So, you’re headed to Paris and the Louvre is on your list of places to visit. Now, you’re probably thinking about what to see at the Louvre. This is a daunting question indeed. After all, the largest museum in the world includes a whopping 300 rooms. So, beyond simply deciding on the paintings and sculptures you want to see, you’ll have to find them as well. Start your list off with these ten works of art at the Louvre Museum and use the accompanying map to find them in the sprawling former palace.
The Best Louvre Tours
Did you know that going on a guided Louvre tour is an excellent option? Not only do you get to let someone else worry about buying your skip the line Louvre Museum tickets, but you’ll also get to see all the best works of art in the enormous museum. Led by an English-speaking guide with art history expertise, you’ll see all the art on this list and so much more.
1. The Winged Victory of Samothrace (Nike)
The Winged Victory of Samothrace is one of the most stunning works of art in the Louvre Museum. To top it off, its location gives it even more of an awe factor. Set at the top of a staircase, the famous Louvre sculpture is separated from the other art at the museum. With intricate detailing, the majestic sculpture looks as though her clothing is billowing in the wind as she stands atop the prow of a ship.
- While it was only discovered in 1863 on the small island of Samothrace, it’s estimated that it was created around 2nd century B.C.
- The sculpture is of the winged goddess of Victory, better known as Nike to the Greeks and Victoria to the Romans.
- This famous Louvre sculpture is located at the top of a stairs, just before you enter the Denon wing of the museum.
2. The Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is undoubtedly the most famous painting at the Louvre Museum (and probably in the world!). One reason the Louvre painting is so well-known is for its enigmatic qualities. For example, the Mona Lisa smile is a masterful optical illusion. It looks as though she is smiling until you look at her head-on. From this angle, her mouth looks downturned.
- Even Napoleon loved the Mona Lisa. So much so, that he hung it in his bedroom.
- Wealthy Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to make the painting of his wife Lisa Gioconda. The occasion? To celebrate the birth of his second son, Andrea.
- The French name for this painting is “La “Joconde” – a pun on Lisa Gherardini’s married name “Giocondo”.
- After the painting’s theft in 1911, pictures of the Mona Lisa appeared in newspapers across the world. If you’ve ever wondered why the Mona Lisa famous, this is one of the reasons.
- You can find Mona in the Denon Wing, on the 1st floor, in the Mona Lisa room (she even has a whole room named after her!), Room number 711.
3. The Coronation of Napoleon
Ask the average tourist to name one of France’s most famous rulers, and you’re likely to get Napoleon as an answer. This famous Louvre painting depicts the coronation of Napoleon, which happened in the famous Notre Dame cathedral. With life-like detailing, the painting depicts dozens of individual people. On top of being an amazing painting, there’s a ton of political and social history behind this work of art.
More Facts About This Louvre Painting:
- Napoleon persuaded the pope to travel from Rome to Paris to bless him as he was named emperor. Considering that the pope rarely traveled for anyone, this was a big deal.
- Napoleon’s mother is depicted watching the coronation However, she didn’t actually attend the ceremony out of spite.
- Just as the Pope Pius VII blessed Napoleon and was about to crown him as the emperor, Napoleon took the crown from the pope and crowned himself, before then crowning his wife. This was regarded as the ultimate pubic insult to the pope.
- If you’re headed to the Louvre Museum and you want to see this scandalous painting up close, go to Denon wing. It’s located on the first floor of the museum, Daru, Room 702.
4. Liberty Leading the People
This is one of the most famous paintings in France. Eugène Delacroix was inspired to paint Liberty Leading the People by a Parisian uprising in July 1830. Here, ‘Liberty’ is depicted as a bare-chested woman in a yellow dress, carrying the French flag in one hand and a musket in the other. She surges forward over the bodies of fallen revolutionaries and soldiers. Filled with symbolism that’s still important to France, every French person knows about this painting. Today, Liberty is known as Marianne, and is a symbol of France and the French Republic.
More Facts about this Painting:
- Many say that French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi took inspiration from Delacroix while creating the Statue of Liberty, gifted by France to America in 1886.
- The sculpture is often viewed as a marker to the end of the Age of Enlightenment, many scholars view the French Revolution as the beginning of Romanticism.
- Find this painting in the Denon Wing, First Floor | French Romanticism and Neoclassicism, Rooms 75 to 77.
5. The Raft of the Medusa
Painted by Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa depicts the brutal aftermath of a French boat that ran aground in Africa. As a result, many aboard the crashed ship were stranded. Then, as many as 150 men built a raft from the ships lumber to save themselves. After almost two weeks, only ten of the men survived after enduring extreme dehydration, despair, angst, and even resorting to murder and cannibalism. Charming!
More Facts about this Painting:
- Unlike the ancient greek and roman works found in the Louvre, this painting does not focus on a figure, but rather a whole event.
