Louvre 101

Although this blog is generally reserved for writing alternative facts, and sights about Paris, I thought it would be great alternative to the alternative to write about the most famous site in Paris. Even it is generic and highly commercial, you have to admit, it is different. So what am I talking about? The Eiffel Tower? Actually no! It’s impossible to determine the number of people that actually se the Eiffel Tower and it is debatably the most visited site, but as only a small percentage of people who actually set their eyes on it, go up it, it is not our number one attraction

According to official figure, from the French tourism department, the number one attraction in Paris in terms of visitor numbers is the Louvre Museum. If that comes as a surprise to you, then trust me you definitely read to this this article. If it doesn’t come a shock, well, sit back anyway and read, you might learn something.

For pretty much every year so far in the 21st Century, the Louvre has been listed as the number one attraction in all of France but even much more impressive, the number one museum in the world. Wow, that’s quite a statement, I hear you yell! Well, yes it is and although it’s not an absolutely fact, it is widely considered to be true. You see, if can never be a completely accepted fact, because a lot of world famous museums either don’t charge ( such as the British Museum in London) or don’t officially keep records of the number of entrance tickets given out ( such as the Forbidden City in China). In these cases numbers can only be calculated by guessing. Educated guessing but guessing nonetheless.

The first thing you will notice as you approach the Louvre, is the dazzling glass pyramid. A stark contrast to the imposing yet elegant 17th century building surrounding it. The architect M. Pei  wanted the piece to serve as gateway between old and modern and judging from the amount of people taking pictures around it, he achieved his goal. The people that seemed not like this rather recent instalment where the Parisians themselves. But let’s remember, they also didn’t care for the Eiffel Tower and wanted it removed after the World Fair of 1889 and many thought Notre Dame was a bit too over the top and lacked soul. But now, like the pyramid, they are important symbols of Paris.

Once you enter, the next thing you’ll notice is efficiency. While it might not be friendliest experience ever, the few times I have visited the Louvre museum, I was never waiting in line a very long time. First you go through security, if you have a backpack, you’ll have to put it through the scanners. They don’t allow big rucksacks or suitcases, but there is a completely separate luggage storage facility where you can put it, before you get in. Then you go down the escalator into an enormous underground lobby with so much space. Don’t worry about crowds or lines, you can walk freely around here. You can buy you ticket from an automatic machine, which is available in 8 different languages, a huge cloak room ( and the first time, I ever saw a dedicated umbrella room), bathrooms and café. Avoid the café if you can, it’s not good and you are permitted to bring a bottle of water around with you.

And then your journey begins. Don’t do what everyone else does and rush to the Mona Lisa. Trust me, you’ll find her along the way, it’s actually pretty hard to miss her. But there is so much more to see and now it becomes obviously why I wrote this post. I don’t want to say that I didn’t like the Mona Lisa, because I did. It’s iconic and seeing images of it a million times throughout your life and then having the real thing in front of you, is impressive. But did it live up to my expectations? No. And while you wade through the crowds, you can expect to hear other people crying out with the same level of shock – “is that it”, “it’s so small”. So here are some paintings that I wanted to share with you that you not know about but hopefully you will appreciate once you see them. There are so many stunning painting that you can sit in front of for hours undisturbed because if you blink you’ll miss them and most visitors to the Louvre do just that.

 

Do you recognised the two boys in this picture? If yes, then you know your English history. But for many, it’s a just a boring picture of two young rich boys. But by reading the description you’ll see that this haunting painting, is one of the very few paintings of the princes that mysteriously went missing. Legend says King Richard III was behind it but scholars differ on this. Take a moment to see how the artist, Paul Delaroche ( painted sometime around 1840), did a remarkable job painting their faces. It’s as if, they can sense their impending doom. A sad tale. If you like your history, take some time to check this one out.

