Announced by the pink granite Giant Sphinx (1898-1866 BC), the Egyptian department divides into two routes. The Thematic Circuit on the ground floor presents Nile culture (fishing, agriculture, hunting, daily and cultural life, religion and death). One of the big draws is the Mastaba of Akhethetep, a decorated burial chamber from Sakkara dating back to 2400 BC. Six small sphinxes, apes from Luxor and the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet recreate elements of temple complexes, while stone sarcophagi, mummies, amulets, jewellery and entrails form a vivid display on funeral rites. A display of Egyptian furniture (room 8, ground floor) dating from 1550 to 1069 BC contains pieces that look almost contemporary in design.
On the first floor the Pharoah Circuit is laid out chronologically, from the Seated Scribe and other stone figures of the Ancient Empire, via the painted figures of the Middle Empire, to the New Empire, with its animal-headed statues of gods and goddesses, hieroglyphic tablets and papyrus scrolls. Look for the statue of the god Amun protecting Tutankhamun, and the black diorite ‘cube statues’ of priests and attendants. The collection, one of the largest hoards of Egyptian antiquities in the world, has its origins in Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign of 1798 and 1799, and the work of Egyptologist Jean-François Champollion, who deciphered hieroglyphics in 1824. The Coptic gallery, on the lower ground floor, houses textiles and manuscripts.
Here you can explore the medieval foundations of the Louvre, dating back to Philippe-Auguste’s reign. Uncovered in 1985 during excavations for the Grand Louvre project, they include the remains of the moat that once surrounded the fort and the pillars of two drawbridges; the La Taillerie tower, with heart symbols cut into the stone by masons; and the outside of the dungeons. A well and a portion of ground have been left undisturbed, showing artefacts just as they were found, and a scale model shows the fortress at the time of Charles V. An exhibition in the Saint-Louis room – a guard room from the era of Philippe- Auguste, discovered in 1882 – recounts the history of the Louvre through rare archaeological finds.
A new approach to ‘arts premiers’ is seen in these eight rooms in the Pavillon des Sessions. The spare, modern design allows each of the 100 key works to stand alone. The pure aesthetics of such objects as a svelte Zulu spoon with the breasts and buttocks of a woman, a sixth- century BC Sokoto terracotta head, and a recycled iron sculpture of the god Gou that anticipates Picasso can be appreciated in their own right. Computer terminals with mahogany benches offer visitors multimedia resources.
The decorative arts collection runs from the Middle Ages to the mid 19th century, and includes entire rooms decorated in the fashion of the day. Many of the finest medieval items came from the treasury of St-Denis, amassed by the powerful Abbot Suger, counsellor to Louis VI and VII, among them Suger’s ‘Eagle’ (a porphyry vase), a serpentine plate surrounded by precious stones, and the sacred sword of the kings of France, dubbed ‘Charlemagne’s Sword’ by the Capetian monarchs.
The Renaissance galleries display the Hunts of Maximilien, a dozen 16th-century tapestries depicting the months, zodiac and hunting scenes. Seventeenth- and 18th-century French decorative arts are shown in superb panelled rooms, and include characteristic brass and tortoiseshell pieces by Boulle. Displays then move on to French porcelain, silverware, watches and scientific instruments. Napoleon III’s opulent apartments, used until the 1980s by the Ministry of Finance, have been preserved, with chandeliers and upholstery intact.
Next to the Denon wing is the Galerie d’Apollon. It was built for Louis XIV and is a showcase of talents from this golden age: architecture by Louis Le Vau, painted ceilings by Charles Le Brun and sculpture by François Girardon, the Marsy brothers and Thomas Regnaudin. Napoleon III then commissioned Delacroix to paint the central medallion, Apollo Vanquishing the Python, and now it houses the crown jewels and Louis XIV vases. Merry-Joseph Blondel’s Chute d’Icare graces the ceiling of an anteroom of the adjacent Rotonde d’Apollon.
There are around 6,000 of the most famous paintings in the world on show here, the most impressive being the huge 18th- to 19th-century canvases hanging in the Daru and Mollien rooms in the Denon wing, serving Classicism and Romanticism respectively. Here, art meets politics with David’s enormous Sacre de Napoléon (pictured), Gros’s propagandising Napoléon Visitant le Champ de Bataille d’Eylau and Delacroix’s flag- flying La Liberté Guidant le Peuple. Géricault’s beautiful but disturbing Le Radeau de la Méduse illustrates the grisly true story of the abandoned men who resorted to cannibalism and murder after a famous shipwreck in 1816, while his generals on flame- eyed horses fuel the myth of the dashing French officer. Biblical and historical scenes rub shoulders with aristocracy and grand depictions of great moments in mythology. Ingres’ Grande Odalisque is also found here, along with a new Ingres acquisition, a portrait of the Duc d’Orléans. In the Richelieu wing you can find the earliest known non-religious French portrait, an anonymous depiction of French king Jean Le Bon (c1350); the Pietà de Villeneuve- les-Avignon, later attributed to Enguerrand Quarton; Jean Clouet’s Portrait of François I (marking the influence of the Italian Renaissance on portraiture); and various works from the Ecole de Fontainebleau, including the anonymous Diana the Huntress, an elegant nude who strangely resembles Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of Henri II. Poussin’s religious and mythological subjects epitomise 17th-century French classicism, and are full of erudite references for an audience of cognoscenti. His works spill over into the Sully wing, where you’ll also find Charles Le Brun’s wonderfully pompous Chancellier Séguier and his four grandiose battle scenes, in which Alexander the Great is a suitable stand-in for Louis XIV. The 18th century begins with Watteau’s Gilles and the Embarkation for Cythera. Works by Chardin include sober still lifes, but also fine figure paintings. If you’re used to the sugary images of Fragonard, don’t miss the Fantaisies, which forgo sentimentality for fluent, broadly painted fantasy portraits, intended to capture moods rather than likenesses. Also in the Sully wing are sublime neo-classical portraits by David, Ingres’ La Baigneuse and Le Bain Turc, portraits and Orientalist scenes by Chassériau, and landscapes by Corot.
