The Louvre’s collection of sculpture is as extraordinary as the museum is large. Entire volumes have been dedicated to their individual histories, provenances, and the artists who have made them. To cut a long story short we’ve sifted though the miles and miles of galleries to present you with our selection of the most famous sculptures at the Louvre.
The Venus of Milo - 100 BC
The Venus of Milo is the jewel in the crown of the Louvre’s antiquities section. It has been at the Louvre ever since it was discovered in 1820 on the Greek island of Melos. She is assumed to represent the Greek goddess Aphrodite because of her half-naked body and sensual curves but this attribution is contested. What experts can agree on is that she dates from about 100 BC. Remarkably she is composed of two blocks of marble, which are held together by pegs. This was not an unusual practice in ancient Greek sculpture. What makes her one of the most recognizable sculptures in the world is what she hasn’t got, namely the absence of her missing arms. It is difficult to tell what she might have been holding in those hands, or indeed what pose she was striking. This is probably one of the most divisive subjects among experts and what, perhaps, assures her enigmatic qualities.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace - 3rd- 1st centuries BC
Even in it’s ruined state, the pure theatricality of the Winged Victory of Samothrace is an impressive sight, placed as she is on top of the main staircase of the Denon wing of the Louvre. She lords it over visitors, as she must have done more than two thousand years ago, when she overlooked the sanctuary of the Great Gods on the island of Samothrace. She is perched upon a stone boat and the battered flowing drapes of her long robe continue to catch the wind, blowing eternally between her legs and giving the impression she is in movement, ready to fly off without a moment’s notice. The drama of her stone wings, stretched out and flexed into shape, seem to convey this idea most convincingly, catching as they do the imaginary wind.
The Dying Slave (1513-1515) and the Rebellious Slave (1513-1516) by Michelangelo Buonarroti
Michelangelo, undoubtedly one of the great geniuses of western art, divided his time between painting the Sistine Chapel, overseeing the completion of Saint Peter’s Basilica, and the creation of the papal tomb for Pope Julius II. He never completed the monumental original design, which was scaled down due to costs. These two incredible examples of slaves never found it into the final cut of sculptures, which now decorate the tomb. Hewn from marble by Michelangelo’s very hands, they stand in the Louvre’s great hall of Italian renaissance sculpture in the Denon wing of the museum.
The first of the two, which is known as the dying slave, is a sculpture of undeniable beauty. It depicts a young man, either asleep or dying. His whole body seems to be writhing from pleasure or perhaps he is in the last throes of death. The effect is to create an unsettling ambivalence for the viewer. The second, known as the rebellious slave, looks unfinished, as though Michelangelo had just put down his tools and was about to come back at any minute. The rebellious slave struggles from the marble from which he is hewn. It is a remarkable tour-de-force in sculpture, standing as it does as a meditation on the role of the artist as slave to his master, or indeed more significantly, man as slave to his urges and desires.
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