Visiting the Louvre Museum: 15 Top Highlights, Tips & Tours
Visit the palace of French kings to admire some of the world's finest art. The Louvre holds many of Western Civilization's most famous masterpieces, including the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, and is one of the top things to do in Paris. A large number of the museum's paintings were owned by the various kings who lived in the Louvre when it was a royal residence, other pieces were acquired through France's treaties with the Vatican and the Venetian Republic, and the collection was further enriched by the spoils of Napoléon I.
The museum packs 30,000 artworks into a 60,000-square-meter exhibition space in three sections: the Denon, Richelieu, and Sully wings. Each wing has more than 70 rooms displaying paintings and objects of art, plus there are enormous halls filled with sculptures. It's impossible to see the entire collection in one day or even in a week. To get the most out of your time spent at the Louvre, focus on a checklist of essential art works using this guide.
1 Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (Denon Wing, Room 6)
Many visitors come to the Louvre just to see this one painting. The Mona Lisa is the museum's most famous work of art. The small painting is covered with an extra layer of plexiglass and is usually surrounded by a crowd of tourists trying to a get a glimpse of it. Scholars debate over what makes the Mona Lisa one of the most renowned paintings in the world. One explanation is the sense of mystery. The identity of the sitter is unclear. The woman portrayed is thought to be Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant named Francesco del Giocondo. The alternative name of Mona Lisa is La Gioconda or La Joconde.
Another explanation for the painting's celebrity is Mona Lisa's famous enigmatic smile, possibly representing the ideal of happiness. Her captivating expression and sidewards glance have a way of enchanting viewers. Observers notice how the Mona Lisa appears to be watching them from wherever they stand in the room. Created by Leonardo da Vinci between 1503 and 1506, the painting was one of the first half-length portraits and features a novel background depicting the uninhabited Tuscan countryside.
2 Les Noces de Cana by Paolo Veronese (Denon Wing, Room 6)
The Wedding Feast at Cana (1563) is a magnificent and grandiose painting covering an entire wall of the gallery from floor to ceiling. Veronese created this sumptuous painting in 1553 in Venice. The masterful composition depicts the biblical scene of a wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. The bible story told by John the Apostle describes the event where Christ performs the miracle of turning water into wine.
Veronese created a remarkable scene of more than 100 figures, an amazing compilation that somehow manages to look harmonious rather than crowded. The bride and groom are seated at the end of the banquet table on the left hand side. Christ is at the center surrounded by the Virgin, his disciples, clerks, and Princes entertained by a group of musicians. Contemporary Venetians mingle with biblical personages in Oriental turbans. The artist's attention to detail is astounding. Get up close enough to see the realistic minutia, such as the draping of the splendid Venetian costumes painted in vibrant colors. Admire the piece thoroughly to find charming features often overlooked-the dwarf, the parakeet, little birds, friendly dogs, and a cat walking through the crowd.
3 Vénus de Milo (Sully Wing, Room 7)
A must-see sight, the Vénus de Milo is one of the highlights of the Louvre's antiquities department. This graceful statue is also known as Aphrodite and represents the Greek ideal of beauty. The work has mesmerized the art world ever since it was discovered on Greece's Island of Melos in 1820. The goddess depicted is either Aphrodite (who was usually portrayed half-naked) or the sea goddess Amphitrite who was worshipped on the Island of Milo. Created around 100 BC, the statue reflects the stylization of the late Hellenistic Period.
What makes this statue a masterwork is the balanced composition, the sense of space, and the way the drapery falls over her hips. Unfortunately the missing pieces of marble make it difficult to fully identify and understand the statue. Art historians have tried to imagine how her arms were positioned and where she might have been standing. Some believe that she may have held an apple, a shield, or a crown. Another hypothesis is that Venus held a mirror in one hand to admire her reflection.
4 Victoire de Samothrace (Denon Wing, Daru Staircase)
A masterpiece of Hellenistic art, this monumental classical sculpture is breathtaking to behold. The Victoire de Samothrace (Winged Victory) on the Escalier Daru (Ground Floor staircase) has a way of captivating visitors when they turn the corner and catch a glimpse of the statue. Created around 190 BC, the winged Goddess of Victory was found on the island of Samothrace. Historians believe that the monument was a religious offering by the people of Rhodes in commemoration of naval victory.
The winged Goddess of Victory (Nike) stands on the prow of a ship sailing through strong winds. The figure of the Goddess is portrayed so accurately that one can hardly believe it was crafted 2,000 years before photography and 3D graphic modeling. The composition has a spiraling effect that creates a sense of movement, with the wings held back and the right leg placed in front of the left. The Goddess appears to be drenched in water, as her transparent clothing clings to her body, revealing the shape of the nude female body. At the same time, a breeze seems to be blowing the clothing between her legs, which gives the sculpture a stunning sense of realism.
