The Louvre is the world's most visited museum. Housed in a former French palace, the Louvre was converted into a public museum as a result of the French Revolution. The museum's holdings consist of hundreds of thousands of paintings, sculptures and other art objects dating from antiquity to the present. The painting division is particularly strong in French and Italian artists from medieval times through the 19th century.
The "Mona Lisa"
Leonardo da Vinci's mysterious portrait of the "Mona Lisa," with her enigmatic smile and unknown identity, is the most famous painting in the Louvre. It sits on the first floor, among the 13th- to 15th-century Italian painting collection. Expect to be part of a large crowd when you view it. You may be surprised to discover how small it is in person; it's also securely positioned behind bulletproof glass to prevent theft and vandalism.
15th- and 16th-Century Works
The 15th century marks the beginning of the Renaissance in Italy, when perspective and realism were incorporated into painting practice for the first time. A famous example of this new approach can be found in Paolo Uccello's "Battle of San Romano." The battle scene is painted on a large wooden panel and remains impressive in its detail as well as its size; it was also significant for its secular content. The museum also houses several masterful portraits by Titian, including "Man with Glove" and "Woman with Mirror," both of which show a rich psychological dynamism. Italian master Caravaggio is represented by "Death of the Virgin," modeling his skill with light and shadow.
The 17th century saw the emergence of the Dutch painters, of whom Rembrandt is the most famous. The Louvre displays several of his landmark self-portraits on a single wall for comparison's sake. Another of the Dutch masters, Vermeer, is represented by "The Lacemaker," in which a young woman bends over her delicate craft. The use of pastel colors against a light gray gives this painting a unique beauty.
Many of the paintings in the Louvre's collection from the 18th century are by French painters. Hyacinthe Rigaud was a French painter whose most famous work is the "Portrait of Louis XIV" in which the Sun King -- clad in his coronation robes -- shows off his stocking legs. It's a large canvas, appropriate for a royal portrait. Another large painting, "The Oath of the Horatii" by Jacques-Louis David, is executed in the neoclassical style that was in vogue at the time. It depicts a Roman legend about three brothers who were willing to sacrifice their lives to end a war with a neighboring city.
"Liberty Leading the People" by French painter Eugene Delacroix is possibly the most famous of the Louvre's 19th-century holdings. It depicts in allegorical form the 1830 revolution that deposed Charles X from his throne and shows a bare-breasted Lady Liberty waving the French national flag. Jean-August-Dominique Ingres, another French painter in the neoclassical tradition, has two famous paintings in residence at the Louvre. "Odalisque" depicts a naked woman, staring down the viewer from over her shoulder; it was once controversial for its secular nudity and anatomical distortions. The other, "Oedipus and the Sphinx," illustrates Oedipus -- also nearly naked and shown in deep conversation with the Sphinx -- as he solves its riddle; the painting is particularly striking due to its formal compositional balance.