With about 200 million international visitors a year, France is one of the leading destinations for international tourism – and we get why! You can plan a week in Provence to smell the lavender, cycle through the Loire valley and visit splendid castles, and of course, don’t forget the capital: Paris!
While we recommend you visit other beautiful regions of France, we must admit that Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world to find many cultural gems: the Notre-Dame Cathedral, Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and… The Louvre Museum!
According to its website, it is estimated that it would take a person 100 days at least to see all the works of art in the Louvre Museum. Luckily, we cut out the work for you! Find below the Louvre Museum’s best paintings.
- A (very) brief history of the Louvre
- A few tips to enjoy your visit to the Louvre Museum
- Mona Lisa
- The Wedding Feast at Cana
- The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine on December 2, 1804
- The raft of Medusa
- Liberty leading the people
- The winged victory of Samothrace
A (very) brief history of the Louvre
The Louvre Museum in Paris was originally built by King Philippe-Auguste as a fortress in 1190, but was reconstructed in the 16th century to be a royal palace by François I.
When Louis XIV moved to the Palace of Versailles, the Louvre was occupied by French Institutions such as the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. The Académie remained at the Louvre for 100 years. During the French Revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation’s masterpieces.
The museum opened on August 10, 1793, with an exhibition of 537 paintings. The building was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace.
One of its most impressive additions is the Pyramid. It was commissioned by then-President François Mitterand to provide better access to the museum. It was also meant as a unique landmark that could be easily spotted by herds of tourists. Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei created this majestic entrance and revamped the layout of the museum, adding shops, cafes, and other facilities. The Pyramid built was inspired by the Great Pyramid of Giza. It was inaugurated on March 29, 1989.
A few tips to enjoy your visit to the Louvre Museum
Trust us, it’s best to be prepared to enjoy your visit to the Louvre. Indeed, it is the largest museum in the world. Are you wondering how large the Louvre Museum is? Well, it spans over 15 acres, so you’d better take a few notes and a map before getting there!
To avoid spending more time in the queue for a ticket than gazing at works of art, you should buy your e-tickets in advance.
While entering the museum by the Pyramid is beautiful, you will save time if you enter by the Carrousel du Louvre shopping centre.
Our last piece of advice is to take advantage of the late-night openings on Wednesdays, Fridays and first Saturdays of the month.
Leonardo da Vinci – 1503-5
Of course, we had to put Mona Lisa on top of the list. Known for its enigmatic smile, it is the most famous painting in the Louvre and the world. It was purchased by King François I in 1518. King François I was fascinated by Leonardo da Vinci’s talent and was his patron for many years. He even hosted da Vinci at the Castle of Clos Lucé, which was very close to the Royal castle of Amboise. The two had a close relationship and built a communicating underground passage between the two castles.
But back to the painting. Don’t be surprised by the size of the Mona Lisa. It’s a lot smaller than you’d think. And even though you might have to fight a mob of tourists to see it, it’s worth the visit!
Veronese – 1563
After having fought your way to the Mona Lisa, turn around and behold The Wedding Feast at Cana.
It is the largest painting in the Louvre, it is six-meter tall and ten-meter wide! It was originally meant to decorate a Venetian monastery’s refectory.
This art piece depicts a scene from the Bible when Jesus turned water into wine. And it’s packed with many details and surprises: More than 130 people are depicted and Veronese painted himself as a musician in a white tunic. When visiting the painting, we challenge you to find the following hidden inside the scene: a funny cat, a little person holding a canary, and a butcher chopping meat!
The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine on December 2, 1804
By Jacques-Louis David – 1806
If you are visiting the Louvre to understand more about French history, The Consecration is a must-see. The painting depicts the moment Napoleon crowned his wife Joséphine Empress of France, right after he took the crown from the Pope’s hands and crowned himself Emperor of France in 1804. This historical moment marks the start of Napoleon’s empire.
Théodore Géricault – 1819
Théodore Géricault is one of the most famous French Romanticism painters, and he had a passionate personality.
This piece of art is not for the faint-hearted. It depicts a realistic and stomach-churning scene of people calling for help after suffering a shipwreck. The raft is positioned in such a way that you almost feel like you’re standing on it yourself, hoping to be saved.
The Medusa was a French naval frigate that fought in the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century. The ship survived these battles but crashed in 1816 on its way to colonize Senegal. Only 10 of approximately 150 people survived the shipwreck.
Eugène Delacroix – 1830
The Liberty Leading the People is painting the July Revolution of 1830, a decisive time in France.
Alongside Géricault, Delacroix is one of the major romantic painters of French Romanticism. He famously wrote: “If I can not fight for my country, I paint for it.” That he did.
The central female figure is raising a flag and holding a bayonet. In this scene, she is a representation of freedom, leading the people of the July Revolution, and a compelling depiction of France’s motto “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” (Liberty, equality, fraternity).
This painting has become an inspiration from the Statue of Liberty, Marianne (a symbol of France), Les Misérables, a sculpture at the Place de la Nation in Paris, and even to the album cover of Viva La Vida from Coldplay!
Unknown – 190 BC
Located at the top of the monumental Daru staircase, The Winged Victory of Samothrace is one of the most famous sculptures in the Louvre Museum.
It was discovered on the Greek island of Samothrace in 1863 by Charles Champoiseau, a French diplomat and amateur archaeologist, and is believed to have been an offering to the gods. It commemorates the goddess of victory, Nike.
As you will see, she does not have her head. Moreover, when the statue entered the museum in 1866, it did not have a bust or wings either. It was slowly recomposed over time.
Fun fact, it influenced the French sculptor Abel Lafleur who created the FIFA World Cup’s trophy in her image in 1929.
Let’s go to the Louvre!
The artworks presented above are but only a tiny speck of all the beauty you will be able to see at the Louvre Museum. We wish you a pleasant visit and do not hesitate to stray from the most walked paths to discover many masterpieces!
Louise is a French teacher who lives in the UK. She is a keen traveller (she lived in Europe, the United States and Australia) and loves meeting people from all over the world. She is also passionate about how learning a new language opens doors to so many different cultures, and this is what she wants to share with her students. She comes from Burgundy-Franche-Comté, a region in the East of France, and loves everything there is about it, from the Macvin to the cancoillotte!