Lonely Planet review
Few art galleries are as prized or daunting as the Musée du Louvre, Paris’ pièce de résistance no first-time visitor to the city can resist. This is, after all, one of the world’s largest and most diverse museums. Showcase to 35,000 works of art – from Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greek antiquities to masterpieces by artists such as da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Rembrandt – it would take nine months to glance at every piece, rendering advance planning essential.
Today the palace rambles over four floors, up and down innumerable staircases, and through three wings: the Sully Wing creates the four sides of the Cour Carrée (literally ‘square courtyard’) at the eastern end of the complex; Denon Wing stretches 800m along the Seine to the south; and northern Richelieu Wing skirts rue de Rivoli. Long before its modern incarnation, the vast Palais du Louvre originally served as a fortress constructed by Philippe-Auguste in the 12th century (medieval remnants are still visible on the lower ground floor, Sully); it was rebuilt in the mid-16th century as a royal residence in the Renaissance style. The Revolutionary Convention turned it into a national museum in 1793.
The paintings, sculptures and artefacts on display in the Louvre Museum have been amassed by subsequent French governments. Among them are works of art and artisanship from all over Europe and priceless collections of antiquities. The Louvre’s raison d’être is essentially to present Western art (primarily French and Italian, but also Dutch and Spanish) from the Middle Ages to about 1848 (at which point the Musée d’Orsay takes over), as well as works from ancient civilisations that formed the starting point for Western art.
When the museum opened in the late 18th century it contained 2500 paintings and objets d’art; the ‘Grand Louvre’ project inaugurated by the late President Mitterrand in 1989 doubled the museum’s exhibition space, and both new and renovated galleries have opened in recent years devoted to objets d’art such as the crown jewels of Louis XV (Room 66, 1st floor, Apollo Gallery, Denon). Late 2012 saw the opening of the new Islamic art galleries (lower ground floor, Denon) in the restored Cour Visconti.
The richness and sheer size of the place (the south side facing the Seine is 700m long) can be overwhelming. However, there’s an array of innovative, entertaining self-guided thematic trails (1½ to three hours; download trail brochures in advance from the website) ranging from a Louvre masterpieces trail to the art of eating, plus several for kids (hunt lions, galloping horses). Even better are the Louvre’s self-paced multimedia guides (€5). More-formal, English-language guided tours depart from the Hall Napoléon , which has free English-language maps.
For many, the star attraction is Leonardo da Vinci’s La Joconde, better known as Mona Lisa (Room 6, 1st floor, Denon). This entire section of the 1st floor of the Denon Wing, in fact, is hung with masterpieces – rooms 75 and 77 have enormous French paintings from Ingres, Delacroix (Liberty Leading the People ) and Géricault (The Raft of the Medusa ), while rooms 1, 3, 5 and 8 contain transcendent pieces by Raphael, Titian, Botticini and Botticcelli. On the ground floor of the Denon Wing, take time for Michelangelo’s The Dying Slave and Canova's Psyche and Cupid (Room 4).
But don't rush by the treasures from antiquity: both Mesopotamia (ground floor, Richelieu) and Egypt (ground & 1st floors, Sully) offer fascinating insights into ancient civilizations, as seen in the Code of Hammurabi (Room 3, ground floor, Richelieu) and the Seated Scribe (Room 22, 1st floor, Sully). Also worth a look are the mosaics and figurines from the Byzantine empire (Lower Ground Floor, Denon), which merge into the state-of-the-art Islam collection in the Cour Visconti, and of course the armless Greek duo, the Venus de Milo (Room 16, ground floor, Sully) and the Winged Victory of Samothrace (top of Daru staircase, 1st floor, Denon, under renovation through 2015).
Also of note are the gilded-to-the-max Napoleon III Apartments (1st floor, Richelieu), Dutch masters Vermeer (Room 38, 2nd floor, Richelieu) and Rembrandt (Room 31, 2nd floor, Richelieu), and 18th- and 19th-century French painting collection (2nd floor, Sully), which features iconic works like Ingres’ The Turkish Bath (off Room 60).
The main entrance is through the 21m-high Grande Pyramide , a glass pyramid designed by the Chinese-born American architect IM Pei. If you don't have the Museum Pass (which gives you priority), you can avoid the longest queues (for security) outside the pyramid by entering the Louvre complex via the underground shopping centre Carrousel du Louvre . You'll need to queue up again to buy your ticket once inside. Do note that a new online ticketing system was being implemented as this book went to press.
Tickets are valid for the whole day, so you can come and go as you please. The centrepiece of the Carrousel du Louvre is the glass Pyramide Inversée, also by Pei.