Visit the Palace of French Kings to admire some of the world’s best art. The Louvre has many of Western civilization’s most famous masterpieces, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and is one of the top attractions in Paris. A large number of the museum’s paintings were owned by the various kings who lived in the Louvre when it was a royal residence, other pieces were acquired through France’s treaties with the Vatican and the Venetian Republic, and the collection continued enriched by the spoils of Napoléon I.
The museum packs 30,000 works of art into a 60,000-square-foot exhibition space in three sections: the Denon, Richelieu and Sully wings. Each wing has more than 70 rooms with paintings and artifacts, and there are enormous halls filled with sculptures. It is impossible to see the entire collection in one day or even a week. To make the most of your time spent at the Louvre, focus on a checklist of essential works of art using this guide.
Read also: Exploring London’s National Gallery
1 Mona Lisa door Leonardo da Vinci (Denon Wing, Room 6)
Many visitors come to the Louvre to see this one painting. The Mona Lisa is the museum’s most famous work of art. The small painting is covered with an extra layer of plexiglass and is usually surrounded by a crowd of tourists trying to catch a glimpse of it. Scholars debate what makes the Mona Lisa one of the most renowned paintings in the world. One explanation is the sense of mystery. The identity of the sitter is unclear. The woman depicted is believed to be Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant named Francesco del Giocondo. Mona Lisa ‘s alternative name is La Gioconda or La Joconde .
Another explanation for the painting’s celebrity is Mona Lisa’s famous enigmatic smile, which may represent the ideal of happiness. Her mesmerizing expression and sideways gaze have a mesmerizing look on viewers. Observers note how Mona Lisa appears to be looking from wherever they are standing in the room. The painting was created by Leonardo da Vinci between 1503 and 1506 and was one of the first medium-length portraits with a new background depicting the uninhabited Tuscan countryside.
2 Les Noces de Cana by Paolo Veronese (Denon Wing, Room 6)
The Wedding Feast at Cana (1563) is a magnificent and grandiose painting that covers the entire wall of the gallery from floor to ceiling. Veronese created this lavish painting in 1553 in Venice. The masterful composition depicts the biblical scene of a wedding feast in Cana in Galilee. The Bible story told by John the Apostle describes the event in which Christ performs the miracle of turning water into wine.
Veronese created a remarkable scene with more than 100 figures, an astonishing compilation that somehow looks harmonious rather than crowded. The bride and groom sit at the end of the banquet table on the left. Christ is in the center surrounded by the Virgin, his disciples, clerks and princes entertained by a group of musicians. Contemporary Venetians mingle with biblical characters in oriental turbans. The artist’s attention to detail is astonishing. Stand close enough to see the realistic details, such as the draping of the beautiful Venetian costumes painted in vibrant colors. Admire the piece thoroughly to find charming features that are often overlooked – the dwarf, the parakeet, little birds, friendly dogs and a cat walking through the crowd.
3 Venus de Milo (Sully Wing, Room 7)
A must-see sight, the Vénus de Milo is one of the highlights of the Louvre’s antiquities department. This graceful statue is also known as Aphrodite and represents the Greek ideal of beauty. The work has mesmerized the art world since it was discovered on the Greek island of Melos in 1820. The goddess depicted is either Aphrodite (who was usually depicted half-naked) or the sea goddess Amphitrite who was worshiped on the island of Milo. Created around 100 BC, the statue reflects the stylization of the late Hellenistic period.
What makes this image a masterpiece is the balanced composition, the sense of space and the way the curtain falls over her hips. Unfortunately, the missing pieces of marble make it difficult to fully identify and understand the statue. Art historians have tried to imagine how her arms were positioned and where she might have stood. Some believe she may have held an apple, a shield or a crown. Another hypothesis is that Venus held a mirror in one hand to admire her reflection.
4 Victory of Samothrace (Denon Wing, Daru Staircase)
A masterpiece of Hellenistic art, this monumental classical sculpture is breathtaking to behold. The Victoire de Samothrace ( Winged Victory ) on the Escalier Daru (ground floor stairs) has a way of captivating visitors as they turn the corner and catch a glimpse of the statue. Created around 190 BC, the winged goddess of victory was found on the island of Samothrace. Historians believe that the monument was a religious offering by the people of Rhodes to commemorate the naval victory.
The winged Goddess of Victory (Nike) stands on the bow of a ship sailing through strong winds. The figure of the Goddess is so accurately depicted that you can hardly believe that it was created 2000 years ago before photography and 3D graphic modeling. The composition has a spiral effect that creates a sense of movement, with the wings held back and the right leg placed in front of the left. The goddess appears to be drenched in water as her transparent clothing clings to her body, revealing the shape of the female body. At the same time, a breeze seems to blow the clothing between her legs, giving the image a stunning sense of realism.
