Musée du Louvre
Paris is full of some of the best art museums in the world. You can literally OD on art here and there is definitely something for every taste. My personal favorites are the impressionists and there is no shortage of that — the Orsay, Marmottan, and Orangerie among others are all filled with their work. However, like every good student, it’s important to study the beginnings of anything be it language, music, or art. Hence, a trip to the famed Musée du Louvre.
Being married to an artist has several advantages when visiting art museums. First of all, you have a personal guide who can tell you all about different periods of art, explain various techniques, and answer lots of questions. You also have someone to remind you not to take things too seriously. After all, what ends up on the museum wall sometimes seems arbitrary. The value of art is very subjective. So really you need to decide for yourself what has value to you. You’re not obligated to like anything just because some curator said it was important. My approach is to look at the “required” popular pieces and then go find something — one piece I’d like for myself — the one I’d like to take home… no matter what anyone else thinks.
The Louvre as we know it now began in the 12th century as a fortress and dwelling for a succession of kings. Over time it was added to and enlarged upon. The transformation from palace to museum began in 1793 during the reign of Louis XVI and in 1882 the Louvre ceased to be the seat of power and was almost exclusively devoted to culture. Only the Finance Ministry maintained offices in the Richelieu Wing until 1981. In 1983, the extension and modernization of the Louvre was entrusted to Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei whose controversial glass pyramid was inaugurated in 1989. The Galeries du Carrousel (underground shopping mall and parking garage — with the addition of an Apple store in 2009) made their appearance in 1993. At present, nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 19th century are exhibited over an area of 652,300 square feet.
A visit to the Louvre can be overwhelming and exhausting if you’re not careful. Since it was my first experience, Norman let me lead the way and we managed to cover a lot of ground in about three hours. We began with the requisite viewing of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (actually more impressive than I expected her to be), the Winged Victory of Samothrace (Greek goddess Nike – 190 BC), and Venus de Milo (Greek goddess Aphrodite 130-100 BC). Normally I’m not all that enthralled with ancient art, but the Greek and Roman sculptures are so impressive it’s difficult to ignore them. Then we meandered through all (yes, ALL) three wings. We had planned an evening visit with hours until 9:30PM so it was not crowded and there were plenty of comfortable places to sit and enjoy the art, architecture, and atmosphere of the museum. We unintentionally ended up in Napoleon III’s Apartments (carpet on the floor — aaahh!) — something I wouldn’t have chosen to see but am glad we didn’t miss. Did I find something I wanted to take home? Well, actually we both found favorites among the art of Africa and the Americas. Mine was a wooden sculpture I will call the “Blue Man” and Norman’s was a fetish (protective figure covered with nails) from the Congo that sort of looked like a porcupine. We made arrangements to ship them home.