A small fortress evolved to become the world’s largest art museum, which just so happens to be home to the most famous painting in the world – the Mona Lisa. As one of the top attractions in Paris, the Louvre is not one you want to miss!
Museums don’t get any better than this! As well as holding the title of oldest museum on the planet, the Louvre holds an incredible collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings, architectural work and handicrafts from around the world.
Not surprisingly, the museum is ALWAYS packed. The queues are out of the door and crowds of tourists fill the rooms.
Buy your ticket online. You will then only have to wait outside in the queue for the security checks, which helps the museum stay on top of visitor numbers.
Last Modified: 20.09.2022 | Céline
My advice The Paris Digital Pass
Do you want to book the most important sights conveniently with one click? The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower & a boat tour?
Then this pass is for you!
With just one purchase, you can visit all of it! Choose your desired date – so that you can discover Paris for yourself without stress.
Access to 2. floor of the Eiffel Tower by stairs + Audio guide Louvre admission + exhibitions 1-hour cruise on the Seine Audio guide app for Paris 10% off all subsequent purchases at Tiqets
Official online ticket price: (platform confusing, and you have to create an account – I wonder why…) EUR 17 for adults free admission for children under 18 years of age upon presentation of ID, people with disabilities and their companions, every first Saturday of the month, + on July 14th
Reservation on www.ticketlouvre.fr 1. Select “Visitors with a Paris Museum Pass”, the day and time 2. Provide your name and museum pass number 3. Get a QR code for the first check (the snake at the pyramid)
ICOM members get free entry, but also have to book online! + Extra fast skip the line.
ICOM members get free entry, but also have to book online! + Extra fast skip the line.
Louvre Museum Photo Gallery
What is there to see?
It might be easier to list what you can’t see there! Whether you’re interested in classical sculptures, regal furniture or renaissance paintings, you’ll be in your element. The Louvre is so huge that there is space for more or less everything your heart could desire. Just remember that this is not the place to go for modern and contemporary art. If that’s more your thing, you may want to head over to the Musée d’Orsay or Pompidou Centre.
It’s not hard to while away hour upon hour in the Louvre. You know, you could actually spend days there! That’s why it’s so important to have a proper think about what you want to see beforehand.
If it’s your first time at the Louvre, you’ll want to focus on the real highlights, for sure. In my mind, the Denon Wing should be your first port of call. If you’ve still got some time after that, you could always pop into one of the other wings, depending on what you’re most interested in. You could check out the Ancient Greek and Roman art on display in the Sully Wing or admire the work of Nordic artists (think Rubens and Rembrandt) in the Richelieu Wing.
What paintings are in the Louvre?
Here are a few of my personal favourites to look out for:
Pythokritos: ‘Nike of Samothrace’
The ‘Venus of Milo’
‘Mona Lisa’ and all of Leonardo da Vinci’s other pieces
Jacques-Louis David: ‘The Coronation of Napoleon’
Eugène Delacroix: ‘Liberty Leading the People’
Vermeer: ‘The Lacemaker’
Albrecht Dürer: ‘Self-Portrait of the Artist Holding a Thistle’
When you step into the room and see the Mona Lisa for the first time, you might have some questions… Is all the hype surrounding the Mona Lisa really necessary? Why are people so desperately fighting their way into this room? Are there not other major works of art by the same artist and others? What’s so special about this small, rather plain painting?
Facts and figures about the Mona Lisa
Mona Lisa, 1503–1506 (or 1502–1503) Leonardo da Vinci 77 x 53 cm Poplar wood
Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) painted the Mona Lisa at the start of the 16th century. The renaissance masterpiece is known as La Gioconda in Italian and La Joconde in French, both of which roughly translate to ‘the happy one’ in English. There are many theories surrounding the painting’s subject, but Lisa del Giocondo from Florence could well have provided the name. We actually call the painting the Mona Lisa in English as the result of a simple spelling error. It was originally known as Monna Lisa, with monna meaning ‘my lady’.
It is said that Leonardo da Vinci lived with his much younger male lover Andrea Salaino Florentine for 20 years and claims have been made that he was the secret inspiration for the Mona Lisa. A further four theories have been put forward.
Maybe it’s all this mystery and intrigue surrounding the model that makes the Mona Lisa so interesting. We don’t even know who commissioned the painting let alone who posed for it. There are also a few features that you wouldn’t expect to see in a painting from this era.
The Mona Lisa looks directly at you and her eyes follow you as you move around the room. You feel exposed, like you and you alone are being watched by the Mona Lisa. It would have been most unusual to see the subject of a portrait look straight ahead at the time.
The backdrop, the lack of eyebrows and that sly smile are some other unusual features.
Mona Lisa’s journey
Who painted the Mona Lisa?
Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) painted the Mona Lisa during 1503–1506, maybe continuing until 1517.
Shortly before his death, Leonardo da Vinci sold the Mona Lisa to Francis I of France (1494–1547). This suggests that the painting may have never been commissioned. Or that the person that did commission it had since died. Why would da Vinci still own the Mona Lisa otherwise?
