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The Pocket Louvre: A Vistor's Guide to 500 Works

The Pocket Louvre: A Vistor's Guide to 500 Works

by Claude Mignot

Encyclopedic in its scope and exhausting in its magnitude, the Louvre has vast collections ranging from the 6th century B.C. to the mid-19th century. Its impressive architecture goes back 800 years, to its origins as a fortress guarding medieval Paris. In its contemporary incarnation, recently reconfigured and rebaptized "The Grand Louvre," it spreads over four


Encyclopedic in its scope and exhausting in its magnitude, the Louvre has vast collections ranging from the 6th century B.C. to the mid-19th century. Its impressive architecture goes back 800 years, to its origins as a fortress guarding medieval Paris. In its contemporary incarnation, recently reconfigured and rebaptized "The Grand Louvre," it spreads over four levels and boasts more than 30,000 works of art; its galleries, shops, and offices occupy some 1.6 million square feet, of which some 645,000 are dedicated to exhibitions.

Such daunting dimensions can make the museum feel like an endless labyrinth to uninitiated visitors. For them, The Pocket Louvre is a unique and essential resource, including:

-A handy user's guide with information about access to the museum and its many services, from cafes to a post office to shops.
-Suggested itineraries for visits of varying lengths and for visitors with differing interests.
-A history of the Louvre and its architecture.
-A history of the collections.
-An illustrated catalog of 500 masterpieces, all in color, with useful brief commentaries.

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Abbeville Publishing Group
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4.75(w) x 6.38(h) x (d)

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An Array of Tours

The Louvre is its own world, and there are many different ways to experience it. The most serious approach is that adopted by methodical visitors, who systematically absorb the full range of the Louvre's holdings. The most original approach is the one preferred by independent-minded enthusiasts, who drop by for an hour or two just to visit a handful of favorite works, much as one might reread a favorite book. The most relaxed approach is that preferred by dilettantes, who wander haphazardly through the Louvre, taking their pleasures as they find them. The most expeditious (and exhausting) approach is the one preferred by tourists in a hurry, who can devote only half a day to the Louvre but want to see as many famous artworks as possible.

In 1964 the rebellious young heroes of Jean-Luc Godard's film Band of Outsiders visited the Louvre in just three and a half minutes, galloping through the Grande Galerie in record time (fig. 2). It would be hard to top their speed. Even if you spent only a few seconds looking at each of the museum's roughly 30,000 works on view, over forty hours would be required—an entire work week.

Those settling in for an extended stay in Paris, and those who come to the city regularly, might want to visit the Louvre one department at a time, perhaps allotting one-half day for each—or more, depending on personal interests and inclinations. Detailed itineraries for such visits, lasting about two hours each, can be found at the head of each of the departmental chapters, which begin on page 73. For those with less time, we propose the following tours.

Introductory Tour A (three hours)

From the Hall of the Pyramid, enter the Sully wing and proceed to the Medieval Louvre exhibit, where you can see the excavated stone walls of its moat and round keep. After visiting the medieval artifacts in the Salle Saint-Louis, walk up the Henri II stair to the ground floor. This will take you to what was the ballroom in King Henri II's "new Louvre"; it is also known as the Salle des Cariatides (Hall of the Caryatids; room 17), named after the beautiful female figures by the French sculptor Jean Goujon that support the platform where musicians once played (fig. 7).

You may want to spend some time with the Roman statues now on view in this room (Diana the Huntress, plate 103; Hanging Marsyas, plate 105) before passing through the area formerly occupied by the royal "tribunal," or podium, at the end of the ballroom. From there you will see, on the left, the rooms containing Greco-Roman sculpture (rooms 7–16), handsomely decorated in red marble that sets off the white marble sculpture (room 12: Venus de Milo, plate 100).

If you want to save some extra time for French and northern European painting later in the tour, turn right from the Salle des Cariatides, toward the Denon wing, and go straight down the corridor to the Victory of Samothrace stair; if you go up and then turn right at the landing where The Winged Victory(plate 138) is displayed, the stair will take you directly up to the Italian painting galleries on the first floor.

