10 amazing artwork to see at the Louvre
Many people have come to associate the Louvre with its most famous artwork, the Mona Lisa. It is a common mistake to come at the Louvre aiming only to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa, ending up disappointed and not knowing what to do once the iconic painting has been visited.
The Louvre actually is the biggest art museum of the world, with other 72 735 square meters of exhibited space! The museum owns 554 731 artworks, of which only 35 000 are exhibited and accessible to visitors. This anecdote still manages to bewilder me every time I walk through the Louvre galleries: what we are all seeing is only the tip of the iceberg. I have always fantasized about the hidden artworks of the Louvre, stored underground and inaccessible to visitors.
You probably know that the Louvre is as such the most visited museum of the world : in 2018, no less than 10.2 million visitors came from all around the world to admire its artworks.
You probably understand by now that what makes the Louvre interesting goes far beyond the Mona Lisa. In this article, I have tried to list the most unmissable artworks of the Louvre to help you know what to look for.
As always in my top ten’s I have payed increased attention to list artworks that are famous and unmissable, and also my own personal favorite artworks. That way, you get to visit the iconic paintings and sculpture but also get a taste of a somewhat more personal visit into the Louvre’s wonders.
Also, there is one thing you should know if you are curious about all things French and Parisian: some locals are giving free tours to help you experience the French capital like a true Parisian. If you are willing to explore the hidden gems in each of Paris’ iconic neighborhoods and truly feel the city like a local, click here to book yours!
So, without further ado, let me walk you through my top 10 amazing artworks to see at the Louvre.
1. La Victoire de Samothrace (Winged Victory of Samothrace)
Not only is this sculpture one of my favorite artworks displayed in Paris, but I cannot stress enough what marvelous job the Louvre has done to offer the statue an adequate frame of exhibition. The Winged Victory of Samothrace stands alone, at the top of the main stairs of the Louvre.
You cannot miss it on your way to the Mona Lisa because you have to pass through the main stairs. I can guarantee that if you pay enough attention, you will definitely
This magnificent statue measures 2,75 meters (the entire monument measures more than 5 meters!). The sculpture represents goddess Nike (the goddess of Victory in ancient Greece, whose name inspired the ubiquitous sneaker brand and its infamous “Just do it” motto). The goddess is standing on a boat.
The anonymous statue was actually discovered in several broken pieces in the 19th century on the Greek Island Samothrace by Charles Champoiseau, who initially understood the value of the statue and sent it to the Louvre. The statue took a year to travel from Samothrace to Paris. The Louvre quickly realized the unmeasurable value of the statue, and sent back orders to Champoiseau encouraging him to look for other pieces.
The statue was brought back piece after piece during the following century; however her head was never found.
If you are willing to discover more of the history of this masterpiece of the Hellenistic era, check out our Top 5 interesting facts about the Winged Victory of Samothrace
2. Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss – Canova
This one is the favorite statue of many Parisians, and definitely amongst my personal favorites. When I was a teenager, I used to spend hours hanging out near the statue, observing the countless art students drawing the sculpture all day long.
The statue was painted at the end of the 18th century and is considered one of the masterpieces of the neoclassical movment.
It features greek god Eros having just awakened Psyche by kissing her. If you get to visit the statue, I would strongly advise you to turn around it 360° – Canova was at his time considered a genius and this statue is full of details that can only be fully admired if you turn around it.
3. Venus de Milo
The Venus de Milo might probably be one of the most famous sculptures in the Western world. Scholars are unsure of its artist (they hesitate between Praxitèle and Antiochus).
The sculpture’s arms are mysteriously missing; the reason is also unknown, contributing to the statue’s aura of mystery.
Venus de Milo depicts Latin goddess Venus (Aphrodite in Greek). It is named after the Milo island on which it was discovered by a Greek peasant.
The fame of this sculpture is actually a direct effect of a massive propaganda by the French authorities, after France was forced to return the Venus de Medici to Italy. Venus de Medici was at the time known to be one of the finest existing sculptures of Venus. To make up for the loss, France decided to over promote another Venus statue that they had kept.
Fun fact: the statue was for quite some time featured on the seal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).
If you are curious about this mesmerizing artwork, you can check out The best way to see The Venus de Milo at the Louvre Museum, and also our Top 6 interesting facts about the Venus de Milo
4. The Mona Lisa – Leonardo da Vinci
I obviously had to include her, since in the mind of many, Louvre is tantamount to the infamous Mona Lisa.
