The Musée du Louvre is the world’s largest art museum attracting over 8 million visitors every year. Whether you consider yourself an art connoisseur or not, The Louvre is a must-visit during a short break in Paris. But with over 38,000 objects on display you can’t possibly see all of them. To help out, we’ve picked some of the highlights of The Louvre’s extensive collection; from world-famous paintings and sculptures to moments in French history and treasures of antiquity…
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Mona Lisa – Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-06
Certainly The Louvre’s best known painting and probably the most famous painting in the world! La Giaconda’s enigmatic smile has captivated audiences for centuries and although it is a lot smaller than you might think, it’s nevertheless an absolute must-see on a visit to The Louvre.
1st floor of the Denon wing, room 711 (the Mona Lisa room)
The Wedding at Cana – Paolo Veronese, 1563
The largest picture in The Louvre’s collection, The Wedding at Cana shows the biblical story of Jesus turning water into wine. Covering nearly 70 square metres and featuring 130 separate figures, there’s an awful lot to take in when viewing this picture! The musicians in the centre of the painting are actually Veronese himself plus other contemporary artists Titian, Jacopo and Tintoretto. Some of the wedding guests are actually real-life “celebrities” of the time including Queen Mary I of England, King Francis I of France, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Veronese’s other masterwork ‘Supper at Emmaus’ is also on display in the same room.
1st floor of the Denon wing, room 711 (Mona Lisa room)
Liberty Leading the People – Eugène Delacroix, 1830
Depicting the Paris Uprising of July 1830, Delacroix’s masterpiece was painted from the artists’ own first-hand experiences of the revolution. The painting is energetic, inspiring and brutal; especially the image of the young boy standing next to the figure of Liberty brandishing a pair of pistols. He is recognisable as Gavroche, one of the figures in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables.
1st floor of the Denon wing, room 700 – Mollien
The Raft of the Medusa – Théodore Géricault, 1818-19
This vast painting depicts the survivors of a shipwreck off the coast of Africa. In 1816 the frigate Medusa ran aground resulting in great loss of life as the surviving passengers constructed a raft from the wreckage in a desperate attempt to reach the shore. There were tales of murder, suicide and even cannibalism which inspired Géricault. The painting depicts the simultaneous hope and despair of the survivors on the raft as a rescue ship sails over the horizon, having failed to spot them.
1st floor of the Denon wing, room 700 (Mollien)
Venus de Milo – Alexandros of Antioch, circa 100BC
An instantly recognisable work of art, the Aphrodite of Milos was carved in Ancient Greece over 2,000 years ago but was only re-discovered, minus her arms, in 1820 and went on display at The Louvre the following year. It is thought that the statue was originally painted in a variety of colours and would have been decorated with metal jewellery. One of the most admired and influential artworks in history, a visit to The Louvre isn’t complete without seeing this intriguing piece.
Ground floor of the Sully wing, room 346 (the Parthenon room)
Frieze of Archers from the Palace of Darius I – 5th century BC
As well as paintings, The Louvre also houses an enormous collection of artworks, statues and figures from ancient civilisations including Egypt, Babylon and Persia. This huge frieze could depict the royal guards of Darius I known as ‘the Immortals’; familiar from the Hollywood movie ‘300’. Alternatively they could be idealized images of the Persian people. Either way it makes for an awe-inspiring sight, giving a glimpse into the rich splendour of the ancient Persian Empire that once stretched from India to southern Europe.
Ground floor of the Sully wing, room 307
Portrait of Louis XIV – Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701
This larger than life portrait was designed to convey the absolute royal power of Louis XIV, known as The Sun King. It was commissioned for the King of Spain but Louis liked the portrait so much he kept it for himself. Louis reigned for over 70 years during which time France was the most powerful country in Europe. The king’s flowing ermine robes, crown, sceptre and sword all show the power and glory of the monarchy; designed to impress his friends and intimidate his enemies.
2nd floor of the Sully wing, room 916 (the painters of Louis XIV)
Gabrielle d’Estrées and one of her sisters – Unknown artist, circa 1594
This cheeky painting depicts Gabrielle d’Estrées, mistress of King Henry IV of France. Since it was acquired in 1937 the painting has become one of The Louvre’s most popular attractions. The ‘pinch’ is said to signify her pregnancy with Henry’s illegitimate child. The ladies’ hands seem to reach out of the frame and Mme d’Estrées holds a ring, indicating she is waiting for the king to make her his wife. Unfortunately this never happened and she died giving birth to his fourth child aged just 26.
2nd floor of the Richelieu wing, room 824 (the second school of Fontainebleau)
Hopefully that’s given you a little taste of the treasures that await in The Louvre, quite simply a must visit during a short break in Paris.