Otherwise, behind the Venus de Milo and adjacent to room 13 you will find a stairway leading down to the Crypt of the Sphinx (room 1), which introduces the rooms containing Egyptian antiquities (reached by walking up one flight). You can shorten this part of the tour by walking through to room 11 and then up the south stair of the Colonnade wing (which is sometimes closed off), in which case you will skip most of the ground-floor thematic installation of Egyptian antiquities and concentrate instead on the chronological one on the floor above. (If you want a full tour of the Egyptian collection, consult pages 73–115.) If you prefer, you can stay on the ground floor and take in all of the thematic display—including the Temple Room (room 12)—which concludes at the north stair of the Colonnade wing.

In addition to offering a fine view of the Cour Carree from room 23, the first-floor Egyptian galleries contain the royal bedchambers of Henri II and Louis XIV (rooms 25 and 26), which boast superb wood paneling. From the south stair of the Colonnade wing (which offers a good view of the Pont Neuf), enter the Musee Charles X (starting with room 27), which occupies the first floor of the south side of the Cour Carree. Below its beautiful painted ceilings celebrating the discovery of Egyptian art, Herculaneum and Pompeii, and Italian Renaissance art, you will find the final galleries of the Egyptian department (rooms 27–30) as well as a collection of Roman ceramics (rooms 38–35). If you chose to shorten the Egyptian antiquities part of your tour by skipping the thematic installation, you may want to use some of the time you saved to examine the splendid collection of Greek vases in the series of galleries overlooking the Seine, known collectively as the Galerie Campana (rooms 44–47).

Proceeding straight ahead to the Salle des Sept-Cheminees (Hall of Seven Chimneys; room 74) and the Apollo Rotunda (and passing by the entrance to the Apollo Gallery, room 66, which holds royal jewelry, silverware, and crowns), you will arrive at the Victory of Samothrace stair.

Turn left, toward the Victory, and pass through the Percier and Fontaine rooms (rooms 1 and 2) to the Salon Carre (room 3) and the adjacent Grande Galerie (rooms 5, 8, and 12; fig. 3). You are now in the heart of the original Musee du Louvre, where Italian paintings are on view. A third of the way down the Grande Galerie is a door to the right that leads to the Salle des Etats (Hall of State; room 6), which contains masterpieces by Raphael, Titian, and Veronese as well as the Mona Lisa (plate 314) by Leonardo da Vinci. (A departmental tour of the Italian paintings is offered on pages 331–87.)

You can return to the Grande Galerie and walk all the way to the Spanish paintings at the very end, where you will find an exit (Portes des Lions) that puts you near the Tuileries gardens. Or, you can continue only as far as the paintings by Caravaggio, near which you will find a door leading to rooms 9–11, which contain Italian "cartoons" (full-scale working drawings) and, beyond, to the Mollien stair and the large galleries of nineteenth-century French paintings (rooms 77 and 75). You can take a look at these now (or come back later), before taking the Mollien stair down to the ground floor. There you will arrive in the Italian sculpture hall, which contains works by Michelangelo (Slaves, plate 412) and Antonion Canova (Cupid and Psyche, plate 415). After reaching the Denon vestibule, you can either go straight ahead and pay a quick visit to the large Galeria Daru (room B) beyond, which contains beautiful Roman sculpture from the Borgese collection, or you can turn right and proceed directly to the Hall of the Pyramid via the escalators in the Salle du Manege (former site of the imperial riding school).

This brief introductory tour does not give you time to see the French sculpture collection, the Oriental antiquities, the objets d'art galleries, or most of the French paintings (unless, of course, you opted to skip the Egyptian galleries, in which case you may have time for them now). If you regret having missed them, take the Classic Tour C or the departmental tours.

Meet the Author

Claude Mignot is a professor of art history at the University of Tours, specializing in the history of Parisian art and architecture from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century.

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