As I have written in my Top 6 interesting facts about Mona Lisa, when I found myself face to face with Mona Lisa, I remember thinking distinctively that this painting is definitely not an awe inducing painting at first sight. And yet, the painting has been for centuries at the center of the attention of the Western world, with figures that speak for themselves: when the painting was exhibited in New York, 1,6 million viewers went to see it. During Mona Lisa’s time in Tokyo, the crowd was so dense in front of the painting that the museum’s staff was forced to create an exceptional rule: each viewer was to be allowed only 10 seconds in front of the painting.
The painting has also become a staple of pop culture references, constantly referenced in merchandising and advertisement with famous reproductions by Andy Warhol or Salvador Dali.
The painting’s tormented history contribute to its fame: if you have seen it at the Louvre, you may have noticed the extremely heavy bulletproof glass window protecting the painting. Many people think it is standard procedure for an artwork of this fame, but the protection actually stems for the painting’s history.
It was indeed stolen one time in 1911 by a Louvre employee who disappeared for two years. Mona Lisa was targeted twice by vandals in 1956 : one visitor seriously damaged the painting by throwing acid at it, and another visitor threw a rock at it. This is when decision was made by the Louvre to protect permanently the painting behind a bulletproof glass.
Mona Lisa’s smile is usually at the center of debates surrounding the painting. “Mona Lisa must have had the highway blues; you can tell by the way she smiles” famously said Bob Dylan about the painting. Halfway between sadness and joy, her half-smile is the subject of constant interpretation by art critics.
6. Les Noces de Cana (The Wedding at Cana) – Paolo Veronese
Most visitors make the mistake of focusing only on Mona Lisa and forgetting to turn around and admire the painting that is directly behind it: The Wedding at Cana (1563) by Italian master Paolo Veronese.
7. La Liberté Guidant le peuple (Liberty guiding the people) – Eugène Delacroix
This painting is one of the most visited of the museum. It represents the goddess Liberty leading the people of France on to the revolution. It was painted by Eugène Delacroix to commemorate the revolution of 1830 against king Charles X of France.
This painting came to become a symbol of France’s national motto (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity), and the goddess Liberty quickly became one of the many personifications of the Republic of France, alongside the Marianne.
You can check our 10 Best French Paintings to See in the Louvre for more information on Delacroix’s painting and the next one on this top.
8. Le Radeau de la Méduse (The Raft of the Medusa) – Theodore Gericault
Alongside Delacroix, this one is an unmissable French painting of the Louvre museum. It was painted in 1818 and is one of the most famous works of French romantic painting of the 19th century. The size of the painting is impressive, taking up a whole portion of a wall at the Louvre.
It depicts a famous shipwreck that happened to a French ship, the Medusa, in 1816. The Medusa was violently wrecked near the coasts of Mauritania by a violent hurricane; the passengers tried to save themselves by swiftly building a raft and embarking on it to escape the wreck of their ship. Out of the 147 people who tried to save themselves by embarking on the raft, all died but 15. These 15 survivors were forced to engage in cannibalism and eat the corpses of the dead in order to stay alive until the arrival of the rescue ship.
This event had garnered massive public interest and was a massive scandal in France at the time; hence the fascination of Theodore Gericault who took it upon himself to try and recreate the gloomy and desperate atmosphere on the raft.
9. Sainte Marie Madeleine – Gregor Erhart
You would never imagine how many hours I have spent admiring this statue at the Louvre. Attributed to Gregor Erhart (1470-1540), the painting was bought by the Louvre at the beginning of the 20th century.
The painting depicts Saint Marie Magdalene, who is probably the Christian saint that has been at the center of the most fascinated aura. Marie Magdalene was a former sinner who decided to become one of Jesus’ followers. She is represents one of the feminine figures in Christian imagery and representations, and she is one of the most mentioned figure in the canonical gospels, more than most of the apostles. She is mentioned by name 12 times. She was the first to see Jesus after his resurrection. She reached out to touch him, and he asked her not to (“noli me tangere”).
According to some sources, she then decided to leave in a cave dressed only by her luxurious hair.
The statue depicts her naked, only draped in her famous hair. This sculpture is said to have mesmerized thousands of admirers, so much than during the nazi occupation of France, nazi military leader Hermann Goering asked that she would be brought to him from the Louvre. The statue travelled all the way to Germany, and was restituted to the museum after the end of the war.
10. The Man Mummy
This one always sends shivers down my spine: the Louvre’s collections include a mummified man from the 3rd or 2cd century before Christ.
Check out our 10 Best Egyptian Antiquities to See in the Louvre if you are interested in the monumental Egyptian section of the museum.
There you have them, my top 10 amazing artworks to see at the Louvre! You can check out our Top 10 Facts About the Louvre Museumif you want to learn more on this phenomenal museum. And if you are looking to plan your visit, check out our article on the Best Things to do Around the Louvre.