Au Louvre

With today’s forecast at 40’s and rain (big surprise, Paris) I decided it would be the perfect day to finally visit the Louvre. I’m refusing to pay for any other museums during my stay, instead opting to visit only the everyday free museums or museums on the first Sunday of the month when access is free. But the Louvre is something different. It is worth the entrance fee of 11 euros. It is incredibly busy on every day of the week, especially free days, so this price is a small one to pay for relative sanity. An estimated 8 million visitors a year walk through the doors of the Louvre, making it the most visited museum in the world. The trick is to arrive early or go through any other entrance than the main one at the pyramid. Well, I tried to get there early but rush hour trains can take a while. And I attempted to go in a different entrance, but it was closed. Nonetheless, I ended up waiting only 15 minutes to enter through the main doors.

The Louvre is probably the world’s most famous museum but its history is not so well known. During the middle ages this palace was used as a fortress. In 1546, Francis I renovated the building in the French Renaissance style and began acquiring many pieces of artwork from all around Europe. Most famously he purchased Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa after the painter died while living in working in Amboise, France. The Louvre became a royal residence until Louis XIV moved his court out of the city into the neighboring village of Versailles. The Sun King and his successors still used the old palace building to store their private art collections. It was not until the French Revolution that the Louvre became a museum open to the public.

The reason I was able to put off visiting the Louvre for so long is probably because I have been there once before. Two years ago, on my first trip to Paris, I spent a ridiculous 30 minutes inside this magnificent museum. Not by choice, my schedule only permitted a short visit before I was off for something new with my tour group. This was December and we didn’t actually find it all that difficult to see the “Big 3” within this time limit. I would never recommend spending only 30 minutes in the Louvre, and in high season you would most likely barely make it into the first room before turning around to leave. We were, however, able to see the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory of Samothrace and Venus de Milo briefly before our departure. Here’s some pictures from that trip.

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May is the brink of high season and subsequently I found myself ushered from room to room with a loud throng of photo-snapping tourists in the high traffic areas. Needless to say these high traffic areas focus around those big 3 but also famous Egyptian artifacts such as the Colossal Statue of Ramesses II and other works of art by big names such as Michelangelo. One could literally spend all day inside the Louvre, wandering through the three wings and four floors of art and artifacts. I allowed myself three hours today, a significant improvement over 30 minutes but still not even close to enough time to see everything. The Louvre holds roughly 35,000 pieces though so seeing everything is virtually impossible.

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The way I structured my visit was to get the high traffic areas over with first. Even if you aren’t claustrophobic, it can be stressful to feel trapped by hundreds of people within a small room. Add to that the noise, excessive photos, lack of restrooms, shear size and confusing nature of the floor plan, and you are sure to need a drink after your visit through these areas. Since there were so many people visiting the museum today, I did not have the same viewing experience of the Mona Lisa as I did upon my first visit. Before, I was able to get rather close, take lots of pictures and meander around slowly. I also noticed that the painting directly opposite the Mona Lisa, the Wedding Feast of Cana by Veronese (shown in my 2011 pictures above), which is a masterful work of art and the largest painting in the museum, had literally zero viewers in front of it while everyone crowded around the relatively tiny Mona Lisa instead.

The Louvre holds an incredible collection of works from all over the world. I enjoyed the Egyptian rooms quite a bit, with their various sarcophagi and re-creations of ancient temples. But my favorite part of the museum were the Napoleon III apartments. These rooms were added by Napoleon III between 1852 and 1857 as part of a larger project to connect the Louvre and the Tuileries Palace. They have been kept as true to authentic as possible. Just as fantastic as Versailles, but on a smaller scale, these rooms hold a wealth of beauty and grandeur. Almost no other visitors were inside them, and excellent views over he Jardin des Tuileries are found through the windows.

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I am certainly no art teacher or scholar so I will not bore you with information about any other works of art which I clearly know nothing about and would have to research anyway. But here are a few of the most famous ones that I visited today, feel free to research on your own time and most definitely schedule at least 3-4 hours of your trip to Paris to see them for yourself!

1. Captive (The Dying Slave) – Michelangelo 2. Saint Mary Magdalene – G. Erhart

3. Psyche and Cupid – A. Canova 4. Gabrielle d’Estrees and Her Sister

5. The Card Sharper – G. de La Tour 6. The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin – J. van Eyck

7. Seated scribe 8. The Turkish Bath – J.A.D. Ingres

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