My Louvre full tour is a tailor-made mixture of incredible art and masterpieces, ancient history, amazing architecture and all wrapped up in a rich story with a native Parisian tour guide.
There are so many masterpieces in the Louvre collection that it would take us more than a day to see them all. But, some of these Masterpieces are worth the time to stop and get a closer look.
Today, we are going to explore three of my favourite artworks at the Louvre:
01 - The Coronation of Napoleon : a powerful painting with a complex story.
02 - The Winged Victory : a Hellenistic majestic sculpture.
03 - The Virgin of The rocks : a Da Vinci Masterpiece.
In these pieces, we see the grand vision on display at the world’s most visited art museum. What sets these artworks apart is ambition. These exceptional pieces were made to be audacious spectacles, and they all succeed in their own way.
I am Flora, a professional tour guide at the Louvre. With me, you can privatize and optimize your guided tour of Louvre to appreciate the Art that falls to your interests.
So let’s check out in depth an example of what we can do, and if they get you in the mood to visit the Louvre and see Paris like you’ve never seen it before, reach out to me and let’s design your perfect Art trip!
This is an enormous painting at almost 10 x 6 meters, that’s just over 20 x 32 feet. It uses every inch to match the scale and grandeur of the history it depicts — the rise of Napoleon as the Emperor of France.
But before we can really appreciate this masterpiece, we need to know a little bit about the painter himself and the moment he captured in his 1807 painting.
David (1748 — 1825) was a Neoclassical painter, one of the most famous in France during his life. He focused primarily on history paintings, works that sought to realistically (if often a little grandly) capture moments that really happened.
He helped move the prevailing trend in European art away from the Rococo style. Rococo paintings show scenes of aristocrats at play, using overly intricate designs and soft colors. But by the time David began, people were tired of this frivolous style. They wanted something more serious.
When the French Revolution broke out, David became a committed supporter, and he even joined the government of the new French Republic. But the artist was sent to prison after his ally Robespierre lost power. So, David allied with a new politician — Napoleon.
Though this was a great pick for a while, with the politician eventually becoming the all powerful emperor, once Napoleon was exiled, David was forced to flee France and live in Brussels. From there, he continued to paint and teach.
His life saw many rises and falls, but his commitment to serious, well-balanced paintings that focused on stark detail and impressive realism influenced the course of art forever.
This "self" coronation was important for many reasons.
The biggest is that it conclusively ended the French Republic and led to the French Empire, beginning a theme that would have echoes later on in the century.
It was also the site of a scandal:
Pope Pius VII accepted the invitation to the coronation to build a stronger relationship between the Papal States and France. In many coronations of royalty at the time, it was the Pope who placed the crown on the king’s head — a symbol of God’s approval.
But Napoleon refused to be crowned by the Pope. Instead, he crowned himself, and then he crowned his wife Josephine as Empress. That bold move made enormous waves and sent a major statement about the new emperor’s attitude.
In The Coronation of Napoleon, the Emperor is shown holding up his crown, with Josephine kneeling before him and the enormous crowd fixing their eyes on him.
Originally, David was going to paint the moment Napoleon placed the crown on his own head, but the artist decided to show the moment just before — in the end, a much more dynamic and dramatic image. In the minds of viewers at the time, they know exactly what was about to happen.
It is difficult to make such a large scene on such a huge canvas work as a single painting, but David manages it all by creating extraordinary balance. Having rows of spectators disappearing up into the darkness gives great contrast to the bright colors surrounding Napoleon., and really wherever you look, the eye is always drawn back to the Emperor and his crown.
It is both effective propaganda, showing Napoleon as a heroic, larger than life person and spectacular art, showing the painter as a true master of his craft. And because the subject and the artist were personally connected and both deeply involved with the history of France, the painting brings together many threads all at once.
Sculpted in the 2nd century BC by an unknown Greek artist, this striking work in stone still grabs our attention more than two thousand years after its creation.
It shows the Greek goddess of victory Niké standing in a ship.
Though her arms and head have gone missing over the millennia, its intricate details are still mesmerizing to witness. A lot of that is due to the size — base and all, it rises to a gigantic 5.57 meters (a little over 18 feet).
