Yesterday, I got a bit of a taste of what a trio to a Parisian museum was like with my trip to the Orangery. Today, it was time to tackle to big one – but not before we had a good breakfast.
Much like our visit to Montmartre, we started the day with what this particular café called the ‘Frenchy’ breakfast. So that was tartine, jam, croissant, hot chocolate and a juice. For some reason I assumed that the lemon juice would be more like a ‘lemon juice drink’ than straight lemon juice. No amount of follow-up jam could take the sourness out of my mouth for a good while.
At 9:30 we arrived at the iconic pyramid, right at the beginning of our allotted window. Since this is one of the biggest museums in the world with some of the most famous pieces of artwork, we wanted to ensure that we had the maximum time there. We ended up leaving at 5:30, just as they started to sweep the rooms to get visitors out. Over the course of 8 hours we were able to hit up pretty much everything that was available.
So join me, won’t you, on a whistlestop trip around The Louvre.
To start, as a general thing to encompass the whole day, there are times where it becomes unclear whether you should be focusing more on the room itself rather than the pieces that are being displayed. What I hadn’t realised before getting to Paris was that the Louvre was formally a palace, which means that so many rooms have beautiful ceiling paintings and other such ornamentation. As with the rest of Paris, the Louvre is a place where it pays to look up.
The first collection we arrived at were some of the museums more modern French paintings. As soon as you enter the room, it is impossible to not notice Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’. It’s one of those iconic pieces that, as the first thing I really saw, helped to set the time for the rest of the day. Other interesting paintings were in this section, but none quite matched that – although Gericault’s ‘Raft of the Medusa’ is definitely noteworthy.
In order to get it out of the way, and hopefully have minimal crowds, we went a few rooms down to see the Mona Lisa in person. Despite not being open for long, the crowds had already begun to swell with many posing for selfies in front of the piece. Now that I’ve seen it in person, I can honestly spray that I don’t get the fuss. ‘Lady with an Ermine’ is so much better, at least for me, but I guess that’s why I never took art history classes,
Next to the Mona Lisa is, rather aptly the Italian paintings collection. So many of the great Italian paintings of this era are in Florence, but the Louvre really do have an exceptional collection. Raphael’s savage depiction of St Michael slaying a devil is stunning (although, really, who takes a selfie in front of this). Arcimboldo’s quartet of profiles made of seasonal produce are weird and so very cleverly done. It was also cool to see the other version of Da Vinci’s ‘Virgin of the Rocks’.
We did a tour of the Spanish paintings before seeing, what ended up being, my favourite piece in the gallery: Winged Victory of Samothrace. So much of what made this a spectacle was how well the statue had been positioned. However, that doesn’t detract from what an amazing piece of sculpture work this is. In a weird way, the missing head and arms makes it all the more remarkable. The asymmetrical folds of the cloth and the detail in the wings have such a sense of movement, that it feels like the statue was designed to have these pieces missing. I could have stared at this for so much longer if it had not been for the throngs of people.
A quick mosey through the decorative arts sections led us to the Northern European paintings. There were a few weird ones here – like the above featuring two naked sisters, one pinching the others bar nipple – but the coolest one featured an entire room containing paintings by Rubens. These had all been commissioned by Marie de’ Medici to mythologize her life and are both utterly brilliant and completely hyperbolic.
Next on the list was the vast Egyptian collection. As with most things Egyptian it’s hard to reconcile just how old a lot of these things are. Statues here, like the red man, are so much better preserved than things from less than 100 years ago… despite being 3000 years old. Stone heads and inscriptions from 4000 years ago just standing there looking amazing, which really makes me want to return to Cairo as an adult to re-visit their Egyptology museum.
No Egyptology section would be complete without some sarcophagi, and boy The Louvre has some amazing ones. There’s one almost in the basement where they must have needed a stepladder in order to deposit the smaller nested sections inside. There was also a single mummy, which I felt a bit weird photographing (a bit rich considering I was happily snapping away in the catacombs just two days earlier).
There was so much in the Egyptian sections that I love, but I realise that time is marching on – as it was in the actual museum – so after a lunch of a surprisingly good ham and cheese baguette we went off to the newly(ish) opened Islamic Arts section via some of the Greek antiquities (where I got to see more of the Cycladean statues that I so fell I love with during my visit to Athens).
I love that more museums seem to be getting collections of Islamic art together. Geographically it is so close by and yet, because I wasn’t raised seeing much of it, it always feels fresh and interesting to me. I especially loved some of the jugs and incense burners that they had on display. Similarly, some of the ceramics and tilework was so beautiful and used palates that you just don’t see in other cultures.
Sadly the Near Eastern art section was closed off, although some Roman-influenced Egyptian art was on display, which meant the next stop was the very crowded Venus De Milo (although you wouldn’t know it from the picture) and the rooms full of the remaining Greek and Roman antiquities. Honestly, I felt rather underwhelmed by the Venus De Milo. It feels like, if the arms were still in fact, it wouldn’t be as highly photographed as there would be no mystery to it.
When you consider that nearby are dynamic works like this man lacing his sandle or this gorgeous statue of Artemis in motion, it makes you winded how it is decided that certain pieces are given pride of place over others. In the end it’s all taste and the snowballing of fame, I guess, and this way I got Artemis to myself. So there’s that.
Next on the list was the Near Eastern art. It’s rooms like this that make me wish that Iran was semi-gay friendly, because I would love to see their collections of art in a proper context. Until then I shall enjoy the drinks and drabs that we have in the West, such as these amazing man-animal hybrids and this jolly looking man with the heavy eye makeup. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll see Persepolis for myself.
The final big collection of the day were the French sculptures. As we’re actually in France, the number that they have on display is huge – to the point they they take up multiple courtyards and those are mostly modern ones… although they are mostly still using classical motifs like the death of Dido and the labours of Heracles. Among the classical marble it was really interesting statues of bronze and lead mixed in as a way to provide some colour contrasts.
Then there are the older French sculptures that seemed to focus mainly on Christian symbolism or were made to adorn tombs. There was a fantastically intricate alter piece carved out of stone on display, and then two rooms over is a delightfully macabre piece containing eight mourning pall-bearers decked out in flowing black garments. I can’t quite believe how well the colours have lasted until this day.
We rounded off the visit with a visit to the recently added galley dedicated to art form Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. The name paints some pretty broad stokes there as it contains nothing from China, Japan or Korea. I guess they were going for something along the lines of indigenous art, but it’s hard to go there without dredging up a lot of politics around colonialism. In any event, this being our end point provided some really cool contrasts to the other art we’d seen during the day, hopefully this collection will be expanded further.
Right, so that was my eight hours in the Louvre. Writing it all down really brings home just how much I actually got to see. No wonder my feet were crying by the time we reached the end and demanded a long sit down before heading out for food.
For dinner I found a place that specialised in Alsace cuisine, the which meant flammekueche. We shared a flammekueche with creme fraiche, onions, Munster cheese, cumin and sauerkraut, as well as a delicious salad containing Alscace sausage. We really could have gone for dessert here, but we had another idea.
We’ve had a number of sandwiches, but until tonight we hadn’t grabbed anything sweet from a French bakery. Tonight we rectified this by finding a bakery about 10 minutes from closing and buying two eclairs and two sables (think chunky shortbread cookies). My sable was pistachio-praline-rose and was superior to my husbands one.
This post took a lot longer to write than I expected, especially as I stayed in one place all day. Goes to show how amazing the Louvre is. I’ll be back one day to see the parts that were closed off during my visit.