Must-see Paintings at The Louvre

If you are limited for time but still want to take in some memorable masterpieces at the Louvre it might be advisable to focus on a few of the must-see paintings. Our list includes Italian and French paintings that are found in the Denon wing of the museum. All of them are part of our semi-private tour of Le Louvre Museum.

The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (1503-1505)
The Mona Lisa still draws a big crowd and it’s not surprising, considering she’s one of the most famous paintings in the Louvre. What is it about her that evokes such interest? Trying to forget her celebrity and the attendant aura is difficult, but if we can put down our camera and really look at her we might learn the reasons why see attracts such admiration. Most will agree that her smile is what is most enigmatic. It’s possibly one of the most difficult things for an artist to capture, but Leonardo has managed to do this with apparent effortlessness. The eyes are looking directly out at the viewer as though she is making eye contact. This again is something new in western art. We are drawn to the personage of the Mona Lisa due to her open posture and her smile - hugely innovative for its time – used as a technique for drawing the viewer in. Leonardo thus breaks down the division between subject and viewer, introducing a realism that stands as a decisive advancement in western pictorial representation.

Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix (1830)
Delacroix’s large format masterpiece is the jewel in the crown of the French painting section. Inspired by the revolution of 1830, which led to the fall of King Charles X, it is the allegory of democracy par excellence. Often used by the state to represent its republican values and by those who oppose the excesses of its elites. It has become an enduring representation of France’s battle, through armed struggle and revolution, to become a modern democratic state - created by the people for the people.

The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David (1807)
The French neo-classical painter Jacques-Louis David was commission to paint this enormous canvas stretching 20ft x 32ft. It depicts the moment when Napoleon crowns his wife Josephine in Notre-Dame cathedral. Moments before he had taken the crown from the hands of the Pope, who had come especially for the occasion, and somewhat audaciously, had crowned himself Emperor. In the painting the Pope looks on benignly, blessing the coronation, while in the back-round Napoleon’s mother looks on. In reality Napoleon’s mother did not attend the coronation due to her dislike of Josephine. In the gallery above David had painted himself sketching the scene, as one would imagine he had done on the day.

The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault (1818-1819)
The Raft of the Medusa is probably one of the most iconic of all Romantic paintings. Based on contemporary accounts of the wreck of a French frigate off the coast of Senegal in 1816, the young painter Théodore Géricault captured the ensuing drama and horror experienced by the survivors, set adrift on a raft they hastily cobbled together. The painting is seen as an allegory of the state because their incompetent captain, who caused the wreck, escaped with his life on one of the few lifeboats. The event shocked France at the time, particularly when the few survivors recounted tales of brutality and cannibalism during their 15-day ordeal.

The Wedding Feast at Cana by Veronese (1553)
Veronese combines a biblical scene with a Venetian banquet in this monumental work, which sits in the same room as the Mona Lisa. One could spend hours admiring the splendour of antiquity, or the myriad scenes that this particular painting fames. In one corner a woman picks her teeth while a man is about to fall asleep after having indulged in too much wine. In the centre sits Jesus, the epitome of peaceful tranquillity, looking straight ahead, unaffected by the worldly excesses going on around him.

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