June 4th, 2012
In the heart of Paris in the Louvre Palace is one of the largest and most famous art museums in the world (in fact it is massive!). The Louvre Palace site was originally a fortress built in the 12th century, successive changes to the site over the next 600 years formed into a palace of the Kings and by 1793 the Louvre Museum originated. The remains of the original fortress walls have been preserved in the lower levels of the Louvre.
Hall after hall contain an incredible array of paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, statues, archeological finds and decorative items including jewels (apparently some 35,000 pieces of art are displayed). There are works of art from ancient civilisations such as Egypt, Rome and Greece along with Western art dating from medieval times to the 19th century (1848). Some of the most famous pieces of art include Leonardo de Vinci’s Mona Lisa (painted between 1503 and 1506), The Winged Victory of Samothrace (the ancient Greek goddess Nike it was sculpted around 200BC), Venus de Milo (Aphrodite – created in ancient Greece sometime between 130BC and 100BC), Captive (The Dying Slave) by Michelangelo (sculpted 1513-1516) and Psyche and Cupid by Antonio Canova (sculpted 1787-1793).
Egyptian antiquities form a major part of the collection at the Louvre and are centred around the Colossal Statue of Ramesses II (the ruler of Egypt from 1279BC-1213BC the statue was carved during his reign). I was surprised to learn that the collection does not come from the time of Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian expeditions between 1798-1801 (these items were confiscated by the victorious British as spoils of war including the famous Rosetta Stone that helped decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics – it is today on display in the British Museum in London). Instead the collection primarily comes from private collections and those of the Kings of France.
One painting that symbolises the spirit of the French Republic is “Liberty Leading the People” (1830) which details the Paris Uprising which ousted Charles X the last of the Bourbon Kings in 1830. Another that celebrates the Napoleonic era is “Napoleon on the Battlefield of Eylau” a painting set on the battlefield in Prussia in 1807 celebrating a hard-fought victory over the Prussians (it was painted in 1807-1808).
An interesting section of the museum is the apartments of Napoleon III (1808-1873) which contain furniture and artwork from that period. He was the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Emperor of France from 1852 to 1870. Following his defeat and capture in the Franco Prussian War (1870-1871) his reign officially ended when he was deposed by the Third Empire of France. After being released from captivity by the Prussians he was exiled to England where he died a few years later during a surgical procedure.
The first time I came to Paris in 1994 I never made it into the Louvre. The queues were so long I would have lost a whole day just trying to get in! This time there were massive queues throughout the day and a huge amount of people within the museum, but by getting there before the doors opened at 9am I was able to join a relatively short queue and get to the Mona Lisa before the mad crush began! That’s my tip, go early and go straight to the most famous items, then you can relax and enjoy the rest of the museum in what will be a very long day. I spent many hours there and really only just scratched the surface of the impressive collection (I repeat it is massive!). The Louvre is truly a highlight of Paris.