I’ve seen pictures of the Louvre, we all have. All I knew was there was a bizarre glass pyramid and lots of famous art. Of course, the Louvre, like almost everywhere else I visited, is completely different from what I’d imagined. It’s actually an old palace, and the glass pyramids are combination skylight-entrances to the below-ground level of the art gallery. I saw just the outside of the Louvre once on my own, and returned the next day with a newfound friend to explore some of the galleries.
The buildings themselves impress even before one reaches the artwork.
The outside of the Louvre isn’t just lovely; it’s also bizarre. Not the permanent exhibitions, perhaps, but certainly the inhabitants: A pigeon man (people pay him to cover them in live pigeons. I observed this, thinking I would rather pay him to keep the pigeons away from me) and goat ‘mowing’ the grass.
In the 17th century, Louis XIV (the Sun King) expanded the Royal Collection held in the Louvre by inviting royal and artistic Academies to occupy and work there.
The inside of the Louvre absolutely competes with the beauty of the outside. The sheer number of collections and the range of years represented, boggles the mind.
I saw the Mona Lisa (of course; you can’t go to the Louvre for the first time and not elbow your way through the crowds for a glimpse at the dark little portrait of La Gioconda herself) and wore out my eyeballs on row upon row of Italian Renaissance paintings.
I saw Hammurabi’s Code!
The Islamic art section down below had gorgeous blue patterned tiles and leather-bound notebooks, yet there was hardly anyone perusing the art. I enjoyed the Greco-Roman and early Christian art, thanks to the previous semester’s art history class, and was ecstatic to see some of the very Fayum portraits (ancient Egyptian burial paintings) I once looked up online to discuss in academic papers.
How amazing, to stand in front of art I had only ever seen via Google. The same goes for Cupid and Psyche, which was so graceful and pristine in person, I still can’t even handle it.
Naturally I found the most famous artworks: Michelangelo’s Dying Slave (not my cup of tea in terms of subject matter, but you just can’t argue with these artist types; I’m looking at you, Michelangelo), and Venus de Milo (which was astounding to see in person, as she was so realistic and flawed), among others. The sheer size of these statues was staggering.
Below the surface, the medieval foundations of the Louvre stand firm as a fortress. I had no idea that visitors could walk among the stone foundations, or that the Louvre was so venerable.
Apparently I missed the Winged Nike of Samothrace, which makes me want to cry. But the Louvre isn’t exactly the sort of place you can visit for a couple hours and expect to see everything. Apparently someone calculated that it would take 100 days to look at every item on display for 30 seconds. I can’t imagine only spending 30 seconds on some of those pieces. In any case, I’m determined to return someday.
I ended my Louvre visit the way every evening in Paris ought to end: With macaroons.