- The 27 year old artist used interviews from survivors to help him set the scene. He also visited morgues to study the color of dead skin. If that weren’t enough, he also rebuilt the raft himself to make the scene as convincing as possible.
- You can find the Raft of the Medusa in Room 77, Mollien.
6. Sleeping Hermaphrodite
Discovered in Rome near the Baths of Diocletian in 1608, Sleeping Hermaphrodite depicts Hermaphroditus. The offspring of Hermes (messenger of the gods) and Aphrodite, the prized sculpture depicts a figure with elements of both male and female characteristics. If you thought complicated gender issues were new, think again. In erotic repose, the statue is a true embodiment of Hellenistic taste.
More Facts About this Masterpiece:
- In Greek mythology, Hermaphroditus was born a male. When a nymph fell so deeply in love with him, he rejected her advances. Unable to resign herself to this rejection, she persuaded Zeus to merge their two bodies together, forever.
- Nobody knows who created this sculpture, but when the statue was discovered in Rome at the start of the 17th century. Soon after, Bernini (the same guy who designed the Four Rivers Fountain in Piazza Navona, Rome), carved a bed from marble for Hermaphroditus to lie on.
- So, where is it? Find this sculpture in the Sully wing, Ground floor, Salle des Caryatides – Room 348.
7. Venus de Milo
With a captivated backstory, Venus de Milo dates back to around 100 B.C. Depicting the goddess of live and beauty, this ancient Greek statue was discovered in 1820 on the island of Milos by a French naval officer. Likely created by Alexandros of Antioch during the late 2nd century B.C., the marble statue is celebrated for its Hellenistic artistry. And of course, Venus de Milo is well-known for her lack of arms.
More Facts About this Louvre Sculpture:
- To the Greeks, her name is Aphrodite. To the Romans, her name is Venus.
- Look closely, there are holes around her wrist, ears and head. That’s because the statue once adorned metal jewellery! Today, she has no jewellery and has lost her arms. Sorry Venus! But at least the goddess of love is still captivating audiences after all these years!
- You can find the sculpture in room, or salle, 346 in the Louvre.
8. Hammurabi Code
A well-preserved Babylonian code of law of ancient Mesopotamia, the Code of Hammurabi dates back to about 1754 B.C. (Middle Chronology). Enacted by King Hammurabi, the sixth Babylonian king, this piece of history might not be the most eye-catching item in the Louvre Museum. However, it’s an incredible piece of history that you need to see for yourself.
More Facts About the Code of Hammurabi:
- A phrase we still use today, “an eye for an eye” is included on this piece of history. It reads: “if one were to take another man’s eye, that man’s eye must be taken in return”.
- There are some pretty deep laws and capital crimes written on the column including incest between mother and son and murder.
- You can find the this ancient legal code in Room 3, Mésopotamie.
9. Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss – Antonio Canova
One of the most romantic works of art in the Louvre Museum, Cupid and Psyche is a sculpture that depicts two young lovers in embrace. Here, the princess Psyche wakes up for the first time by a kiss from Cupid. Remember, make sure you walk around the entire circumference. When Canova created this masterpiece, he included a handle on the based of Psyche’s foot to rotate the whole thing. As a result, movement of the two bodies is an important element of the sculpture.
More Facts About This Louvre Sculpture:
- Preserved at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice is Canova’s hand. This is to honor his tremendous talent.
- At the close of the tale, the gods decide in council to grant Cupid Psyche’s hand in marriage, which grants her immortality and making her the goddess of the Soul.
- You can find the this piece in Room 4, Department of Sculptures.
10. Great Sphinx of Tanis
The Louvre has an entire section dedicated to Egyptian antiquities, which many visitors end up skipping over to spend more time admiring paintings and sculptures. If you think you might do the same, paying a visit to the Great Sphinx of Tanis is the best way to make sure you admire at least one piece of Egyptian art at the Louvre Museum. Known as “the guardian of the Louvre Museum”, it’s easy to see why.
More Facts About this Louvre Treasure:
- Found in Tanis, Egypt’s capital during the 21st and 23rd Dynasty, in the ruins of a temple, this sphinx is one of the largest sphinxes you can find outside of Egypt.
- Impressive to look at, the sphinx represents the close relationship between the sun god Ra (the lion’s body) and the king (the human head).
- So, where is the Sphinx? You can find the this piece in Room 338, Crypt of the Sphinx.
I Want More Paris!
- If you want us to arrange the entertainment in Paris, check out our Paris tours. Skip the lines and see all the major attractions in the City of Light with an English-speaking guide.
- Not sure what to do in Paris? Read about the ten best things to do in Paris.
- Parlez-Vous Francais? Learn some of the most important French phrases before your trip to Paris.