Unfortunately, the master sculptor who created this work is unknown.
But they likely created it on the Greek island of Rhodes sometime around the beginning of the second century BCE.
They used Parian marble, a semi translucent stone that was a favorite among ancient Greeks. It is from the Hellenistic period, a moment of artistic and cultural flowering in ancient Greece.
And while much of the Hellenistic artworks that survive today are actually later copies made by Romans, this is the real deal.
This sculpture tells us so much about the ancient Greeks and their deep appreciation for beauty. The artist created exquisitely fine details and texture that is still a leading achievement in the form.
Many art historians believe it commemorates a successful battle at sea. There are a few compelling reasons for this.
The first is that Niké is a goddess of victory, so her image was frequently used to celebrate important wins. And since she is standing on a ship, with her clothing clearly soaking wet as it sticks to her (almost as if she is caught in the middle of a tempestuous rain storm at sea), it is reasonable to assume that this particular statue is celebrating a sea battle victory.
Plus, the work was made as an offering to the goddess — something the ancient Greeks did to give praise and thanks to the gods.
This sculpture has remained so beloved due to the lively detail work and exciting subject matter.
And this was created not to be shown publicly but as an offering to a goddess, it gives us such an insight into the minds of the ancient Greeks and their perception of Beauty.
Leonardo da Vinci was the living embodiment of the Renaissance man.
He was a leading scientist and engineer of his day, but he is also one of the greatest artists in European history. And Virgin of the Rocks is one of his most significant works.
It shows Mary and her son Jesus with John the Baptist along with the angel Uriel. They are seated on a rocky landscape, brought to life with delicate brushwork by Leonardo.
While the version in the Louvre is likely the original, the National Gallery in London holds another copy that Leonardo made later. It is believed that the original was made on commission in 1483 for a client in Milan, but the artist actually sold this work privately.
That forced him to make another version.
There are some slight differences between the two, and experts believe that Leonardo painted the Louvre version, while he guided assistants in painting the London version.
Why Da Vinci made copies of his paintings?
Like in Science, he made many copies to experiment on them.
Leonardo Da Vinci did not paint as much paintings in his life as his colleagues. He was a curious Polymath, always distracted and absorbed by new experiences, his studio, his travels, and breakthroughs in Science, architecture, engineering and so on.
He painted about 15 to 20 complete projects that we know of, compared to his rivals, it was not a lot. For example, Raphael, also a famous Renaissance Painter, painted about 180 complete paintings.
Experts from the Louvre and scientists from Paris believe that Da Vinci was an experimental self-taught painter who invented and tried new innovative paints and techniques inspired by other artist painters and sculptors. Few of these tests worked very well, but other experiments failed, but he always take notes of what worked and what failed, making him an extraordinary influencer of the modern world.
Sfumato means "smoky" and refers to a painting technique championed by Leonardo. It focuses on softly transitioning between colors, rather than having sharp lines or edges — helping paintings to look more realistic.
It can also be used to make faces more mysterious and also achieve atmospheric effects. Leonardo Da Vinci will spend too many years on the same painting. He would put up to 40 layers of oil and paint, sometimes using his fingerprints, to create a realistic picture of his subject.
Virgin of the Rocks shows Leonardo’s advancement and mastery of this technique. And when you see it in person, you get an up-close-and-personal look at how the master created such powerful images.
Virgin of the Rocks shows a popular apocryphal story where a young John the Baptist meets a young Jesus who is escaping the Massacre of the Innocents — when Herod the Great ordered all male children around Bethlehem killed. But it has come to mean much more than that.
The outrageous talent on display by the painter, the significant influence it had on Renaissance painting, and its somewhat murky history all combine to produce a painting you have to see to believe.
There’s no end to artistic treasures at the Louvre.
Each piece has so many stories inside it, unlocking tons of history and awakening the wonder of art.
If you would like to see more than the seven Louvre Masterpieces and explore all that the Louvre and other Paris museums has to offer, come on a tour with me.
Completed in 1642, this painting is a striking use of chiaroscuro — an effect where there is an extreme contrast between dark and light areas of a painting.
