pharoah.
Athena – Pallas de Velletri
Our next stop was at Athena. Athena, the daughter of Zeus, is the Greek goddess of crafts, wisdom, and warfare. She was also known as the Goddess of the wise war. The statue in the Louvre is known as the Athena de Velletri Pallas. Pallas is a specific type of marble statue with Athena wearing a helmet. All statues of this type are 1st century Roman copies of a lost Greek bronze.
From here, we moved on to see the statue of Aphrodite.
As you walk through the museum, you will notice that these statues in the museum are all white. When these statues were originally created, they were painted and adorned with jewelry but over time, the paint colors faded or jewelry was looted. It was during the Renaissance that the statues were painted white which is how we see most of them today.
This statue of Aphrodite has an apple in one hand and there’s a story behind it.
In Greek mythology, both gods and mortals coveted the golden apples the goddess Gaia gave as a wedding present to Hera and Zeus. They were kept in a garden guarded by a hundred-headed dragon that never slept. These apples promised immortality and more to anyone who ate them. Now Eris, the goddess of discord, was very angry at not having been invited to the wedding of Thetis and Peleus, so she took one of the apples and threw it among the guests. On the apple was inscribed, “For the most beautiful of them all”.
Three goddesses saw the apple that Aries had thrown on a table. Hera, Zeus’ wife, Athena, his daughter and Aphrodite, his other daughter. Zeus was asked to intervene, and to decide who was the most beautiful. Of course,he didn’t want to do so he asked a mortal prince, prince Paris to intervene. The three tried to bribe him and he picked Aphrodite swayed by The three goddesses appearing before the shepherd prince, each offering him gifts for favour. He chose Aphrodite, swayed by her promise to bestow upon him Helene, the most beautiful woman, for wife. The subsequent abduction of Helene led directly to the Trojan War and the fall of the city.
Venus de Milo
Venus is the Roman counterpart to Aphrodite. This status is very famous because it was not only the first Greek sculpture to be in the collection and is also one of the best preserved Greek statues in existence. It is said to be as old as 150 years BC. Legend has it that it caused women in the 19th and early 20th century to have unrealistic expectations of body image.
Now, for over a thousand years, temples and statues slowly disappeared as ancient wonders were dismantled and used to build homes. The marble that had been used for certain sculptures made the best lime. Statue and temple marble fragments spent centuries, forgotten in caves. Then, in 1820, French naval ships anchored on the island of Melos (Milo). As Olivier Voutier, a young navy officer with a passion for ancient Greece, walked around what the runes of a theater, he came upon Yorgos Kentrotas, a peasant, who was searching for stones to reinforce the wall around this field. The peasant had just uncovered the upper part of a statue in poor condition but given that he didn’t think it useful, was going to cover it with rubble. However, Olivier, instead dug it out. Despite having no arms, broken knot of the hair and nose, it looked like a remarkable piece and the two continued to look for the rest. Olivier has the statue then assembled, much to the amazement of the officers who had gathered around. There is much debate on how the statue was transported back to France but nevertheless, the statue was delivered to King Louis the XVIII who offered it to the Louvre.
We don’t know who she is. Milo is the name of the island where she was discovered but the features on the arms that would have helped identify her are lost. In ancient Greece, gods took human form and sculptures depicting gods are made taller than human beings. The best materials were also used for gods and there is a serenity radiating from her face while led people to believe she was a goddess. Aphrodite was the only goddess to be naked and this hip position . The hole in the arm was to hold a bracelet in place. Being half-naked, it was speculated that she was probably Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and fertility. Aphrodite being Venud to the Romans, this Greek statue ended up with a Roman name,
The Winged Victory of Samothrace
The Winged Victory of Samothrace, is a Hellensitic-era Greek sculptural masterwork depicting the goddess Nike.
As mentioned in the Louvre, the Greeks had the idea of portraying Victory as a woman, a messenger of Zeus. This monument of Samothrace is the finest representation of that image. The artist wanted to represent the winged messenger, atop the prow of a ship, made of gray marble from the island of Rhodes. The statue itself is made of marble, from white Parian marble.