5 The Coronation of Napoléon by Jacques-Louis David (Denon Wing, Room 75)
Napoléon I commissioned Jacques-Louis David to create this monumental painting as a document of his coronation ceremony. Napoléon proclaimed himself emperor in May 1804 after a coup d’état following his victorious military campaigns in Italy and Egypt. The coronation ceremony was performed according to the protocol of crowning a king in the French monarchist tradition. However, Napoléon crowned himself while facing the congregation rather than being crowned by the Pope, to make a statement about his independence from the Church.
The painter attended the coronation ceremony of December 2, 1804 and subsequently represented the event with impeccable detail. David accurately portrays the ceremony, in accordance with Napoléon’s request to convey a symbolic and political message – glorifying the event to give it a unique place in history. This painting of Le Sacre de l’Empereur Napoléon spans a huge canvas measuring six meters by ten meters. Another of David’s masterpieces in the same room is The Oath of the Horatii , a duel scene from classical antiquity.
6 Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix (Denon Wing, Room 77)
This exceptional painting illustrates one of the most important events in French history – the Parisian uprising of July 27, 28 and 29, 1830 known as the “Trois Glorieuses” (“Three Glorious Days”). At this time in history, the Republicans of France led an uprising against the government of the Second Constitution for violating the Constitution. Delacroix wanted to evoke the revolution of 1789 and the ideal of popular sovereignty with his painting. The creation of this piece was a patriotic act, as Delacroix passionately believed in the Republican cause.
The allegorical image characterizes Liberty as a bare-breasted woman (nudity is common in French art, even in historical paintings). In one hand, Liberty holds a French flag as revolutionaries march through the streets of Paris in a desperate battle. Liberty holds an infantry gun in her right hand, giving her a sense of purpose. Notice how Liberty appears brighter, symbolic of moral enlightenment, in contrast to the dark smoky background. In his characteristic romantic style, Delacroix brings a deeply emotional and personal interpretation to the painting. The painting also has a realistic quality, which Delacroix achieved through his method of making many sketches to ensure perfection in his final work.
7 Psyche Revived by the Kiss of Love door Antonio Canova (Richelieu Wing, Pavillon de Flore)
Of all the eighteenth-century neoclassical sculptures in the sunlight-filled Pavillon de Flore gallery, this one is the most charmingly romantic and beautifully displayed. This sculpture, titled Psyché Ranimée par le Baiser de l’Amour in French, was inspired by Ovid’s mythological story of Cupid and Psyche Metamorphoses . In this story, Cupid sees Psyche who has fallen asleep after swallowing a forbidden drink. Cupid gently approaches Psyche, about to kiss her. Then Psyche wakes up and embraces Loud Cupid. This is the tender moment captured in this enchanting masterpiece.
Antonio Canova created a piece full of emotion, typical of romantic neoclassical sculpture. At the same time, the sculpture is so precise that the figures appear lifelike. Note the beautiful sculpting of Cupid’s wings, the quiver full of arrows and the decorations on the amphora. Admire how Cupid holds Psyche’s neck and the curve of her hip as she turns to embrace him, all shown with a perfect sense of proportion and movement. Carefully chiselled features and anatomical details such as Psyche’s navel and graceful toes give the scene a sense of authenticity.
8 Lodewijk XIV door Hyacinthe Rigaud (Sully Wing, Room 34)
This famous painting of the “Sun King” was created in 1701 by the French royal portrait painter Hyacinthe Rigaud. The painting was originally intended as a gift for Philip V of Spain, but the French court liked it so much that the painting was never sent to the Spanish king. Louis XIV was 63 years old when this portrait was painted. Rendered in exquisite detail, the portrait represents Louis XIV as the ultimate image of absolute power. The opulent backdrop and the king’s impressive coronation robes symbolize his greatness. Note the opulence of the king’s robe, which is embroidered with fleur de lys (the royal symbol) and the crown rests on a stool next to him. This lavish painting is designed to remind the viewer of the authority of Louis XIV.
9 La Dentellière by Jan Vermeer (Richelieu Wing, Room 38)
Renoir considered Jan Vermeer’s paint of De Lacemaker to be one of the most beautiful paintings in the world. The motif of lace was often used in Dutch paintings to symbolize traditional feminine virtues. At the forefront of the painting is a small book that is most likely a Bible, giving the piece a new layer of moral and religious suggestion.
