It goes without saying that the Louvre is one of the great museums of the world. We therefore put it high on our list of sights to see while we were in Paris. Somewhat surprisingly to us, this was against the advice and comments made by some of our friends and acquaintances. One told us that the lines were too long and that we’d have to wait six hours to get in. Another told us that it was too big a collection to really see any of it and that we’d better use our time if we went to other museums. And our friend and traveling companion James informed us that he’d already seen the Louvre and therefore wasn’t particularly interested in seeing it this time. (He’d been in Paris before, of course, though he was a little confused about whether that had been in the mid-1980s or in 1912!)

Tossing all advice out the proverbial window, we insisted on going. I’m certainly glad we did.

The Louvre holds some 35,000 works of art, everything from “Oriental antiquities” to European paintings to sculptures and objets d’art. Originally a palace, the museum opened in 1793, just a year after the first Republic was established, and its exhibits were taken from the royal collections. Over time, the collections have expanded to take over the entire palace, and in 1989 it acquired the now distinctive glass pyramid designed by I. M. Pei. Here’s a picture of the museum that I took as we were leaving:

 

louvre

This isn’t a great view, but it’s the best of the ones I took. If you right click to view the image in its own window, it looks a little better. I took this picture with the outdoor light lens on, which allows you to see the buildings as more than just shadows against the bright sky. Even so, you can see how cloudy it was that day. It was actually starting to sprinkle as I took this picture, though the rain never lasted long.

Mona LisaThe Louvre houses many famous paintings, perhaps most famously the “Mona Lisa” (right). This painting is the star attraction and practically has its own room. Being the ignorant American that I am, I had no idea that “Mona Lisa” is not actually this painting’s name. Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece is actually titled Portrait of Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo. It is believed that this woman is the subject of the painting, though no one knows why or by whom the work was commissioned. Historians do know that Da Vinci brought the completed portrait to France rather than to the subject herself. If you click on the image, it will open a window to the Louvre’s discussion of the work.

This portrait is one of the works from the Louvre’s original collection. If you click here, you can learn more about this painting through the Louvre’s “closer look” feature. When you find the room in which the Mona Lisa hangs, you can stand in line to get a closer look at the painting. Or, like me, you can just stand to one side and get a fair enough view. It’s a beautiful painting, but my main reaction to it was that it’s much smaller than I had imagined it being.

Man with a GloveMy favorite painting that I saw in the Louvre was Titian’s Man with a Glove, painted sometime around 1520-1523 (left). If you click on the image, it will open a window to the Louvre’s discussion of the work.

I like this painting for four reasons. First, the subject is kind of cute. Second, it utilizes a similar color pallet to that used two centuries later by my favorite painter, Velazquez. I like the browns of this style of portraiture and its dark shadings. Third, I like the detail of the man’s gloves and that he has one glove on and one off. This gives the painting the feeling of a snapshot taken just after he’s removed one glove and just before he can remove the other. For me, this detail emphasizes both time — the momentary feeling — and the nonchalance of the sitter. Which leads me to my fourth item: the painting’s psychological quality. The subject of this painting seems simultaneously confident and casual. He appears to be a man of position but also a man of independence. I think it’s a fascinating portrait.

Death of Elizabeth Another painting that I admired was Paul Delaroche’s Mort d’Elisabeth, which was completed sometime around 1827-28. The Louvre doesn’t have a web page with as much information as it has for the above two paintings but if you click on the picture it will take you to what they do have.

One web page that I just read points out that the style of this painting, what it calls the “cultivation of material,” distracts the viewer from the work’s “actual subject.” I take this to be a criticism of the painting, since the page justifies this as a consequence of the period’s “taste for decorative history painting.” This element of distraction is what I like best about this work. The queen of England — a grotesque shade of grayish-green — is dead or dying, but the eye initially sees the people and drapery around her, the trappings of her court. Though she is dead, her court and the state live on. Time marches forward. This is a comment on the mortality of all monarchs, a reminder that their subjects will survive them. Since this is a nineteenth-century work, I also wonder if, in the death of Elizabeth, we are meant to see the deaths of all monarchs. Maybe this painting is also about the period’s growing republicanism. (But that might be a stretch.)

And finally, one of the many great painters whose works are exhibited in the Louvre is Jacques Louis David. Two that stood out to me were David’s Coronation of Napoleon I in Notre-Dame and The Intervention of the Sabine Women. The painting of Napoleon crowning himself emperor is simply massive in scale; its level of detail is therefore extremely impressive. Click on the image to go to the Louvre’s page about this work.

Napoleon

I found The Intervention of the Sabine Women interesting because of its odd use of nudity, which seems so typical of this period of painting. Click on the picture for more information.

Intervention of the Sabine Women

Why are half of the people naked in this painting? And why are there strategically placed barriers hiding the men’s genitals but not the women’s breasts? I just don’t understand this whole style of painting. Maybe it says more about me that it does about the painting, but I find the teasing nudity to be distracting. It’s difficult for me to take this kind of work seriously.

I could write a book about all of the other works I saw and liked in the Louvre. Picking out these few barely scratches the surface. So, here’s a partial list of other stand outs (I would add more, but I’m getting tired):

Gabrielle d'Estrees