By using chiaroscuro, Georges locks our eyes on young Jesus and his adoptive father. This is a unique look at Christ, giving us an under explored part of his life. In all the many Christian paintings depicting him, the vast majority show him as an infant or as a grown man living out the last years of his life as recorded in the Gospels.
But here, we see him as a boy, watching with rapt attention as Joseph works at his trade. The moment can be felt deep inside when you stand before this masterpiece. And the new perspective will stick with you long after you leave.
There are few painters more connected to France than David.
He played an enormous part in the country’s history (even befriending Napoleon), and many of his paintings are used to show the major moments in history that he immortalized on canvas.
Oath of the Horatii (1784) is one of his most popular. It is a paragon of the Neoclassical style. The people are arranged in such a clear and tight composition. The lighting is dramatic but not overly sentimental. The big emotions of the scene are handled with a detached stoicism, though that stylistic choice never gets in the way of the viewer’s connection to the work.
There is a balance between the machismo of combat and the grief over the high cost of war. On a single canvas, we see so much of the human condition at once.
This painting from the Romantic painter Delacroix is a gothic masterpiece.
Completed in 1822, it’s the 19th century equivalent of a horror movie, terrifying audiences for two hundred years. As the title suggests, it pulls from the pages of the Inferno — showing Dante and Virgil crossing the River Styx.
The image is so lifelike, one can almost smell the sulfur and hear the cries of the damned. Its power today reminds us why it had such an impact on European painting. Though grim, the painting grabs you by the collar and doesn’t let go.
By the time you regain your senses and are ready to walk away, you’ve gone on a perilous journey through the underworld. Even if you’ve never read the source material, you’ve experienced a complete story.
Let’s go back in time almost 4,000 years. It is then, while the Akkadian Empire flourishes throughout Mesopotamia, that King Naram-Sin rules. He no doubt enjoyed many military victories, but one in particular is memorialized in a stele sitting in the Louvre.
Steles are stone slabs that commemorate an event or person, often with inscriptions and images.
On this object, the unknown artist carved King Naram-Sin as he steps over a vanquished enemy.
The King’s forces are in tight formation, and the enemies are scattered in defeat.
It is a dramatic scene, and though it is incredibly ancient, it still manages to speak to us. Just standing next to such an old work of art makes you feel more connected to the entire history of humanity.
Michelangelo’s name alone promises something marvelous. We imagine the Italian Renaissance master in his studio, working away at something that will forever change the way we see the world.
These two statues (completed from 1513 to 1516) are the kinds of breathtaking sculptures worthy of that name. When you see them in person, they tower above you, standing over two meters (seven feet) high.
The statues remain unfinished, but in some ways this only adds to their power. It makes them feel raw, urgent.
One depicts a man going to sleep for the last time, while the other shows a man struggling to break free of his bondage. Together, they capture the wide sweep of life. And being sculpture, they really must be seen in person to be believed.
The Moneylender and His Wife by Quentin Matsys Flemish and Dutch Renaissance painting is one of the most popular historical styles thanks in large part to its playful and human way of capturing scenes. In this work, finished in 1514, Matsys gives a charming spin on a slice-of-life scene.
Though centuries separate us from the painting’s creation, this somewhat boring moment in the life of a married couple is still so relatable. The husband looks over jewels and pieces of gold, weighing them out.
The wife looks over at the piece he handles, taking a break from the book she is browsing. It is so real, showing the simple tenderness that makes up much of married life. It shows that great art does not always need to be of history scenes or portraits of notable people. It can be made out of normal moments, ones we can see ourselves taking part in any day of the week. This subject matter, treated seriously and with honor, makes our own lives feel ennobled.
Let’s finish this whirlwind tour of artwork at the Louvre with a 1518 painting by none other than Raphael.
This scene of heaven’s ultimate triumph over the Devil is as epic in its realization as it is in its subject matter.
His work is grand !
The depth of the painting goes on for miles into the distance. Michael is caught at the moment just before victory, ready to plunge a spear into the adversary of all that is good. He shines in gold and blue, his hair tossed by the wind.
This painting is over two and a half meters tall (almost nine feet) — a staggering size that forces you to stand back to take it all in. The overall effect is stunning, and it reminds you why Raphael holds such a prominent place in the pantheon of artistic masters.
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