Vermeer enjoyed painting scenes from everyday life and was adept at depicting familiar objects in an appealing way. The young woman (most likely Vermeer’s wife) is intently focused on her careful work of making lace. The thread between the woman’s fingers and the pins and bobbin form the central focal point of the piece. The objects become blurrier in the background and resemble the natural optical field of the human eye. Van Gogh praised this painting for its harmonious color combination, seen in the vibrant sewing cushion and multi-colored threads.
10 Marly Horses door Guillaume Coustou (Richelieu Wing, Cour Marly Courtyard)
The Chevaux de Marly was ordered by King Louis XIV for the Château de Marly horse pond. Created between 1739 and 1745, this monumental Carrara marble statue is a larger-than-life statue of two horses being held back by grooms. The sculptor, Guillame Coustou, was probably inspired by the ancient statues found in front of the Quirinal Palace in Rome, which also depict rearing horses. These ancient Roman statues depict demigods Castor and Pollux attempting to tame their horses. Referring to this mythological reference, the Marly Horses symbolize the battle between man and primitive nature – represented by an untamed horse.
11 The Coronation of the Virgin door Fra Angelico (Denon Wing, Room 3)
The Coronation of the Virginis one of the Louvre’s masterpieces of medieval painting. Guido di Pietro, known as Fra Angelico, painted this exceptional piece from 1430 to 1432. The painted altarpiece was found on one of the altars of the Monastery of San Domenico in Fiesole outside Florence. The theme of the Coronation of the Virgin was very common in art in the 13th century. Depicted in bright colors and remarkable detail, the painting illustrates the Assumption of the Virgin Mary as she is welcomed into heaven. Christ is shown seated high above the crowd of spectators, on a throne accessed by marble steps. Note how Fra Angelico painted the nine marble steps in different colors. The Virgin Mary kneels at the penultimate step to receive the crown from her glorious son.
12 The cheat with the ace of diamonds door Georges de la Tour (Sully Wing, Room 24)
Full of surprising details and hidden emotions, The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds ( Le Tricheur à l’as de Carreau)is an interesting piece to observe. The painting is one of Georges de La Tour’s masterpieces and is a must-see piece in the French painting collection. The scene shows four people around a table playing cards. The moment seems suspended in time. The flamboyantly dressed, feather-covered young man on the right is in a room apart from the others – he is about to be duped. Meanwhile, the other group of three people seem to share a secret, evidenced by their sideways eye movements. The woman with the plunging neckline attracts the viewer’s attention with her sneaky look. She communicates silently with the player (the cheat) on the left side of the painting. Obscured by the shadows, the cheat discreetly draws an ace disk with diamonds under his belt,
13 Portrait of the Artist with Thistle by Albrecht Dürer (Richelieu Wing, Room 8)
A striking painting, the Portrait de l’Artiste Tenant un Chardon was one of the first self-portraits ever made. Albrecht Dürer made this portrait of himself in 1493 when he was only twenty-two years old. The artist holds a thistle, which is a promise of fidelity to his betrothed or an allusion to the passion of Christ. The composition of a three-quarter bust was typical of the painting style at that time. Viewers may detect some awkwardness in the portrait, as the artist was working from his reflection.
14 Captif Sculptures by Michelangelo (Denon Wing, Room 4)
These expressive statues are masterpieces by Michelangelo, demonstrating his genius of technical ability and emotional depth. The pair of sculptures includes the L’Esclave Mourant ( The Dying Slave ) and the L’Esclave Rebelle ( The rebellious slave). Both are shown chained and naked to emphasize their vulnerability, but the two slaves express very different emotions. The young and handsome dying slave seems to be in a deep eternal sleep. The rebellious slave is twisted in a violent struggle. Some art historians have interpreted the sculptures as symbolic of the human soul burdened by the body. Michelangelo created the statues in 1513 as part of a monumental project for the tomb of Pope Julius II in 1505.
15 French Crown Jewels (Department of Decorative Arts)
Get a glimpse of the grandeur that was once the symbol of the French monarchy. Coronation crowns reflected the wealth and power of French kings. The crowns were custom made for each king and embellished with precious jewels. Be sure to see the Couronne de Louis The arches were decorated with diamond fleurs de lys. The famous “le Régent” (Regent Diamond) , now shown separately, originally decorated the flower in front. In the Richelieu Wing, Room 74, the Diadème de la Duchesse d’Angoulème(Tiara of Duchesse of Angouleme) is a dazzling piece decorated with diamonds and emeralds. The Couronne de l’Impératrice Eugénie is an over-the-top imperial crown. This beautiful piece sparkles with 2,480 diamonds and 56 emeralds.
