The Louvre Review
The most recognized symbol of Paris is the Tour Eiffel, but the ultimate traveler's prize is the Louvre. This is the world's greatest art museum—and the largest, with 675,000 square feet of works from almost every civilization on earth. The three most popular pieces here are, of course, the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory. Beyond these must-sees, your best bet is to focus on whatever interests you the most—and don't despair about getting lost, for you're bound to stumble on something memorable. Pick up an excellent color-coded map at the information desk. There are slick Nintendo 3DS multimedia guides at the entrance to each wing; for €5 you get four self-guided tours and details about 250 works of art, plus a function to help you find your bearings. There are also 90-minute guided tours (€15) in English daily at 11 and 2. Thematic leaflets (including some for kids) are available from the front desk.
Bear in mind that the Louvre is much more than a museum—it represents a saga that started centuries ago, having been a fortress at the turn of the 13th century, and later a royal residence. It was not until the 16th century, under François I, that today's Louvre began to take shape, and through the years Henry IV, Louis XIII, Louis XV, Napoléon I, and Napoléon III all contributed to its construction. Napoléon Bonaparte's military campaigns at the turn of the 19th century brought a new influx of holdings, as his soldiers carried off treasures from each invaded country. During World War II the most precious artworks were hidden, while the remainder was looted. Most of the stolen pieces were recovered, though, after the liberation of Paris. No large-scale changes were made until François Mitterrand was elected president in 1981, when he kicked off the Grand Louvre project to expand and modernize the museum.
Mitterrand commissioned I.M. Pei's Pyramide, the giant glass pyramid surrounded by three smaller pyramids that opened in 1989 over the new entrance in the Cour Napoléon. In 2012, the Louvre's newest architectural wonder debuted—the 30,000-square-foot Arts of Islam wing. Built into the Cour Visconti in the Denon wing and topped with an undulating golden roof evoking a veil blowing in the wind, the two-level galleries house one of the world's largest collections of art from all corners of the Islamic world.
The Louvre comprises three wings—the Richelieu, the Sully, and the Denon—arranged like a horseshoe, with the Pyramide nestled outside in the middle. Entering from it, head upstairs to the sculpture courtyards in the Richelieu wing, where you'll find the Marly Horses, four equine sculptures—two carved for Louis XIV and two for Louis XV—in Cour Marly. The ground floor and underground rooms in this wing contain 5th- to 19th-century French sculpture, and the Near East Antiquities Collection, including the Lamassu, carved 8th-century winged beasts. On the first floor of this wing you'll find the Royal Apartments of Napoléon III, a dozen elaborately decorated reception rooms. Continue to the second floor for the French and Northern School paintings, including Vermeer's The Lacemaker. The entrance to the Sully wing is the most impressive, as you can walk around the 12th-century foundations and vestiges of the original medieval moat. Below ground is also the largest display of Egyptian antiques in the world after that of the Cairo museum, featuring such artifacts as Ramses II, a beautifully proportioned statue from the site of Tanis. Upstairs in Salle 16 is the armless Venus de Milo , a 2nd-century representation of the goddess Aphrodite. She was cleaned and restored over six months in 2010, the work taking place after hours and on Tuesday, when the museum is closed. The first and second floors of the Sully Wing boast decorative arts from all over Europe, as well as 17th-century French paintings, including the Turkish Bath by Jean-August-Dominique Ingres. Don't miss one of the newest additions, the contemporary ceiling in Salle 32 on the first floor by American Cy Twombly, unveiled in 2010. On the first floor, period rooms (set to reopen in late 2014) contain 18th-century furnishings and objets d'art. To the south and east of the Pyramide entrance are galleries displaying early Renaissance sculpture in the Denon Wing. Don't skip the coat checks on the ground floor of the Denon or Richelieu wings—much of the museum is hot and stuffy. Walk up the marble Escalier Daru to discover the sublime (and newly cleaned) Winged Victory of Samothrace , a statue found on a tiny Greek island that was carved in 305 BC to commemorate the naval victory of Demetrius Poliocretes over the Turks. In the paintings section of the Denon Wing, you'll find three by Leonardo da Vinci, including the most famous painting in the world: the Mona Lisa , located in Salle 7. Head across to Salle 75 for the Coronation of Napoléon, or to Salle 77 for the graphic 1819 Raft of the Medusa, the first work of art based on a real news event, in this case the survivors of the wreck of a French ship.
The eventual launch of the Louvre’s online reservation system will mean less time in the ticket line and more time ogling the art; until then, shorten your wait by avoiding the main entrance at the Pyramide and heading for the entrance in the underground mall, Carrousel du Louvre (which has automatic ticket machines), or to the Porte de Lions entrance (closed Friday) on the southwestern corner. Note that the shortest lines tend to be around 9:30 am and 1 pm. Crowds are also thinner on Wednesday and Friday nights, when the museum is open late.
Need a break? Visit an onsite café (like Café Richelieu, run by upscale confiseur Angelina); or pop out to an open-air café in the Jardin de Tuileries (ticket holders can come and go through the Porte Richelieu on the rue de Rivoli side).
If you have your heart set on seeing a particular work, check the website for room closings; renovations are always taking place. Remember that the Louvre is closed Tuesday.
- Address: Palais du Louvre, Louvre/Tuileries, Paris, 75001 | Map It
- Phone: /01–40–20–53–17
- Cost: €12; €13 for Napoléon Hall exhibitions; €16 with all temporary exhibits and same-day entry to Musée Eugène Delacroix; free 1st Sun. of month
- Hours: Mon., Thurs., and weekends 9–6, Wed. and Fri. 9–9:30; closed Tues.
- Website: www.louvre.fr
- Subway: Palais-Royal–Musée du Louvre
- Location: Around the Louvre