What’s Inside the Louvre, Besides the Mona Lisa?

European Paintings, Islamic Art, Greek and Roman Sculpture, Oct 25, 2009

written by Ellen Freudenheim, MPH

The Louvre’s a tourist must-see in Paris, a boggling trove of art, whether you’re traveling on a family vacation or going solo. Find out about self-guided museum tours.

Of course, the Mona Lisa is on display at the Louvre. So are two other extraordinary visions of the female form: Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. They are among 35,000 works of art on display in Paris’ most popular museum.

What’s in the Louvre — and how can a visitor hope to even begin to see it? The collection includes 5,000 sculptures, 15,000 objects’ d’ art, 16,000 paintings, 15,000 Greek and Roman antiquities, 50,000 Egyptian antiquities, 80,000 Oriental and Islamic antiquities and over 170,000 engravings and drawings. The Louvre is one of the world’s biggest museums, no matter how one calculates it — the number of works of art, the number of visitors, or sheer physical size.

How to “Do” the Louvre: Getting Organized

First-time visitors, families traveling with young children, or grandparents traveling with grandchildren would be well advised to plan ahead for a trip to the Louvre. It’s big, the signage for individual works of art is mostly in French, and it’s often crowded. Six million people a year visit the Louvre, on average.

The best advice is to take some time. An entrance ticket is good for a whole day, so look around, go out and have lunch or take a walk, then return for another round. While outside, consider the site. First a fortress, then a palace for French royalty, the history of the Louvre building itself is fascinating.

Take a Tour of the Louvre

Because the Louvre is so vast, it’s helpful to follow a “trail” rather than just wander. A group tour can be wonderful, and an individual tour by an informed guide is ideal. The most pocketbook-friendly alternative is a self-guided taped tour on a rented headset.

  • The Louvre’s self-guided tours are designed to suit various interests. Each 90-minute taped tour, available in English, enables listeners to decide how much information they want to hear; one can just get the basics, or push a button for in-depth information. Current offerings include:
  • Masterpieces of the Louvre — This basic tour takes visitors to see the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and other well-known pieces.
  • A Lion Hunt through French Sculpture — A clever way to keep the interest of children and those who are new to art, this tour guides visitors through masterpieces of the museum, on a “lion hunt.” It’s surprising how often this jungle animal is depicted in artworks based on Biblical and other themes.
  • Still-Life Painting in Northern Europe, Scene-Setting and Symbolism — This tour focuses on understanding the subtle lighting and symbolism of outstanding Northern European still- life paintings in the Louvre, some by famous Dutch masters whose work was collected by French King Francis I and other French royalty.
  • Calligraphy in Islamic Art — The French colonized parts of the Islamic world, including, for instance, Morocco and Algeria, and the Louvre boasts an extensive Islamic collection. Because of the Islamic religious injunction against portraying human faces, calligraphy was highly developed as an art form.
  • The Da Vinci Code, A Visit to the Louvre Mixing Fiction and Fact — Building on the popularity of this book and film, this tour explores truth versus fiction about Leonardo.

For Visitors Who Choose to Explore the Louvre on Their Own

Museum-goers who wander independently will find themselves viewing pieces from one of the Louvre’s eight collections. They include:

  • Near Eastern Antiquities
  • Egyptian Antiquities
  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
  • Islamic Art
  • Sculptures
  • Decorative Arts
  • Paintings
  • Prints and Drawings

Fees, Hours, and When the Louvre is Free

  • Hours: 9 am-6 pm daily except Tuesday and three holidays (Jan. 1, May 1, Dec. 25). Open until 10 pm on Wednesday and Friday evenings. Not every room is open every day, due to staff shortages; if one is going specifically to see a certain artwork, check the Web site.
  • Fees: €9 tickets allow full-day access; €6 tickets are evenings-only, from 6 -9:45 pm. An €11 ticket is valid for exhibitions in the Hall Napoléon. Check the Web site for other combination tickets.
  • When to Go: To avoid crowds, go after 3 pm. To avoid paying, on the first Sunday of every month when it’s free.

On-Site Restaurants, Transportation

  • Food: There are splendid outdoor balcony cafes; the food is reasonable and prices are moderate. Late in 2009, McDonald’s announced that it will be opening a restaurant in the Louvre.
  • Nearest Metro Stop: Palais-Royal–Musée du Louvre station.
  • What’s Nearby: The Louvre is in the middle of Paris so one can get to just about anywhere from there. The Tuileries Gardens and expensive stores on the Rue de Rivoli are both nearby.

Paris boasts many museums. Some capture a particular era, say, in the evolution of modern art, others are offbeat museums, or focus on nature or technology. Towering over them is the extraordinary Louvre, home to thousands of valuable artworks and, itself, an artifact of French history.w