Hours: 9-6 Most Days, Open until 9:45 on Wednesdays and Fridays, closed Tuesdays
Address: Musée du Louvre, 75058 Paris – France. Yes, that’s its official address. They’re French; they’re not interested in helping you find the world’s most famous museum.
I was watching the Woody Allen movie Manhattan recently, and I had a sudden revelation about the difference between seeing a city as a native and seeing a city as a tourist. Both Manhattan and Mr. Allen’s more recent Midnight in Paris begin with montages of evocative scenery scored by beautiful music. However, the stunning footage of New York in Manhattan, as well as the power of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, is undercut by Mr. Allen’s voice-over of a pretentious and self-loathing writer trying to compose a serious novel about New York. In Midnight in Paris, the scenery is presented with no other accompaniment other than “Si tu vois ma mere” by Sidney Bechet, and the whole city looks unironically like some glistening, rain-soaked paradise out of a tourist’s dream.
Mr. Allen, obviously a New York native, brings to his study of the city of his birth a more knowing distance that he cannot hope to achieve when presenting Paris, which is admittedly a city that has the power to turn the most ironically inclined American into a big, mushy ball of goo.
I mention all this because you will only enjoy the Louvre if you approach it like a gushing tourist. It is the most visited museum in the world by almost three million people, it is always crowded, and the people who work there are almost uniformly obnoxious. If you don’t plant a giant smile on the inside of your brain from the moment you get on that long line outside the Pyramid, you’re going to have a miserable time.
You Should Get On Line For Tickets as Early As You Can!
When you go to the Louvre, you most definitely should queue up early to avoid the ridiculous lines. I was online by 9 on a Wednesday, and I didn’t have to wait very long. The Louvre doesn’t sell print-at-home tickets online, so there’s no point in trying that.
You Must Get the Audioguide
I’ve complained enough about the crowds and the annoying staff, so now I come to praise the Louvre. Their audio guide is the best audio guide I’ve ever seen and I once posed for the cover of Audio Guide Aficionado. The reason that the guide is so cool is because it’s programmed onto a Nintendo 3DS handheld game system, so it’s like having an educational toy hanging around your neck, and nothing is cooler than an educational toy. The Gameboy works by showing you a 3D picture of the most famous works when you approach each one.
The guide is also very well organized. When you enter a wing, say French sculpture, which is where I spent most of my time that day, it automatically gives you a little lecture that provides an overview for what you are about to see. Then the most important works in each room are displayed on your DS screen, and when you click on the little picture, the audio guide tells you about each work in more detail. It’s like having your own personal art history course in the field.
Be warned that your guide will probably run out of power if you stay in the Louvre a couple of more hours, and all the people I met working at the audio guide booth were very snotty. One of them even falsely accused a little French boy of trying to steal some headphones and got yelled at by the boy’s father, so that was fun to watch. French people are very entertaining when they are having a screaming match.
You Must See the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace
These are the three most famous works in the most famous museum in the world, so you have to see all of them or you have failed as a tourist. The two famous classical sculptures really are worth the price of admission and the Winged Victory of Samothrace is my favorite. How did the Greeks manage to sculpt the stone so that it looks like the goddess’s clothes are almost moving in the breeze? Why can’t Greece get it together and go back to making significant contributions to civilization again instead of just screwing up everyone’s currency? The world may never know.
I don’t really get the big deal with the Mona Lisa, though. The crowds are hideous and though the painting is gorgeous, it’s smaller than you expect so you really won’t be able to see much. The only picture I could get was this sad, blurry thing. Just poke your head into the room to say you’ve been, and then quickly pop your head out.
You Should Stick To One Section of the Louvre Per Day
After you see the three big hits, you will likely find the museum overwhelming, so I think it’s better just to pick one area and really explore in depth so you can learn something. I chose the French sculpture wing.
The entrance to the sculpture wing is through these two beautiful open courts filled with the larger pieces of the collection. Most of them are extremely impressive to look at but this piece pictured above, called Four Captives, was my favorite because it is both majestic and creepy. Just look at the twisted bodies and tortured faces and then marvel at the idea that these figures were considered appropriate for inclusion in a celebratory monument.
The four captive people are meant to represent four different nations that were defeated in combat by Louis XIV. The statues were placed in the Place des Victoires with the statue of Louis XIV. Of course after the Revolution the statue of the King was destroyed, but luckily the captives were spared so that their misery can entertain us to this very day.
You Should See Two Mourners from the Tomb of the Duke of Berry, Jean de France by Etienne Bobillet
I then headed to the Medieval Sculpture section where I learned even more about just how creepy French sculpture could get. Obviously religious art made up the vast majority of the medieval collection, but there were also many examples of the work done in service of every nobleman’s favorite pet project: designing his own tomb. I had no idea how many different kinds of funeral art existed in Medieval France. It felt almost like wandering into the Egyptian wing at the Met only with fewer hippos.