Exploring the Louvre
The Grand Entrance: The Glass Pyramid
The main entrance to the Louvre is located in the central courtyard of the building on the iconic glass pyramid. Designed by architect Ieoh Ming Pei and opened in 1989, this 22-meter-high pyramid is a masterpiece of architecture, constructed from 675 panes of glass. The Pyramid provides access to the Cour Napoléon, where the ticket office and information desk are located. The glass ceiling floods this space with natural light, literally making the experience brighter for the tourists waiting in line. There are also other ways to enter the museum (avoiding the crowds), such as the Carrousel du Louvre or the Rue de Rivoli entrance, but the pyramid is a tourist attraction in itself. This beautiful structure is a great introduction to the Louvre’s stunning collection of visual arts.
The Medieval Louvre: Foundations of the Palace
Discover the original foundations of the Louvre in the Medieval Louvre section . To get here, enter the Louvre through the pyramid and take the escalator down to the Sully wing . This section reveals the ancient foundations of the medieval fortress. Visitors can see the remains of the medieval moat and the dungeons as well as the Salle Saint-Louis , an interesting space filled with remains of rib-vaulted buttresses.
A magnificent royal palace fit for the kings of France
The Louvre’s art collection is housed in a decadent building, originally a medieval fortress built for King Philippe Auguste in 1190. The building was fortified under Charles V, Charles VI and Henri II and transformed into a luxurious royal palace by Louis XIII and Louis XIV. With its impressive scale and lavish details, the great halls of the Louvre are certainly fit for a king. The Salle des Caryatides is a glorious reception hall created for King Henri II. The Chambre de Parade du Roi (found in Room 25 of the Egyptian Antiquities Department) is the bedroom where Charles IX and Henri III greeted the court every morning. The Salle des Sept-Cheminées(Room 74 of the Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities) was the royal apartment of Louis XIV until he moved his palace to Versailles.
Even after the Louvre ceased to be a royal palace, it was used for official purposes by Napoléon III. Visitors can also explore the opulent rooms of the Appartement Napoléon III (Richelieu Wing beyond the Lefuel stairs). On display are the Grand Salon and Dining Rooms of Napoléon III. The lavish Second Empire style offers opulent décor with beautiful chandeliers, gilded moldings, decorative stuccowork, silk curtains, velvet furniture and ornately painted ceilings. Another must-see room in the museum is the Galerie d’Apollon. This glorious reception hall features a beautiful ceiling fresco begun by Charles Le Brun, a tribute to Louis XIV, the Sun King. The part that was not completed by Le Brun, the center panel, was painted by Delacroix in 1851. His breathtaking painting shows Apollo Killing the snake Python .
Where to stay near the Louvre in Paris
We recommend these charming hotels within walking distance of the Louvre Museum:
- Mandarin Oriental Paris: luxurious luxury, a short walk from Place Vendôme, near haute couture designers, fine dining, boutique spa.
- Hotel La Tamise – Esprit de France: mid-range boutique hotel, well-appointed rooms, comfortable beds, delicious breakfast pastries.
- Hotel Odyssey by Elegancia: affordable prices, Halles district, trendy decor, compact rooms, excellent showers.
- Hotel Opera Maintenon: budget rates, quiet street, multilingual staff, friendly service.
Tips and tours: How to get the most out of your visit to the Louvre
- Louvre Tours: You can be sure to find all the highlights of this enormous museum on the three-hour Skip the Line: Louvre Museum Walking Tour with Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa. The tour includes headsets, so you can hear your expert guide explain the history and artistic significance of the museum’s highlights, from the priceless paintings to the Crown Jewels, and after the tour you can continue to explore on your own.
- Tickets: The main entrance and ticket office are at the Pyramid du Louvre, but this also has the longest lines. Entrances into the Carrousel du Louvre from the Métro metro station or into Passage Richelieu at Rue de Rivoli avoid the long lines. You can buy tickets in advance, but you must pick them up in person at another location. More info: https://www.louvre.fr/en/advance-tickets. The Paris Museum Pass includes the Louvre and offers savings for tourists who want to explore multiple museums during a two-day, three-day or six-day stay in Paris. More info: https://en.parismuseumpass.com
- Resources: The Louvre website proposes several thematic visitor routes, such as masterpieces, daily life in Egypt and still life. It also provides details of all current gallery closures. The Louvre app can help you navigate the moving galleries of the Louvre and enjoy interesting commentary from art experts explaining the masterpieces.
- Food and drinks: There are cafes, restaurants and snack bars throughout the building and in the gardens. These range from food stalls with international dishes to delicious food on the terrace of Café Marly.
- Getting to the Louvre: The metro stop is at the Palais-Royal-Musée du Louvre station or the bus lines 21, 24, 27, 39, 48, 68, 69, 72, 81 and 95 stop in front of the Pyramide du Louvre. The most convenient parking is in the underground garage on Avenue du Général Lemonnier, which is open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.