Like many others in the early 2000s, I had jumped on the “Da Vinci Code” bandwagon. I remember plopping on my couch and spending countless hours with my nose behind that more than 450-page red book, immersed in Robert Langdon’s quest to uncover the mysteries behind famous paintings within the ever-famous Louvre museum in Paris.
And that was, admittedly, my first exposure to the Louvre.
Entering the museum itself immediately took me back to Langdon’s world, where I envisioned his initial entrance in the museum and his search for the world’s most renowned painting: the Mona Lisa.
The exterior of the museum itself is a sight to behold. You know you’re at the Louvre once you see an elegant, grand building wrapping its wings around a massive glass and metal pyramid.
Based on my experience with Robert Langdon, the interior of the Louvre was a dark, eerie and lonely place full of old paintings and sculptures, so when I entered an extremely bright and well-lit museum, I was taken aback. It was nothing like I had imagined! In addition to the hustle and bustle of the crowds, the natural sunlight that came into the entrance area from the pyramid gave it a nice, uplifting vibe.
Our tour group was split into two separate groups. My mom and I ended up in the group that our tour escort, Agatha, was leading.
On an entirely separate note, I hold a high regard for Agatha. I know she’s an art history major, but how anyone can explain the intricacies and detail of numerous paintings and sculptures in a second language is beyond me!
Following Agatha, we entered another well-lit room with a series of marble sculptures created by artists in the Italian Renaissance age. One of the more recognizable sculptures we passed was the “Dying Slave” by Michelangelo. It was interesting listening to Agatha’s analysis of each sculpture and how, even though this particular piece meant to convey death, the subject’s stance — with his arm behind his head and bent knee — romanticized and beautified the concept of death. I honestly wouldn’t have known this sculpture meant to symbolize death if Agatha didn’t explain the meaning behind it.
The next gallery’s burgundy colored walls with colossal French Neoclassicism paintings transformed the mood from uplifting to somewhat solemn. This particular room stood out to me mostly because of its subject nature. I swear, if it wasn’t for Agatha, my entire perspective of these pieces would’ve been completely different. It’s one thing to look at this paintings at face value, and it’s another to hear the stories behind them and even the symbolism hidden within.
One of the pieces that stuck out to me the most was Theodore Gericault’s “The Raft of the Medusa,” which depicted the dead and survivors in the aftermath of the wreckage of a French frigate that ran aground. This piece exemplified the kind of symbolism that can be drawn — no pun intended — from your own two eyes. Of course, with the help of Agatha’s detailed analysis, the stark contrast between the dead bodies on the bottom of the painting versus the survivors — whose reach toward the sky offering a sense of hope — was very evident.
This brought me back to my college days when I took an introduction to art history course, spending countless hours studying and memorizing flash card after flash card. To be honest, I don’t remember a thing from that course — zilch, nada, nothing! But there’s something so organic and meaningful about seeing artwork in the flesh that makes it so much easier to retain the stories and significance.
Another piece I especially took a liking to was “Liberty Leading the People” by Eugene Delacroix. It shows a woman — personifying the concept and goddess of Liberty — holding the flag of the French Revolution while leading the people over bodies of the fallen. If you’ve ever seen the movie or stage production of “Les Miserables,” you’ll recognize the characters and historical significance of this piece. I admit, since this was the art version of the Victor Hugo classic, I found it one of the more relatable paintings.
Leaving the gallery, Agatha excitedly announced that we were approaching the room that housed the much-anticipated, world-renowned Mona Lisa portrait — also the focal point of the Da Vinci Code, I might add. At last, I could finally tell with my naked eyes if the model, Lisa Gherardini, was actually smiling.
As we turned a corner into the gallery, I was met by a sea of people swarming around the painting. Trying to squeeze my way through the spaces between each person and standing on my tiptoes, I finally got a glimpse of what everyone was oohing and awing over, and it was certainly not what I expected: The Mona Lisa — the painting that everyone talked about, wrote about and even created movies about — was a tiny, 30″ by 20″ painting enclosed in a glass encasing. That’s it.
All that hype over a painting that small?
I later found that commissioned portraits of this time period — the 1500s — were intended to match the real size of the actual person the painting featured.
Once I learned this, the Mona Lisa became even more valuable in my eyes.
It was quite a feat to get a good, steady photo of the Mona Lisa because of the huge crowd that stood idly around the painting. But really people, how hard could it be to take a quick look, snap a few photos and make your way to the side to let other curious visitors do the same?
One suggestion I have for the Louvre is to consider some kind of moving walkway for better crowd control. But I digress.
Anyway, I lifted my camera above all the heads in hopes of getting a somewhat decent shot. Surprisingly, I was successful after one or two tries!
It’s nearly impossible to see the entire Louvre in a couple hours. It could take an entire day to see just a few galleries, especially if you’re an art aficionado. But because we were on a tight schedule, we only got to see the main attractions of the museum, which was actually fine for me as I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a huge art buff or anything.
So after seeing the Mona Lisa, we perused a few other galleries — among those included the massive oil painting “The Wedding at Cana” by Paolo Veronese as well as the graceful and elegant Venus de Milo sculpture by Alexandros of Antioch.
I can honestly say — coming from a non-art buff — that the Louvre was actually one of the highlights of my trip to Paris. I think, art fan or not, every visitor should take at least a couple hours to wander aimlessly through the halls of this wonderful museum. It’ll take you on a journey back in time and will make you appreciate the artistic nature of the world around us — at least it did for me.