Nike wears a long garment of a beautiful cloth with folded flaps and a belted beneath the breast. The mantle is slipping from her shoulders and the power of the wind is shown with the drapes on her legs. The torso is not naked but represents her dress with the wind and sea blowing against her.
Victory in Greek is Nike and the brand was inspired by the statue and the name.
After that we entered Gallery of little Versailles.
King Louis XIV, famously identified himself with the sun god Apollo and he had in mind how he wanted to represent that and build out Versailles. But before that, he called on an architect and outlined his vision for Versailles asking to first build this gallery at the Louvre. If that went well, the architect would get to build out Versailles. One may say, the audition went very well as this splendid gallery is a beautiful representation of Louis’ image. The greatest painters, gilders and sculptors of the day worked on it and then worked on the Hall of Mirrors at the Chateau de Versailles.
Today, the Galerie d’Apollon is home to the royal collection of hardstone vessels and the French Crown Jewels. Charles Le Brun, the lead, decorated the vaulted ceiling with paintings of Apollo driving his chariot across the sky. The center of the ceiling shows the sun god’s journey, marking the different times of the day from dawn to night. On the sides, you will be mesmerized with images and symbols of the variations in the sun’s light depicting hours, days, months, seasons, and zodiac signs, giving visual representation to the sun’s power and in turn, the glory of the Sun King, Apollo Dawn to Night. These are surrounded by a whole cosmos of images and symbols of everything that is influenced by variations in the sun’s light and heat (the hours, days, months, seasons, signs of the zodiac and continents). The ‘Gallery of Apollo’, with its lavish carved and painted decoration, gave visual form to the sun’s power over the whole universe, magnifying the glory of the Sun King.
This gallery also houses the French crown jewels. Wow – These are the daily utensils of King Louis XIV, they had actual jewels in it. The small diamond in the picture below was installed on Napoleon’s sword
Mona Lisa and the Wedding Feast at Cana
From there we had to the most famous of them all – The Mona Lisa. Beware, there are always lines, and it can take as long as 45 minutes to see the beguiling Mona Lisa. Of the 5 paintings by Da Vinci in the Louvre, only one has millions lining up for it. Is it worth it? What do you think?
Now, before you get to the Mona Lisa, while we were waiting in queue to see the Mona Lisa, we looked around. The room is filled with magnificent paintings, the biggest painting of which is Veronese’s monumental Wedding Feast at Cana. For those not familiar with this biblical story, it’s the first miracle of Jesus where he turned water into wine. At the wedding, towards the end of the feast, the wine was over. Mary, the mother of Jesus, asked him to help. Jesus reluctantly stepped in and asked servants to fill jugs with water and He transformed the water into wine, the best one served at that wedding.
Now the Mona Lisa: Let’s start with who she is and why did she get so famous?
A silk merchant, Francesco del Giocondo commissioned Leonardo Da Vinci to paint a portrait of his wife, Lisa Gherardini, aka Madonna -Madam- Lisa del Giocondo, shortened to Madonna Lisa del Giocondo, and eventually, shortened into Mona Lisa. As the story goes, Madam Lisa had just lost her baby, and Da Vinci took it upon himself to make her smile but he wasn’t satisfied with the result. As a result, Leonardo never delivered the painting to Francesco and Lisa. He kept it, kept improvising it and took it with him to France. Upon his death, his assistant sold the painting to the King of France. Through his expression of his ideal vision, he ended up giving an unassuming woman the nobility of a lady of high rank, and the majesty of a Virgin Mary. The smile is something that Da Vinci has captured in his other paintings too – whether it’s the Virgin Mary smiling lovingly at the infant Jesus in her arms or John the Baptist smiling widely, the smile is there is most of his paintings, although the enigmatic smile is attributed to the circumstances while the portrait of Madam Lisa was being painted. You’ll also note that this painting is not on canvas but is actually on wood panels.
Besides this being Da Vinci’s painting, why did this get so famous?