French sculpture is displayed in and around the two covered courts created by the Grand Louvre scheme. A tour of the medieval regional schools takes in the Virgins from Alsace, 14th-century figures of Charles V and Jeanne de Bourbon that once adorned the exterior of the Louvre, and the late 15th-century tomb of Philippe Pot, an effigy of a Burgundian knight carried by eight mourners. Fine Renaissance memorials, fountains and portals include Jean Goujon’s friezes from the Fontaine des Innocents.
In the Cour Marly (pictured), pride of place goes to Coustou’s Chevaux de Marly, rearing horses being restrained by their grooms, plus two earlier equestrian pieces by Coysevox. Hewn from single blocks of marble, they were sculpted for the royal château at Marly-le-Roi before being moved to the Tuileries gardens, where copies now stand. In Cour Puget are the four bronze captives by Martin Desjardins, Clodion’s rococo frieze and Pierre Puget’s twisting, Baroque Milo of Croton. Amid the 18th-century heroes and allegorical subjects, look out for Pigalle’s Mercury and Voltaire.
The Louvre’s huge collection of drawings includes works by Raphael, Michelangelo, Dürer, Holbein and Rembrandt. However, owing to their fragility, drawings are not shown as permanent exhibits. Four galleries (French and Northern schools on the 2nd floor; Italian and the latest acquisitions on the 1st) feature changing exhibitions. Other works can be viewed in the Salle de Consultation only upon written application to the management (01.40.20.52.51, cabinet-des- firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Winged Victory of Samothrace (pictured), a headless Greek statue dating from the second century BC, stands sentinel at the top of the grand staircase, giving an idea of its original dramatic impact on a promontory overlooking the Aegean sea. This huge department is made up of pieces amassed by François I and Cardinal Richelieu, plus the Borghese collection (acquired in 1808), and the Campana collection of thousands of painted Greek vases and small terracottas. Endless dark rooms on the first floor harbour small bronze, silver and terracotta objects, but the really exciting stuff is on the ground floor. The grandiose, vaulted marble rooms are a fitting location for masterpieces such as the 2.3m (7 .5ft) Athena Peacemaker and the Venus de Milo (room 12), and overflow with gods and goddesses, swords and monsters. Also on the ground floor are artefacts from the Etruscan civilisation of south-central Italy, spanning the seventh century BC until submission to the Romans in the first century AD. The highlight is the painted terracotta Sarcophagus of the Cenestien Couple (c530-510 BC), which illustrates a smiling couple reclining at a banquet. Key Roman antiquities include a vivid relief of sacrificial animals, intricately carved sarcophagi, mosaic floors and the Boscoreale Treasure: magnificent silverwork excavated at a villa near Pompeii. Pre-classical Greek art on the lower ground floor includes a large Cycladic head and Mycenean triad.
The Louvre’s Islamic decorative arts include early glassware, tenth- to 12th-century dishes decorated with birds and calligraphy, traditional Iranian blue-and-white wares, Iznik ceramics, intricate inlaid metalwork from Syria, tiles, screens, weapons and funerary steles. The highlight is three magnificent 16th-century kelims (above). In 2005, a Saudi prince, Prince Walid bin Talal, gave over €17 million – one of the largest donations in French cultural history – for a new Islamic wing to be built as an extension to the southern wing. The Department of Islamic Arts is currently closed, but is scheduled to reopen in a new gallery in the Cour Visconti in late 2012.
Starting from the Sully end of the Denon wing, three rooms of fragile frescoes by Botticelli, Fra Angelico and Luini, and 13th- to 15th-century Florentine paintings on wood by Cimabue, Giotto, Fra Angelico and Lippi, open the Italian department, before you move into the long, skylit Grande Galerie. To the right, the Salle des Sept Mètres has highlights of the Sienese school, including Simone Martini’s Christ Carrying the Cross and Piero della Francesca’s Portrait of Sigismondo Malatesta. Now that the Mona Lisa (pictured) has moved, there is no need to bowl along the Grande Galerie at speed in your haste to see her, missing the wonders on either side.