5 The Coronation of Napoléon by Jacques-Louis David (Denon Wing, Room 75)
Napoléon I commissioned Jacques-Louis David to create this monumental painting as a document of his coronation ceremony. Napoléon proclaimed himself Emperor in May 1804 after a coup d'état following his victorious military campaigns in Italy and Egypt. The coronation ceremony was conducted according to the protocol of crowning a king in the French monarchic tradition. However Napoléon crowned himself while facing the congregation instead of being crowned by the Pope, to make a statement about his independence from the church.
The painter attended the coronation ceremony of December 2, 1804, and then represented the event with impeccable detail. David depicts the ceremony accurately while complying with Napoléon's request to convey a symbolic and political message-glorifying the event to give it a unique place in history. This painting of Le Sacre de l'Empereur Napoléon spans an enormous six-meter by ten-meter canvas. Another masterpiece by David in the same room is The Oath of the Horatii, a duel scene of classical antiquity.
6 La Liberté Guidant le Peuple by Eugène Delacroix (Denon Wing, Room 77)
This exceptional painting illustrates one of the most important events in French history-the Parisian uprising of July 27, 28, and 29, 1830 known as the "Trois Glorieuses" ("Three Glorious Days"). At this moment in history, the Republicans of France led a revolt against the government of the Second Constitution for violating the Constitution. Delacroix intended his painting to evoke the Revolution of 1789 and the ideal of popular sovereignty. The creation of this piece was a patriotic act, as Delacroix believed passionately in the Republican cause.
The allegorical image features Liberty as a bare-breasted woman (nudity is commonplace in French art, even in historical paintings). In one hand, Liberty holds a French flag while revolutionaries march through the streets of Paris in a desperate battle scene. Liberty holds an infantry gun in her right hand, giving her a sense of determination. Notice how Liberty appears brighter, symbolic of moral illumination, in contrast to the dark smoky background. In his signature romantic style, Delacroix brings a deeply emotional and personal interpretation to the painting. The painting also has a realistic quality, which Delacroix achieved through his method of preparing many sketches to ensure perfection in his final work.
7 Psyche Revived by the Kiss of Love by Antonio Canova (Richelieu Wing, Pavillon de Flore)
Of all the of 18th-century Neoclassical sculptures in the sunlight-filled Pavillon de Flore gallery, this one is the most charmingly romantic and beautifully rendered. This sculpture, titled Psyché Ranimée par le Baiser de l'Amour in French, was inspired by the mythological story of Cupid and Psyche from Ovid's Metamorphoses. In this story, Cupid sees Psyche who has fallen into a spell of sleep after breathing in a forbidden potion. Cupid gently approaches Psyche, about to kiss her. Then Psyche wakes up and languidly embraces Cupid. This is the tender moment captured in this enchanting masterpiece.
Antonio Canova created a piece that is full of emotion, typical of Romantic Neoclassical sculpture. At the same time, the sculpture is so precise that the figures seem lifelike. Notice the fine sculpting of Cupid's wings, the quiver full of arrows, and the ornamentation on the amphora. Admire the way Cupid holds Psyche's neck and the curve of her hip as she turns to embrace him, all shown with a perfect sense of proportion and movement. Meticulously chiseled features and anatomical details like Psyche's belly button and graceful toes add a sense of authenticity to the scene.
8 Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud (Sully Wing, Room 34)
This famous painting of the "Sun King" was created in 1701 by the French royal portrait artist Hyacinthe Rigaud. The painting was originally intended to be a gift for Philip V of Spain, however the French Court liked it so much that the painting was never sent to the Spanish King. Louis XIV was 63 years old when this portrait was painted. Rendered in exquisite detail, the portrait represents Louis XIV as the ultimate image of absolute power. The opulent background and the King's impressive coronation robes symbolize his greatness. Notice the sumptuousness of the King's robe that is embroidered with fleur de lys (the royal symbol) and the crown resting beside him on a stool. This lavish painting was designed to remind the viewer of Louis XIV's authority.
9 La Dentellière by Jan Vermeer (Richelieu Wing, Room 38)
Renoir considered Jan Vermeer's painting of The Lacemaker to be one of the most beautiful paintings in the world. The motif of lace was often used in Dutch paintings to symbolize traditional female virtues. In the forefront of the painting is a little book that is most likely a Bible, which gives the piece another layer of moral and religious suggestion.