On a quiet morning in August 1911, a weekly closure day for the Louvre, a man entered unnoticed into the Louvre. He had worked here before, putting glass into frames and knew his way around. He wasn’t happy these Italian paintings were in France and was determined to take them back. Vincenzo Peruggia realized that most of the paintings were way too big, with the exception of the Mona Lisa. He seized it and quickly took it out of the frame and slid it under his jacket. The next morning, the theft was noticed when a painter who was supposed to paint a copy of the Mona Lisa found it missing. The police scoured the city for clues including searching the apartment of Peruggia, a known thief, who had left a thumb-print behind but the police missed finding the painting.
Days after the theft, a contest for eccentric stories started. A newspaper interviewed Mona Lisa; others speculated that it must be a ‘crime of passion.’ Or that Arsène Lupin was involved. Movies and popular songs poked fun at the whole thing. Newspapers offered financial rewards for information leading to the painting. For over two years, the Louvre ran daily ads in the newspaper. All that publicity led to the Mona Lisa becoming such a famous painting – any other painting would have likely received the same publicity.
For two years, it stayed hidden until Peruggia decided to sell the painting to antique dealers in Italy who were offering good prices for art. With the painting hidden in the bottom of a trunk, Peruggia crossed the border to Florence. There the merchant he was negotiating with contacted the Italian authorities and Peruggia was arrested. He was given a lenient sentence as he claimed he was trying to return it to Italy believing Napoleon stole it.
And some other questions that often get asked:
- Why this this painting so small? It is not small. Au contraire, it is the biggest portrait that Leonardo has ever painted. Like all portraits, it is roughly life size.
- Do her eyes really look at you? If a painter can turn a few drops of color into living eyes, it can provide an an opening into someone’s soul and looks like the eyes follow you. It’s a myth that they eyes are following you
- , then the painting is most likely a masterpiece
We took our time and enjoyed the painting. Ignoring the hype and the mystique and the stories around it. We had to let the beauty of the painting sink in.
The Grande Galerie
Dozens of Italian Masterpieces hang in this Grande Galerie at the Louvre, a hot-spot to see majestic paintings. The Grande Galerie was built at the end of the 16th century to link two royal palaces: the Louvre and Tuileries and runs parallel to the Seine.
One of the masterpieces in that corridor, is the Coronation of Emperor Napoleon and Empress Josephine. This painting is a contradiction of both history and fiction. It was ordered by Emperor Napoleon to establish his power. The Pope was supposed to crown him but Napoleon believed he was above the church and everyone so he took the crown from the Pope and placed it on his own head and then placed it on the queen. While the painting is supposed to represent the coronation of Napoleon, it shows Napoleon crowning the queen while the Pope looks on disgusted and mad.
This painting is full of factual error. In the balcony, you see a woman sitting who is Napoleon’s mother. But Napoleon’s mother lived in Corsica, and didn’t attend the coronation and she knew her son was going to disrespect the Pope, and she didn’t want to be a part of that. His mother also didn’t like Napoleon’s wife, Josephine who was older than Napoleon. In the painting, Josephine looks so young but she was 43 and didn’t want to look older than Napoleon and so she asked the artist to make her look younger. The exact same picture is also in Versailles. In the original painting, the sisters and cousins of Napoleon are also depicted in the same dress. But one of the women paid the painter to redo it with her wearing a pink dress and you’ll see that version in Versailles.
Now our last stop of the day is to see Alexander the Great
Alexander III of Macedon created one of the largest empires of the ancient world in little over a decade. According to the website historyextra.com, after suppressing his enemies on home soil, Alexander moved quickly to reassert Macedonian power in Greece and to conquer the Persian empire, achieving victories across the Persian territories of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt without suffering a single defeat.
The next eight years of campaigning saw him create an empire that stretched across three continents and covered around two million square miles – south into Egypt and as far east as the Indian Punjab.
He was undefeated in battle and is widely considered one of history’s most successful military commanders – but died in his prime at Babylon in June 323 BC, just before his 33rd birthday.
Now that brought us to the end of the tour. There was still plenty to see within the Louvre. There are so many works of art. But our kid wanted to visit the Paris Saint Germain stadium, so we wandered a little bit more through some of the other galleries. The one with all the Islamic artifacts reminded us of our visit to Istanbul. When we were done, we stepped out and took a break in Jardin de Tuileries, a public garden located between the Louvre and Place de La Concorde before heading out to the football stadium and the home of Messi.