To get to Paris and to visit the Louvre was like a dream come true. Located inside the palace that bears the same name, it is the largest museum of history in France and probably the most renowned in the world. The Louvre was a royal residence until 1682, when Ludwig XIV moved his royal court to Versailles. The museum is comprised out of three large wings, the Denon, Richelieu and Sully. Its complexity and scale is impressive, exhibiting approximately 35,000 pieces, from paintings, sculptures, drawings and engravings to ceramics, jewelry and archeological relics from a large geo-cultural area, from Western Europe and Greece to Egypt and the Middle East.
One of the most coveted Europe Destinations, the Louvre would take days to visit in its whole. Unfortunately, we only had one single day on our hands and we had the chance to see but a few of the exhibited artworks. We entered through the glass pyramid, which contrasted annoyingly with the old palace. First, we passed through the Napoleon chamber while climbing up the stairs from the Sully wing. We headed towards our first objective, the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, the fascinating and enigmatic genius of the Renaissance.
Along the Gioconda, commonly known as the Mona Lisa, the museum also exhibits other paintings of the master of arts, like The Virgin and Child with St. Anne, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist, Bacchus and the Virgin on the Rocks. We contemplated on the latter, which emphasized the faces of three characters, out of which the central one was Virgin Mary, together with Christ Child blessing with his right hand and the infant John the Baptist, kneeling in an homage before the Lord Savior. By Jesus’ side lies the angel Uriel, with beautiful feminine features. The motif of the immaculate conception in a painting triggered a decade of misunderstandings between the artist and the Brotherhood of the Immaculate Conception, who commissioned the painting for an altar in a church in Milan. But the result was very different from the brotherhood’s expectations, which determined da Vinci to execute another copy, painted on wood, which is currently exhibited at the London National Gallery.
Afterward, we passed through the most crowded room in the museum, where the Gioconda was exhibited. We waited until a group of tourists moved aside to be finally able to admire the painting and its unmatched beauty. It is protected by an unbreakable glass after a visitor splattered acid over the painting in the 20th century and, later, another threw a rock at it. I stood nervous in front of the most famous masterpiece of all times. The portrait of this enigmatic woman with a mysterious smile, whose identity is uncertain to this day, was painted in oil on wood in the 16th century. Da Vinci used a technique called “sfumato”, or the transparency effect, a unique way of painting a “present absence”. Exploiting perception, the painter managed to accede to a higher level of understanding of the world. The portrait was the subject of many interpretations. Lately, a group of theoreticians says that the master used the technique of reflection in a mirror, also used in the Virgin on the Rocks, a process that allowed him to insert certain religious symbols and mysterious images, inaccessible at first glance. Da Vinci was very fond of the painting and he even took it with him in France when he was invited by King Francis I in 1516 to move at the Amboise Castle. The king bought the painting, which was initially exhibited at the Fontainebleau Castle, then at the Versailles and, after the French Revolution, at the Louvre. There was a time when it sat on the very walls of Napoleon’s bedroom.
There were other masterpieces in the chamber, the works of great Renaissance Venetian painters, like Titian, Veronese or Tintoretto. On the opposite wall from the Gioconda, a monumental painting called The Wedding at Cana immediately drew our attention. The work of Paolo Veronese is 9.9 meters long and 6.6 meters wide. He transposed the famous Biblical episode in Venice of his time, visible through the architecture of the buildings and the clothes of the characters. According to tradition, the four musicians in close-up are in fact the great Venetian painters: Titian at the contrabass, Tintoretto at the viola, Jacopo Bassano at the horn and Veronese himself at the violin. There are also many other characters, picked from the social layers of Venice.
