You can tell whether anyone posing in front of I.M. Pei’s infamous pyramid entrance to this museum actually intends on visiting based on one thing. Footwear. To try and pack in as much as possible of this museum you need your most comfortable shoes so forget Parisian chic and all that rubbish – just wear trainers for the endurance sport that visiting the Louvre actually is.
I’d planned to get to the Louvre as early as possible knowing there’d be a long queue for the entrance, however by the time my brother had spent an age arranging his hair in the bathroom and we’d dropped our bags off at the train station – the queue was already around two hours long. Whilst the museum is undoubtedly worth a wait this long, the Louvre was enveloped in an icy mist that gave the palatial complex a rather gothic feel and coupled with the sub-zero temperatures, the queue did feel an age.
Once inside however we immeadiately picked up a map and sat down to draw our route incorporating the highlights for my brother and some more obscure galleries for me. We were there for a whole day and only saw a small portion of the galleries despite neccessary military style planning.
For our first stop I took my brother to see the Venus de Milo. Crowds and crowds of people surrounded it and this is my problem with the idea of ‘highlights’ – often people just stare, including my brother and I, just because we’re told an object is important. Although apparently famed for its beauty, since this is definitely subjective, to me this statue seemed often less interesting than those tucked into the surrounding alcoves.
Quickly exhausted by the sheer mass of crowds we headed from classical civilisation to the empty galleries of the Levant and Mesopotamia. From one armless statue to another and this time without the surrounding selfie sticks yet personally this statue from ‘Ain Ghazal in Jordan is far more interesting. Yes, it may look like a crude figurine but this figure from the 8th century BC is one of the earliest examples of ritual figurative art. Whilst seemingly crude they originally wore elaborate costumes and wigs and had a complicated internal structure to support the weight of the dried plaster. I could go on… maybe because I once managed to write 2,500 words on them for a university essay.
Continuing through these galleries you encounter more amazing exhibits – the Palace Gates of Sargon II rivalling displays in Berlin’s Pergamon; Hamurrabi’s law code (the oldest deciphered law code in the world) and bizarre votive figurines, all completely free from crowds.
We then travelled forward a few thousand years in time, although only having traversed a few galleries to early French sculpture. Napoleon sitting up in bed crowned with laurels and crushing an eagle to a Neapolitan fisherboy strangling turtles. No subject is seeming too great or small. My personal favourite is the tomb of Philippe Pot, a Burgundian nobleman, notable for the ghostly life-like mourners, faces all completely shrouded. Although it’s closely followed by St George and a dragon nibbling his lance like a breadstick!
We then meandered through the Medieval and Renaissance French galleries (similar in layout to the V&A’s British galleries) past Saint Louis’s chess set and various gilded reliquaries before arriving at the gilded rooms of Napoleon III. Just in the adjacent room is the blue velvet and ostrich feather laden bed of Charles X, brother-in-law of Marie Antoinette. It seems ironic that now the furniture of both these two rival dynasties is displayed in such close proximity!
Retreating backwards in time however we arrived at the galleries containing smaller Classical and Egyptian antiquities. Here the setting of the rooms themselves was almost as interesting as the displays whether it be Cy Twombly’s ceiling in the Greek Room or the 19th century depiction of the Egyptian warrior lioness goddess Sekhmet surrounded by pastel ribbons! Here the Seated Scribe sculpture is what really remains in my mind several months later – the realism and colour of a statue now nearly 5,000 years old is amazing.
Leaving Egypt via the Winged Victory of Samothrace (which in my opinion makes the Venus de Milo look shoddy) we finally found somewhere to have lunch (by now it was about 3 in the afternoon). The best we could find was an overpriced café lacking seats so you had to eat your food squatting near some stairs. The one very negative aspect of the Louvre.
Our final time was spent in the few painting galleries that were left open (French and Italian). We had to make an obligatory visit to the Mona Lisa since my brother had never seen it before by I think the sheer anarchy of the selfie taking masses around the painting is of more interest than the painting itself. Also there are some far more interesting Titian’s one the other side of the Mona Lisa’s wall. In general the galleries we visited didn’t feel that enthralling despite and perhaps due to the renown of most of the paintings, especially the grand epics showing David’s Coronation of Napoleon or Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People; particularly when paired with the heavy crowds. However there were some personal gems including a yoda-like St Anthony Abbot and a Renaissance portrait by Ghirlandaio that shows a timeless image of grandparent and child, unlike many other contemporary high-status portraits.
Our very final gallery is utterly off any tourist trail – the Islamic galleries. Only opened in 2012 within a courtyard with a woven wavy carpet-style roof it is a breath of fresh air in comparison with the major Islamic galleries in London and Oxford which often focus on Islamic art via ceramic groups. It was hard to single out any artefact due to the high level of craftsmanship ranging from copper candlestick decorated with ducks and animal-shaped incense burners. Despite the gallery’s recent opening however, all the labels were solely in French – perhaps due to the gallery seen as of niche interest which is disappointing for such an internationally visited institution.
At last however tearing ourselves away from the myriad of galleries, crippled and in dire need to a more substantial meal, we both hobbled off into the sunset ready to catch our train home.