The world’s most visited art museum began life as a fortress in the 12th century. The name, derived from the French word loup, is thought to mean “wolf.”
The Louvre’s collections were made public after the Revolution when intellectuals like Denis Diderot demanded that royal treasures be accessible. The glass pyramid that now marks the entrance was added in 1989.
The Mona Lisa
The enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa continues to hold a fascination for visitors, and no trip to Paris is complete without seeing this legendary painting. But does the time commitment and logistical hassle of battling crowds to lock eyes with this iconic masterpiece warrant it?
In 1911, a panic broke out when the world’s most famous painting went missing from its hooks in the Louvre’s Salon Carre. The news made headlines around the world and generous rewards were offered, but the painting remained unaccounted for over two years.
Located in the Salle des États on level 1 of the Denon Wing, the painting has long been one of the most popular attractions in the Louvre. Whether it’s the optical illusion or a deeper meaning behind her expression, the Mona Lisa continues to fascinate.
The Venus de Milo
Runner up in the armless statues category, this Hellenistic sculpture of a goddess is one of the most famous in the world. It’s a must-see for anyone who wants to see the Louvre.
It arrived at the museum just a year after being unearthed on the island of Milos in 1821, and a spirited marketing campaign turned it into a Parisian icon. Interestingly, her earlobes are missing—probably removed by thieves.
Also on the second floor is a pair of Michelangelo masterpieces: The Dying Slave and The Rebellious Slave, which showcase chained slaves and their wide range of emotions—from deep sleep to violent revolt. Art historians theorize that the widely differing expressions are meant to show how the human soul and body are connected. Take a moment to appreciate the sheer physical power of these massive marble statues.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace
Known to most as Nike, the 18-foot sculpture of a female goddess triumphantly striding toward the front of a ship was carved around 190 BCE in Samothrace, a Greek island near Turkey’s Dardanelles Straits. Historians believe the statue commemorated a naval victory.
After being discovered in pieces by Charles Champoiseau on the island in 1863, the statue was brought to Paris, where it stood on the grand scale of the Denon wing until it was reinstalled last week.
The restoration aimed to clean the statue’s marble, which had become yellowed over time, and restore its original white shade; it also sought to give the figure’s drapery its natural appearance. Scientists examined the sculpture with UV, X-ray and marble analysis to discover microscopic traces of blue paint on its wings and drapery. The team also restored the wing’s superior flight feather and added fragments of a blue fringe to the left side of the body. The addition helps the statue more accurately represent movement.
The Coronation of Napoleon
After Napoleon conquered several territories and nations he looted a lot of art from his defeated enemies, but he saved many works in Paris including those at the Louvre. When the museum reopened to the public after the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1941 the Louvre contained very little artwork, as most pieces had been hidden in private country chateaus.
Jacques Louis David was commissioned to paint Napoleon’s coronation at Notre Dame Cathedral in 1804. The painting depicts the moment of his becoming the Emperor of France. It is dominated by Napoleon standing in coronation robes reminiscent of those of Roman emperors. He is surrounded by his family with Josephine de Beauharnais kneeling and holding her crown while the pope blesses the proceedings from his seat in the stands.
This painting and the others in this wing are well worth the long line to enter the Louvre, which can sometimes last for hours. Get ahead of the crowds by buying advance tickets and reserving a time slot.