Vermeer loved to paint scenes of everyday life and was skilled at depicting familiar objects in an appealing way. The young woman (most likely Vermeer's wife) is shown intently focused on her painstaking work of lacemaking. The thread between the woman's fingers and the pins and bobbin form the central focal point of the piece. The objects become more blurred in the background, mimicking the human eye's natural optical field. Van Gogh praised this painting for its harmonious blend of colors, seen in the vibrant sewing cushion and multihued yarns.
10 Marly Horses by Guillaume Coustou (Richelieu Wing, Cour Marly Courtyard)
The Chevaux de Marly was commissioned by King Louis XIV for the Château de Marly horse pond. Created between 1739 and 1745, this monumental Carrara marble sculpture is a larger-than-life image of two horses restrained by grooms. The sculptor, Guillame Coustou, was likely inspired by the antique statues found in front of the Quirinal Palace in Rome, which similarly depict rearing horses. These ancient Roman statues show demigods Castor and Pollux endeavoring to tame their horses. Alluding to this mythological reference, the Marly Horses symbolize the struggle between man and primitive nature-represented by an untamed horse.
11 Le Couronnement de la Vierge by Fra Angelico (Denon Wing, Room 3)
The Coronation of the Virgin is one of the Louvre's masterpieces of medieval painting. Guido di Pietro, known as Fra Angelico, painted this exceptional piece from 1430 to 1432. The painted altarpiece was found on one of the altars of the convent of San Domenico in Fiesole outside Florence. The theme of the Coronation of the Virgin was very commonly represented in art during the 13th century. Depicted in luminous colors and remarkable detail, the painting illustrates the Assumption of the Virgin Mary as she is welcomed into heaven. Christ is shown seated high above the multitude of onlookers, on a throne accessed by marble steps. Notice how Fra Angelico painted the nine steps of marble in different colors. The Virgin Mary kneels on the second-to-last step to receive the crown from her glorious son.
12 The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds by Georges de la Tour (Sully Wing, Room 24)
Full of surprising details and hidden emotion, The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds (Le Tricheur à l'as de Carreau) is an interesting piece to observe. The painting is one of Georges de La Tour's masterpieces and is a must-see piece in the French paintings collection. The scene depicts four people gathered around a table while playing cards. The moment appears to be suspended in time. The flamboyantly dressed, feather-capped young man on the right is in a space apart from the others-he is about to be duped. Meanwhile the other group of three people seem to share a secret, evidenced by their sidewards eye movements. The woman with the plunging neckline draws the viewer's attention with her sneaky glance. She is silently communicating with the player (the cheat) on the left side of the painting. Obscured by the shadows, the cheat discreetly pulls an ace of diamonds card from under his belt, which will be the "winning" card.
13 Portrait of the Artist Holding a Thistle by Albrecht Dürer (Richelieu Wing, Room 8)
A striking painting, the Portrait de l'Artiste Tenant un Chardon was one of the first self-portraits ever created. Albrecht Dürer created this portrait of himself in 1493 when he was only twenty-two years old. The artist is holding a thistle, which represents a pledge of fidelity to his fiancée or an allusion to Christ's Passion. The composition of a three-quarters bust was typical of painting style at that time. Viewers can detect some awkwardness in the portrait, because the artist was working from his reflection in the mirror.
14 Captif Sculptures by Michelangelo (Denon Wing, Room 4)
These expressive statues are masterworks by Michelangelo, showing his genius of technical ability and emotional depth. The pair of sculptures includes the L'Esclave Mourant (The Dying Slave) and the L'Esclave Rebelle (The Rebellious Slave). Both are chained and shown in the nude to emphasize their vulnerability, but the two slaves express very different emotions. The young and handsome Dying Slave appears to be in a deep eternal sleep. The Rebellious Slave is distorted in a violent struggle. Some art historians have interpreted the sculptures to symbolize the human soul that is burdened by the body. Michelangelo created the statues in 1513 as part of a monumental project for the tomb of Pope Julius II in 1505.
15 French Crown Jewels (Department of Decorative Arts)
Get a glimpse of the grandeur that was once the symbol of France's monarchy. Coronation crowns reflected the wealth and power of French kings. The crowns were custom made for each king and embellished with precious jewels. Be sure to see the Couronne de Louis XV (in the Denon Wing, Room 66), which features two rows of pearls and eight gems (emeralds, sapphires, rubies, and topazes) alternating with sparkling diamonds. The arches were decorated with diamond fleurs de lys. The famous "le Régent" (Regent Diamond), now displayed separately, originally adorned the flower in front. In the Richelieu Wing, Room 74, the Diadème de la Duchesse d'Angoulème (Duchesse of Angouleme's Tiara) is a dazzling piece decorated with diamonds and emeralds. The Couronne de l'Impératrice Eugénie is an over-the-top imperial crown. This magnificent piece glitters with 2,480 diamonds and 56 emeralds.
