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Treasures of the Louvre

Home > France > Art | Exhibitions | Galleries
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published November 28th 2013
One of the world's largest museums, when you first enter the Louvre it feels quite overwhelming. There are three different ways in, named after famous Frenchmen (Denon, Sully or Richelieu), with each taking you into a different wing of the museum. Opened as a museum in 1793, it's had centuries to acquire great works of art, and masterpieces about.

The Mona Lisa is, of course, a prime attraction. People always say it is a disappointment because it's behind glass, small, not 'that great', and usually ten deep in tourists so you can't get near it. If you visit at opening time (particularly on a Sunday), and head straight for it, then you can have a few uninterrupted moments contemplating the painting itself. Why is it so famous? Why do we refer to it as 'her', personifying the painting as its sitter? Why do we go to look at art, to see it, to have seen it, to use seeing it to prompt, reflect or express other thoughts and feelings?

Mona Lisa
Mona Lisa

She's much softer in real life than she comes across in pictures. Part of the frisson, however, inevitably comes from appreciating how many other people have stood in your footsteps before you. This museum is so overwhelming and gorgeous that it's worth contemplating some of these questions as you go round and soak it all in. The very fabric of the building is amazing, varying between the sharp white lines of a modern gallery to sumptuous, rich galleries with intricate ceilings and plentiful gilding.

Louvre Classica Sculpture Gallery
Louvre Classical Sculpture Gallery

It's also worth turning around and looking behind you at Paolo Caliari's The Wedding at Cana. Why put this painting opposite the Mona Lisa? The crowds merge into the crowded foreground of the painting, drawing you in to look at it more closely" align="CENTER" thumb="" border="1" caption="Roman Gallery" wrap="0" title="Roman Gallery" margin="5"]

Canova's Cupid and Psyche is noted as another masterpiece, and is well worth visiting. Every angle gives another intricate, enticing view, the marble so deftly carved it looks like soft flesh, Cupid's hands gently pressing into Psyche to support her. It emanates tenderness, close up or at a distance, drawing on the story in Apuleius' The Golden Ass, which has inspired reworkings for the past two millennia.

Canova cupid & Psyche
Canova Cupid & Psyche

Cupid & Psyche detail
Cupid & Psyche detail

Themed in a traditional manner, with rooms arranged according to era and / or country, the museum has strings of galleries on each topic, with some small rooms and other vast chambers. It's impossible to take in the whole museum at once, so you do need to decide which areas to focus on. Italian masterpieces, African art, Greek and Roman sculpture, art from the Americas, Iran or the Islamic World, it's all there. It perhaps lacks modern art, but visiting exhibitions help to make up for this.

These masterpieces are helpfully marked on the detailed gallery map and you can plot your route round the museum using it. The museum can be quite hard to navigate because it is so vast, with a series of escalators and stairs that don't quite join up, so you can find yourself at a dead end, or back where you started, without really noticing.

The entrance price is presently 12 Euros, which is extremely reasonable for the wealth of exhibits. The queues are carefully managed. You can leave your bags in a luggage store, which helps when travelling. Photographs without flash are allowed, and gallery staff will tell you off for breaking this rule, or touching the exhibits.
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Why? One of the world's largest museums, crammed with masterpieces
When: Monday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday: from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Friday: from 9 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. Closed on Tuesdays, and 25th December, 1st January, 15th August
Where: Paris
Cost: 12 Euros for a standard adult ticket, concessions available
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