The painting was passed down until it ended up in the possession of the Sun King Louis XIV (1638–1715) and made its way to Versailles.
After the abolition of the monarchy and the end of the French Revolution, the painting arrived at the Louvre and was soon transferred to Napoleon’s bedroom. It wasn’t returned to the Louvre until after his downfall.
Mona Lisa hadn’t quite found her forever home yet, though, as the painting was stolen in 1911. This sent shock waves through France and devastated art lovers the world over. To start with, Picasso himself was accused of the theft, but he was released due to a lack of evidence.
The Mona Lisa wasn’t seen for two whole years… Until it turned up in Florence. An Italian painter called Vincenzo Peruggia had wanted to return the masterpiece to Italy, so he hid it in a hole in the wall not far from the Louvre. In December 1913, however, he tried to find an art dealer, who confirmed that this was indeed the original Mona Lisa along with the Director of the Uffizi Gallery in Italy. The thief was sentenced to seven months in prison. With some Italians against returning the painting to the Louvre, it was first taken on a tour of Italy before making its way back to the art museum in Paris. But the Mona Lisa had found global fame by this point!
Things took another turn for the worse for the Mona Lisa during the Second World War and the German occupation. It was one of many important pieces of art to be moved from place to place, with the constant fear that it would be taken away to Germany. Despite the Germans apparently keeping close tabs on the painting, they never did anything with it… How strange!
The Louvre A bit of History
When was the Louvre built?
Well, I’m going to have to condense the building’s 800-year history and the collection’s 700-year history into the space I have available here… It’s a good job that my master’s dissertation covered the origins of the Louvre as a museum 🙂
So here you have it – a short and sweet summary of the incredible history of the Louvre…
From fortress to royal residence
The Louvre – known by a different name during the 12th century and some time later – started off as a fortress. Far from a magnificent palace, it simply served its purpose of defending the city.
When another city wall was erected on the other side of the Seine in the 14th century, the fortress was converted into a proper residence for Charles V (King of France between 1364 and 1380). It was this renovation that marked the start of 800 years of the Louvre building. The original fortress was extended and tarted up, with some bits being knocked down, rebuilt and extended even further. And eventually this tiny fortress with its rectangular floor plan evolved into the massive building that now spans 135,000 square metres (or even 210,000 square metres – the numbers vary)!
The history of the collection and opening of the museum
While most French kings and dukes collected art, there were three in particular that went to great lengths to acquire fine art. Their collections can now be admired at the Louvre.
John, Duke of Berry – brother to King Charles V – laid the foundations in the 14th century with his impressive collection of paintings, carpets and illuminated manuscripts. But King Francis I is credited with being the founder proper during the 16th century. He even invited Leonardo da Vinci to France. When the artist died, his entire (private) collection of works was passed to the king, who is also believed to have acquired the Mona Lisa around this time. Artwork was still held at Fontainebleau Palace at this point.
And then came Louis XIV, who acquired masterpieces by Titian and Raphael.
When Louis XV became king, the public demand for access to the art collection hit an all-time high and led to the first small exhibition at the Palais de Luxembourg in 1750.
But the Louvre itself didn’t open to the public until 27 July 1793 following a decree by the new National Assembly during the French Revolution. Just a few days later, the Musée Central des Arts was opened on this site as one of the world’s first art museums as we know them today.
The Louvre in Napoleon’s day and now
The French Revolution and the abolition of the monarchy led to the birth of the Louvre we know and love. And yet the museum was infamous under the rule of Napoleon, who had come to appreciate art on his victorious military campaigns throughout Europe. After 1797, he gave a direct order for artwork to be seized and brought back to France. The Louvre was used to store all the masterpieces taken from Rome, Berlin, Vienna and Venice. Even the horses on top of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin made their way there!
So much art was transferred to Paris that there wasn’t enough space for it all in the Louvre. 15 branches of the museum had to be set up across France to accommodate it all! At least this meant that people living outside the capital could enjoy some of the masterpieces too.
After Napoleon’s downfall in 1814, all of the seized artworks were returned to their rightful homes and the collection at the Louvre shrunk back down to its original size.
Many pieces were acquired and inherited properly in the years that followed. In 1870, the collection was officially transferred from the crown to the state.
1981 – the year I was born 🙂 – was another important date in the history of the Louvre. François Mitterrand gave the go ahead for his grand projects, which would see the entire Louvre building complex be used as a museum. The work was finally signed off in 1999, by which point historical rooms had been restored and the glass pyramid designed by Ieoh Ming Pei had been erected in the courtyard to form the main entrance used today.
The Egyptian, Islamic and Antiquities collections were just some of the ones that grew in size. And yet not all of the existing artwork stayed put. In 1986, anything from the 1850s (impressionist pieces and so on) was moved to the Musée d’Orsay. A use had finally been found for the old disused railway station that didn’t involve tearing it down or transforming it into a hotel.