Exploring the Louvre Palace
The Grand Entrance: The Glass Pyramid
The main entrance to the Louvre lies in the building's central courtyard at the iconic Glass Pyramid. Designed by architect Ieoh Ming Pei and opened in 1989, this 22-meter-high pyramid is a masterpiece of architecture, constructed from 675 panes of glass. The Pyramid allows access to the Cour Napoléon, where the ticket office and information desk are located. The glass ceiling floods this space with natural light, literally brightening the experience for the tourists who are waiting in line. There are also other ways to enter the museum (avoiding the crowds), such as the Carrousel du Louvre or Rue de Rivoli entrances, but the pyramid is a tourist attraction in its own right. This beautiful structure is a great introduction to the Louvre's fabulous collection of fine art.
The Medieval Louvre: Foundations of the Palace
Discover the original foundations of the Louvre in the Medieval Louvre section. To arrive here, enter the Louvre through the Pyramid and then take the escalator down to the Sully wing. This section reveals the ancient foundations of the medieval fortress. Visitors can see the vestiges of the medieval moat and the dungeons as well as the Salle Saint-Louis, an interesting space filled with remains of rib-vaulted support columns.
A Magnificent Royal Palace Fit for the Kings of France
The Louvre's collection of artwork is housed in a decadent building, originally a medieval fortress created for King Philippe Auguste in 1190. The building was enhanced under Charles V, Charles VI, and Henri II and transformed into a luxurious royal palace by Louis XIII and Louis XIV. With its impressive scale and opulent details, the grand halls of the Louvre are definitely fit for a king. The Salle des Caryatides is a glorious reception hall created for King Henri II. The Chambre de Parade du Roi (found in Room 25 of the Egyptian Antiquities department) is the bedroom where Charles IX and Henri III greeted the court every morning. The Salle des Sept-Cheminées (Room 74 of the Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities department) was the royal apartment of Louis XIV until he moved his palace to Versailles.
Even after the Louvre was no longer a royal palace, it was used for official purposes by Napoléon III. Visitors can also see the sumptuous rooms of the Appartements Napoléon III (Richelieu Wing beyond the Lefuel Staircase). On display are the Grand Salon and Dining Rooms of Napoléon III. Exemplifying Second Empire style, the lavish decor features stunning chandeliers, gilded moldings, decorative stucco work, silk curtains, velvet furnishings, and ornately painted ceilings. Another must-see room in the museum is the Galerie d'Apollon. This glorious reception hall has a stunning ceiling painting that was begun by Charles Le Brun, paying homage to Louis XIV, the Sun King. The portion not completed by Le Brun, the central panel, was painted by Delacroix in 1851. His breathtaking painting depicts Apollo Slaying the Serpent Python.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to the Louvre Museum
- Tours of the Louvre: You can be sure of finding all the highlights of this vast museum on the three-hour Skip the Line: Louvre Museum Walking Tour including Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa. The tour includes headsets, so you can hear your knowledgeable guide explain the history and artistic significance of the museum's highlights, from its priceless paintings to the crown jewels, and after the tour you can stay to explore on your own.
- Tickets: The main entrance and ticket office is at the Pyramid du Louvre, but this also has the longest lines. Entrances at the Carrousel du Louvre from the Métro station or at Passage Richelieu off Rue de Rivoli avoid the long lines. You can buy tickets in advance, but you must pick them up in person at a different location. More info: http://www.louvre.fr/en/advance-tickets. The Paris Museum Pass includes the Louvre and offers savings for tourists who want to explore several museums during a two-day, three-day, or six-day stay in Paris. More info: http://en.parismuseumpass.com
- Resources: The Louvre website suggests several themed Visitors Trails such as Masterpieces, Daily Life in Egypt, and Still Life Painting. It also details any current gallery closings. The Louvre app can help you navigate the daunting galleries of the Louvre and enjoy interesting commentaries by art experts that explain the masterpieces.
- Food and Drink: You'll find cafés, restaurants, and snack bars throughout the building and in the gardens. These vary from food stalls offering international cuisine to fine dining on the terrace at Café Marly.
- Getting to the Louvre: The Metro stop is at Palais-Royal-Musée du Louvre station or bus numbers 21, 24, 27, 39, 48, 68, 69, 72, 81, and 95 stop in front of the Pyramid du Louvre. The most convenient parking is at the underground garage on Avenue du Général Lemonnier, open daily from 7am to 11pm.