Earlier this month, an article in the New York Times made waves in the art world. In it, critic Jason Farago suggested that the current situation at the Louvre with regards to the Mona Lisa was nothing short of a disaster. Over 10 million people visit the Louvre every year, and according to the museum’s research, 80% of them come specifically to see the Mona Lisa. Up to 30,000 people pass by this painting every day, the result of which is long lines, massive crowds, and an ocean of selfie sticks all trying to get the same shot.
Earlier this year, the Mona Lisa topped a British poll of the most disappointing tourist attractions in the world, with the Louvre itself coming in at number nine. In fact, additional research shows that most people who visit the museum leave disappointed, with most of that disappointment stemming from their underwhelming experience viewing the world’s most famous painting. I know I’ve stated before that I prefer the Orsay over the Louvre, but the Louvre is still an incredible museum. To hear that so many people are leaving disappointed is a shame, because there’s so much more to see than the Mona Lisa. So the next time you visit, avoid the hordes of people and check out these alternatives instead.
The Coronation of Empereur Napoléon
It should come as no surprise that one of my favourite paintings in the Louvre is set at Notre Dame. This piece of art depicts the coronation of Napoléon Bonaparte as Emperor of France on December 2nd, 1804 at Notre Dame Cathedral. The artist, Jacques-Louis David, was present at the elaborate ceremony, and he replicated the event in exquisite detail. The painting is one of the largest at the Louvre, and in my opinion, it’s one of the most impressive. Definitely add this one to your list of must sees.
The Raft of the Medusa
This painting by Théodore Géricault is considered to be a masterpiece of the Romanticism Movement. That should be reason enough to add it to your list, but it is so much more than that. It is a stunning recreation of a real life French naval disaster. Géricault conducted extensive research before beginning the painting, including visiting morgues to understand the look of dead bodies and interviewing two of the survivors. For myself, no other painting in the Louvre captures such a wide range of human emotion, from exuberant joy to the depths of despair. Because of this, The Raft of the Medusa is both hauntingly beautiful and unsettling in its tragedy. Do not miss this one.
The Apollo Gallery
If you’ve been to Versailles, you know that French royal galleries are a sight to behold. The Apollo Gallery at the Louvre was actually the first Royal Gallery built for Louis XIV, and it later served as the inspiration for the famous Hall of Mirrors. To walk down this gallery is to be reminded that before the Louvre was a museum, it was the royal residence. When you walk in its halls, you are literally walking in the footsteps of Kings. As an added bonus, the French crown jewels are located in this gallery, so do not skip this one.
Do you want to get as far away from the Mona Lisa crowds as possible? Head to the opposite side of the museum to marvel at the apartments of Napoléon III. These gorgeous rooms represent the classic style of the Second French Empire, and their ornate decor gives Versailles a run for its money. In particular, the grand dining room is simply spectacular. Altogether, these rooms are well worth the long trek across the museum.
The Original Louvre
Before the Louvre was a museum or a royal palace, it was a fortress built to defend the west side of Paris. When the Louvre was renovated in the 1980s, archeologists discovered the remains of this fortress, with some stones dating back to the 12th century. Today, these remains are on display, and serve as a reminder of the centuries of history this building contains. When you visit, be sure to look closely at the stones. You can still see the markings of the stone masons who originally built this architectural masterpiece.
Thousands of Reasons to Visit the Louvre
With over 38,000 pieces on display, there are literally thousands of reasons to visit the Louvre. The Mona Lisa is just one of them! It’s one painting that you’ll have to wait in line to see and fight hordes of people along the way to do so. And did I mention that it’s tiny? No wonder so many people leave the Louvre feeling disappointed. That being said, I know how strong the allure is of checking items off your bucket list, so if you do decide to drop in on the world’s most famous painting, I understand. But if you decide you want to see more, believe me, the above list is just the tip of the iceberg. So ditch the map, ignore the crowds, and blaze your own path. There’s a masterpiece to be found around every corner.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.