Most notably, about a quarter of the way along on the left are Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks, Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint-Jean Baptiste, which form part of the Northern Italian section, along with Bellini’s Calvary and Portrait of a Man and Raphael’s Portrait of Dona Isabel de Requesens. The first turning on the right after the da Vincis leads into the Salle de La Joconde, whose toffee-coloured brushed concrete walls provide a suitably golden setting for Veronese’s lavish Wedding at Cana, his Crucifixion and Sainte Famille and other Venetian masterpieces such as Lotto’s Adulterous Woman and red-robed Christ Carrying the Cross, Tintoretto’s Suzanne Bathing and Bassano’s earthy canvases. Don’t miss the exquisite Titians hidden behind the Mona Lisa on her stand-alone wall.
A trip back down the Passage de Mollien, containing 16th-century cartoons, frames Giorgio Vasari’s Annunciation, revealing how much better it is to stand back and look at these paintings. In between the two in the Grande Galerie are Arcimboldo’s famous Four Seasons, various Bronzinos and Caravaggios, plus works by Albani, Carracci and Reni. A small Spanish section takes in Christ on the Cross Adored by Two Donors by El Greco and his contemporary Jusepe de Ribera’s Club Foot.
Michelangelo’s Dying Slave (pictured) and Captive Slave are the showstoppers here, but other Renaissance treasures include a painted marble relief by Donatello, Adrien de Vriesse’s bronze Mercury and Psyche, Giambologna’s Mercury and the ethereal Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Antonio Canova. Benvenuto Cellini’s Nymph of Fontainebleau relief is on the Mollien staircase.
Napoleon III’s former stables were reopened in 2004 to house princely collections of statuary acquired by Richelieu and the Borghese and Albani families in the 17th and 18th centuries. The statues, either copies of classical works or restored originals, demonstrate the relationship between antique and modern sculpture. The height of the room also allows oversized works such as Jupiter and Albani Alexander to be displayed. Northern sculpture, on the lower ground floor, ranges from Erhart’s Gothic Mary Magdalene to the neo-classical work of Thorvaldsen; pre-Renaissance Italian pieces include Donatello’s clay relief Virgin and Child.
Northern Renaissance works include Flemish altarpieces by Memling and van der Weyden, Bosch’s fantastical, proto-surrealist Ship of Fools, Metsys’ The Moneylender and his Wife (pictured), and the northern mannerism of Cornelius van Haarlem. The Galerie Médicis houses Rubens’ Médicis cycle; Marie de Médicis, the widow of Henri IV, commissioned the 24 canvases for the Palais de Luxembourg in the 1620s. They blend historic events and classical mythology for the glorification of the queen, never afraid to put her best features on public display. Look out for Rubens’ more personal portrait of his second wife, Hélène Fourment and her Children, plus van Dyck’s Charles I and his Groom and David Teniers the Younger’s townscapes.
Dutch paintings in this wing include early and late self-portraits by Rembrandt, his Flayed Ox and the glowing nude Bathsheba at her Bath. There are Vermeer’s Astronomer and Lacemaker amid interiors by De Hooch and Metsu, and the meticulously finished portraits and framing devices of Dou, plus works from the Haarlem school. German paintings in side galleries include portraits by Cranach, Dürer’s Self- Portrait and Holbein’s Anne of Cleves.
The rooms of Northern European and Scandinavian paintings include Caspar David Friedrich’s Trees with Crows, the sober, classical portraits of Christian Købke, and pared-back views by Peder Balke. A fairly modest but high-quality British collection located on the first floor of the Sully includes landscapes by Wright of Derby, Constable and Turner, and portraits by Gainsborough, Reynolds and Lawrence.
This section deals with Mesopotamia, Persia and the Levant from the fifth millennium BC to the first century AD. The huge Mesopotamian rooms contain glistening diorite sculptures from the Akkad dynasty and Gudea from the third millennium BC; in some cases, only the feet have survived intact. Make sure you don’t miss the serene alabaster sculpture of Ebih-II (pictured), the superintendant of Mari (room 1b), and the earliest evidence of writing, in the form of fourth- century BC Sumerian tablets (room 1a). The Hammurabi Code, an essential document of Babylonian civilisation, is a black basalt stele recording 282 laws beneath reliefs of the king and the sun god; it’s one of the oldest collections of laws in the history of mankind (room 3). Next come two breathtaking palace reconstructions: the great court, c713 BC, from the palace of Sargon II at Khorsabad (in present-day Iraq), with its giant bearded and winged bulls and friezes of warriors and servants (room 4); and the palace of Darius I at Susa (now Iran), c510 BC, with its glazed-brick reliefs of archers, lions and griffins (room 12). The double-bull-headed column was one of 36 such gigantic supports at the palace. Entering the Iranian section, you find 5,000-year-old statues from Susa housed in the circular room 8, and a fine view of the Cour Napoleon. The Levantine section includes Cypriot animalistic vases and carved reliefs from Byblos.