These two enigmatically shrouded figures were meant to represent family members who were mourning the deceased Duke. I personally think they look more like that cloaked figure that stalks Donald Sutherland in Don’t Look Now, or possibly Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars once he shows his Sith colors. If I were robbing the Duke’s tomb and I came across these suckers, I would probably think two things. First, that the fabric of the cloaks looks remarkably realistic and second, that these two creatures were probably demons dedicated to guarding the tomb and that I should run away.
You Should See Saint George and the Dragon by Michel Colombe
This piece was my favorite sculpture from the Renaissance. I just love the detail on the dragon’s face. If you look up close, it almost looks like he’s smiling. Aww, who’s a cute little man-eating dragon? According the the Louvre’s website, this work is something of a failure because Colombe had not yet mastered perspective. I personally don’t care about that, as his command of detail is obviously excellent and I would rather appreciate the work for what it is than criticize it for what it isn’t.
Also, dragons! I don’t think I need to say more than that. More art should involve dragons, just on principle.
You Should See The Room of Virgins
I’m making no assumptions about the poor tourist who wandered into my photo here, rather I am referring to the theme of the room. This chamber is entirely devoted to representations of the Virgin with Child. You’d think that there could only be so many variations on one particular theme, but it’s fascinating to see how representations of the Madonna and Child changed over the course of the Middle Ages, as perceptions of the nature of Mary’s role in the Church changed. I know all the cool kids go crazy over the Renaissance but, from what I could see at the Louvre, I think French Medieval art was much more interesting than French Renaissance art.
You Should See the Tomb of Philippe Pot
I had thought that the two small figures of mourners were terrifying, but that was nothing compared to these giant, black-clad, shrouded creatures, all supporting an effigy of Philippe Pot, a 15th century French nobleman. These figures will haunt my nightmares for some time to come.
I do think that all of the elaborate funeral art shows a major difference between modern American culture and Medieval French culture. In the Middle Ages, death was much more of a constant threat due to plague, wars, diseases, lack of good medical care and personal hygiene, infant mortality and death in childbirth, lions becoming kings…I could go on but I’m sure you want me to stop. Now, of course, we are much more insulated from death and its horrors on a regular basis, and we like to tell ourselves that we are safe from its terrifying embrace.
However, the medievals were much more expressive about death than we seem to be today, as demonstrated by the plethora of medieval funeral artworks. Most contemporary Americans, I think, would rather avoid the subject altogether. We might erect a statue to a dead person that makes them look as if they were still alive, but we would never erect a statue of mourners.
You Should See Leda and the Swan by Jean Thierry
On to a more pleasant topic, bestiality! This statue is a representation of the Greek myth in which Zeus seduced the beautiful Leda by disguising himself as a swan. This sculpture was created by Jean Thierry as his submission for admission into the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, which was pretty much a requirement for anyone wanting to make a career as an artist in 18th century France.
Thierry, like all of his contemporaries, chose a classical theme to submit to the Academy. When I picture these stuck-up academics, I always imagine Salieri and his posse from Amadeus. Possibly someone might comment that there are “too many notes” in this sculpture or something. The rigid rules of the Academy are what later artists like the Impressionists were rebelling against. However, though this piece is quite conventional, I found it to be striking because of the lovely softness of the curves of Leda and the swan. Just look at the lines on the swan’s neck! Conventional isn’t always bad.
Hours: 11AM-2AM Most Days, 11AM-1AM on Sundays, for the Lord
Address: 6 rue de l’amiral Coligny
Le Fumoir is an excellent choice for lunch after the Louvre because it is a few blocks away. The decor reminds me of the gentleman’s club from Around the World in 80 Days because of all the big chairs and wood paneling. Also Gwyneth Paltrow recommends it, so you know it’s good, just like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
I really enjoyed my lunch of green soup, salmon with risotto, and a glass of white wine. I had this combination of green soup, fish, and white wine several times when I was in Paris, and I have now come to believe that it is the perfect warm weather lunch. Why do they have so many more green soups on the menu in Paris than they do in New York City? The world may never know.
Who is the Travelerette? I am a native New Yorker who doesn't know how to drive or ride a bicycle. I speak French very well and Japanese very badly. In five years I have traveled in six continents, 26 countries, and 86 cities. My next travel goal is to visit all 50 states (and DC) in five years.
I am here to provide perfect travel itineraries with 24 hours, 3 fun facts, and 1,000,000 laughs! I hope that I can motivate you to get out there, see the world, learn something, and have a sense of humor about it all.