Ok, it’s not a painting, But look at it. Doesn’t it freak you out. What is it, I hear you scream? Well, it’s death, of course. Now, I may be a bit like you, there is only so many statues of Roman Emperors, I can look it. Eventually they all start to look the same. So while everyone is trying to get a snap of the ever famous Julius C, you can make your way to this one and get some hilarious snaps beside. Or run past it, if you think it looks scary in the photo, I can assure you it’s worst in real life and completely stands out surrounded by elegant marble carvings of notable people. So…. why ? Well, who knows really. It was taken from Saint Innocents cemetery in Paris in about 1790. It used to stand in the centre of the cemetery. Religious reasons? Well, I think it harks back to the times of the plague, but you’re free to drawn your own conclusions.

Now, when it comes to art, I consider myself to be somewhere in the middle. I’m no expert but I can understand and appreciate skill, meaning and technique, but come on! I burst out laughing when I saw this painting, randomly placed in the corner of a small room with similar painting from that area. I think it looks like half a person with a jet pack or a man-balloon that someone has released. Painted by the Sicilian painter Stefano di Giovanni. Sassetta painted this piece in Siena in 1426. Clearly it would be another 100 years before the glory days of Italian painting started. But it does tell an interesting story about a famous saint freeing people from prison. I wouldn’t say anymore but look for this in the Italian section.

Impressive, isn’t it! Ok, this painting is not exactly unknown. A lot of people will know this, but a lot of people won’t and it won’t be packed with people trying to see it. What will impress you about this picture is the amazing detail. You need several moments to look at it and take it all in, so make you devote the necessary time and examine the expert hands that crafted it. The Raft of the Medusa is a painting, painted in 1818 by the French Romantic painter Théodore Géricaul. Although speaking as a non-expert, there’s nothing really romantic about it. Don’t let the name fool you, it doesn’t have anything to do with ancient Greek mythology. The boat is called the Medusa and the painting is inspired by true events.

Another old statue. Well, yes, you are right. But the history behind this statue is incredible. Art is like that sometimes. It’s not the actually piece that is amazing, but the story behind it. Judging from this photo you will probably think the same but there are somethings that the camera just can’t capture ( or perhaps it’s merely a bad photo, in this case). I assure you it is impressive in real life and you have the opportunity you should read about Akhenaten. Here is a super quick summary – he was an Egyptian Pharaoh who tried to change the religion into a type of monotheistic type (basically to only really have one main god). This was rather extremely for 1345 BC Egypt and clearly didn’t take off. He was virtually erased the history books. His statues were torn down, this temples destroyed and his name deleted. Several years later, in a war between successors, his lineage would be wiped out as well.

That was all until a chance discovery in the 19th Century ( that’s the way most of the stories from ancient Egypt seem to end). We are very lucky to have this piece and it presents one of the oldest pieces in the entire collection of the museum.

 

There are countless more interesting pieces both paintings and sculptures to be found in the Louvre. If you find something you like and no one is around and you then take a journey to the gift shop and you don’t see a copy, then you know you’ve found something very special. While I hope this information helps you to see some alternatives to the standard world famous works of Da Vinci and company, I also hope it encourages you to wander for yourself and find your own top 5. As for me, I even encourage you to post a comment under here and say which was the best alternative piece of art that you could find in one of the world’s greatest museums.

According to most tourist guide books, it is recommended that you spend about 2 hours in the Louvre. I say you need so much longer than that. How else could you better spend an afternoon or an evening. It’s best to go in the evening as a lot of tourists ( or box tickers as I like to call them,) like to tick it off their list of things to do in the morning, so they can feel culturally productive and not feel guilty when drinking all the wine. So when is the best time to go? The evening, anytime after 15.00 tends to be quieter. The only drawback to this, if food. It’s not great to go on a full stomach. I made this error once and ended up staying 45 minutes. All that walking just knocked me out. So eat light or have a super strong coffee, which can power you through. You’ll need it, not only for your body but for your brain as well.

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