The next large saloon was dedicated to Neoclassicism and was dominated by Jacques-Louis David, with a number of monumental works exhibited. I sat on the long bench in front of The Coronation of Napoleon and contemplated on the fascinating painting for a while. Napoleon is standing up with the crown on his head, ready to place the crown on the empress’ head, his wife Josephine. All the while, Pope Pius VII, sitting behind the emperor, is assisting the ceremony as a simple spectator, together with all the members of the Bonaparte family. Later on, we stopped in front of The Intervention of the Sabine Women of Jacques-Louis David. Leonidas at Thermopylae is another one of David’s paintings that abounds in heroism. Here, the naked Spartan king is armed and ready for his final battle along his men. There are also a series of portraits like Portrait of Madame Récamier, lying on a sofa. Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres is another representative name inside this chamber. One of his greatest paintings, the Grande Odalisque, pictured the nude of a women in the harem.
We visited the Ancient Greek, Etruscan and Roman relics department, where the famous Venus of Milo is exhibited. This is a Greek sculpture dating back from the Hellenic period. It was made from Paros marble by an unknown artist in the 2nd century BC. The 2 meter statue has no arms. It was discovered in 1820 by a peasant on the Greek island Milo in the Aegean Sea and it was given as a gift to Ludwig XVIII.
Continuing along the chambers of the museum, we climbed some other steps. At the end of the staircase we saw a famous masterpiece, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, sculpted at the beginning of the 2nd century BC. It was discovered in 1863 on the Greek island of Samothrace in the Aegean Sea. Only the body of Victory, a goddess of the Ancient Greeks, have remained from the statue.
At the basement of the Sully wing we reached the Medieval Louvre department. We saw the walls of the old fortress built by Philip II Augustus. These were unveiled during the excavations in the 1980s. From here we stepped directly into the mysterious world of the Ancient Egypt department. At the entrance, we were faced with an imposing sphinx made from pink granite, with the body of a lion and the head of the pharaoh Amenemhat II.
The exposition dedicated to Ancient Egypt is spread throughout 30 chambers where thousands of Egyptian antique relics are exhibited, from 5,000 year old pieces to more recent ones, dating from the Roman and Byzantine ages. The department was opened by Jean-Francois Champollion, the father of Egyptology and the first European who deciphered the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone, which was found by one of Napoleon’s soldiers in Egypt, near the Rosetta town. We saw fragments of frescoes, sarcophagi, mummies, statues of gods and pharaohs. A famous one is that of Ramses II on a throne, made from black marble. The art of ancient Egypt had a profound religious character and was dedicated to the pharaoh and his glorification, as he was considered a descendant of the gods.
Along the statues of Ramses II we saw the Scribe, another masterpiece of painted limestone representing a scribe sitting down. It is four and a half millenniums old and it is kept in excellent conditions. It amazed through his expressive figure and through his eyes, made from encrusted precious stones.
I was as if Ancient Egypt had moved into the Louvre and I wondered whether these relics should have rather belonged to the museum in Cairo. It is clear that archeological excavations and the black market played their part in moving many Egyptian relics into the Louvre and many other great museums in the world. I was truly impressed by these pieces, mostly because they reminded me of Egypt and Cairo, where I had the great opportunity to see the Sphinx and the Pyramids at Gizeh.
Near the Winged Victory of Samothrace, we found the Apollo Gallery, built under the Sun King, Louis XIV, which served as a model for the Hall of Mirrors at the Versailles. Inside, we admired paintings of French kings and the imperial crown of Napoleon Bonaparte. There was also one of the royal crowns belonging to Ludwig XV and other jewels and personal items of the rulers of France.
The multitude of artworks and archeological relics surpassed our capacity to assimilate information. Therefore, we didn’t resist for more than five hours inside the museum. Our psychical resistance was even more diminished by the flocks of tourists come from all over the world, accompanied by a constant frowning. Many were carelessly passing by the major artworks, while others carried babies and small children along and were always in a hurry to get it over with, as if the Louvre was just another objective on the tick list. In 2012, the museum was visited by 9.7 million people, making it the most visited museum in the world.
Overwhelmed and tired after our first visit to the Louvre, we stepped out into the gardens of the palace and sat down on the stone benches, lost in meditation. We stayed there for a while, as if lost, breathing in the air of this great historical monument, our souls still troubled from the wonders we had just seen.