A Walk through Musée du Louvre
by Marla Norman, TCO Publisher
Getting the most out of a visit to the Musée du Louvre — Paris’ perennial hot spot — is no easy task. The crowds can be terrifying and since the museum houses the largest collection of art in the world (literally), it’s difficult to know where to start.
Fortunately, Walks of France (associated with Walks of Italy and Walks of New York) has solved all these issues beautifully. They’ve created a tour that highlights the major works of art at the Louvre and manages to avoid the crowds with perfectly timed arrivals within the various galleries. Not a minute of the 3+ hour tour is wasted! (See previous TCO tours with Walks of Italy in Venice and Florence.)
We begin in the basement of the Louvre to see the oldest remains of the castle, including the Medieval moat — dry now, of course! Our guide Violette Andre explains that the Louvre was originally a fortress built in the 12th century and home to all the French kings until Louis XIV moved to Versailles in 1682.
Violette is not only knowledgeable and well-informed, but has a lively sense of humor — a tremendous asset as we work our way through the huge, sprawling museum.
Moving up to the Galerie des Caryatides, we view Diana of Versailles; the lovely huntress was originally installed in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles because Louis XIV was so fond of her.
Nearby is Venus de Milo; no photo can begin to do justice to this magnificent sculpture. Here too is the hauntingly beautiful Cupid & Psyche by Antonio Canova. Cupid is lovingly portrayed reviving a lifeless Psyche.
As you’d expect, Napoleon can be found at the Louvre. The colossal Coronation of Napoleon is almost life-size and feels as grand today as it must have when Jacques-Louis David first unveiled his masterpiece. His unfinished portrait of Napoleon is also on view.
Liberty Leading the People is possibly one of the most celebrated historical creations in France. The painting by Eugène Delacroix commemorates the July Revolution in 1830, which toppled Charles X.
Michelangelo’s controversial Rebellious Slaves were commissioned for the tomb of Pope Julius II in 1505. Violette explains the various theories about the sculptures: “Are the pieces unfinished because there was a problem with the grain of the marble? Or was the non-finito style Michelangelo’s artistic statement? Are the “slaves” struggling to free themselves from earthly bonds?” This is one of the many art-philosophy conversations you’ll have during your tour at the Louvre.
There are so many spectacular works of art at the Louvre that it’s impossible to rank them. But one of the most striking is certainly the Winged Victory or Nike of Samothrace — one of the great surviving masterpieces of sculpture from the Greco-Roman era.
Aside from the Mona Lisa or La Gioconda, there are nine additional Da Vinci paintings on exhibit at the Louvre. We visit those in preparation for the Grand Finale. Violette tells us that La Belle Ferronnière is the portrait of an unidentified woman — just like the Mona Lisa. La Belle is not smiling, however.
Saint John the Baptist is most definitely smiling in his Da Vinci portrait. Not only that, but as you study the painting, you can see an uncanny resemblance between the saint’s smile and the mysterious Mona Lisa. Could the same model possibly have sat for both portraits?
More art mysteries to contemplate as we finally have our moment with the grand lady herself — subject of THE most heralded, most written about, most visited and most expensive painting in the world. The Louvre doesn’t reveal insurance arrangements any longer, but several decades ago, the painting was valued at $100,000,000.
It’s astonishingly quiet in the museum now. Earlier in the day, hundreds of people were jammed into the room. Thanks to Walks of France, we have this moment all to ourselves. Immediately, we’re struck by how tiny she is. Da Vinci supposedly kept the painting with him from 1503 until his death in 1519. It’s easy to imagine that he could have comfortably traveled with the small canvas.
Her smile is enigmatic, inscrutable, mesmerizing — all and everything you’ve ever read or imagined about this most famous of paintings. We gaze at her until Violette gently motions for us to leave. We smile back one last time, thrilled to have finally met!
MORE “WALKS” IN FRANCE
After our tour of the Musée du Louvre, I had a chance to chat with Cécile Hercenberg, Project & Ground Operations Manager for Walks of France.
How did you become involved with the WALKS group?
I used to have my own online travel agency in France and I decided to put my project on hold to get involved with this new adventure. I had missed working with colleagues and I love being a part of the Walks team!
What do you personally love the most about Paris?
I was born in Paris and have spent most of my life in the city. I I like to walk along the Seine river banks, have a picnic in the city gardens (especially Buttes Chaumont park), enjoy the great diversity of art and social events that Paris offers. I love getting lost in the narrow streets and talking with people I meet at random.
In addition to the Louvre, you currently have tours of the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle and the catacombs — along with a Seine river cruise and macaron tasting! Are there plans for additional tours in Paris? Or other locales within France?
We are going to open numerous new tours next season. I’m already working on the itineraries for The Musée d’Orsay, The Palais Garnier Opera House and a food tour. Then we are planning to create full-day tours outside of Paris: Versailles, of course, but also Normandy with Le Mont-Saint-Michel, Champagne, Giverny, and possibly Bordeaux. Nothing is completely decided yet, but I have to say that tour design is definitively my favorite part of the job!