Skip the Mona Lisa and See these Paintings Instead at the Louvre

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Skip the Mona Lisa and See these Paintings Instead at the Louvre
The Musée du Louvre– the former palace to the Kings of France and now the largest museum in the world– is filled with more than 38,000 pieces of art. A visit to the Louvre can be daunting and overwhelming. With the crowds, including the large tour groups, that move like a swarm of insects, it’s easy to become frustrated and want to leave. Many people arrive with a list of things to see, like the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory, and often times they leave after seeing these few things. The Musée du Louvre, is my favorite place to spend hours and days inside its historic walls and under its ceilings that tell the story of its past and that of France. It is much more than a museum, as the residence of the Kings and Emperors that each left their mark on it, the museum reads like an encyclopedia once you know the initials and the allegories each ruler held a fondness for. Recently there have been reports about overcrowding at the Mona Lisa, and the museum has taken measures to slow the tide of visitors. (If you have a Museum Pass, you’ll still need to make a (free) online booking with a designated date and time to enter the museum). In light of this, I want to share what makes the Louvre so amazing far past Madame Mona Lisa. This list takes you past the paintings that you think you “should” see, and the ones that really have their own tale to tell. Let’s start with two of my favorite paintings. Both paintings depict events in the history of France, and include the Patron Saint of Paris and headaches, Saint Denis. Henri Bellechose’s The Saint Denis Altarpiece was painted between 1415 and 1416 for Jean sans Peur, the Duke of Burgundy. It was destined for the Carthusian monastery at Chartreuse de Champmol in Dijon, the church dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and gifted by the powerful dukes of Burgundy. The center of the paintings holds the Holy Trinity with Christ on the cross, while God the Father looks over him and the holy spirt. The painting depicts two episodes in the life of Saint Denis. Saint Denis made waves as he and his fellow priests were rapidly converting people to Christianity. He was imprisoned and sentenced to death, along with Saint Rusticus and Saint Eleutherius, circa 250 ad. On the left, the patron saint of Paris is jailed and given his last communion by Christ and two angels. On the right side of the painting, Saint Denis appears with his head on the block as the brutal executioner is swinging an axe. The three would be beheaded and martyred and venerated as saints. However, the story of Saint Denis continues. The tale goes that he picked up his head and walked from the hill, Mons Martyrum, the mountain of martyrs– now known as Montmartre– and walked several miles, carrying his severed head before he stopped at what is now the Basilica of Saint Denis, north of Paris. You can see this painting in the Richelieu wing, 2nd floor, salle 834. Close nearby is the other painting that includes Saint Denis, The Crucifixion of the Parliament of Paris. Painted in 1450 and intended for the walls of the main court of France, it was to serve as a reminder of the moral responsibility the court was to take with its verdicts. However, this painting holds many stories in its flamboyant Gothic frame. In the center we see Christ on the cross and God the Father looking down on him– like in the Saint Denis painting. Below on his left is the Virgin Mary being comforted by Mary Magdalene and, on his right, Saint John the Evangelist. On the left of the painting we see Saint Louis, the only French king that would become a saint, known for bringing to Paris the Crown of Thorns that Christ is wearing in this painting. Saint Denis is wearing a blue robe covered with the fleur-de-lis, the symbol of the monarchy. To his left, Saint John the Baptist holds the Lamb of God. Just behind these two men is the original building of the Palais du Louvre. On the right side we see Saint Denis, holding his head in his fine Bishop robe, standing in front of the hill of his beheading, Montmartre. The fine looking chap on his left is Charlemagne, holding the sword of France and a crystal orb, standing in front of the palace of the Ile de la Cité. These are some of the most important figures in the long tale of Paris and France, presented in a manner that is stunning to behold. Located in the Richelieu wing, 2nd floor, salle 820. Another man that did so much for the Louvre, bringing the love of art to France, hides in a small-darkened room overlooking the Cour Puget. The portrait of François I by Jean Clouet, painted in 1530, shows the king in a rather regal pose– a different style than the portraits of that time. Looking at the viewer, the King in his lavish attire wears the Order of Saint Michael around his neck but without a crown or any other royal markings. His billowy garment, Italian in its style, seems to dominate and his head appears much smaller. His hands are prominent and are resting on the king’s sword, ready to fight even in his fancy garb. Clouet, the court painter for the king, would complete portraits of the other members of the royal family. Only one other portrait is in the Louvre collection and that is…

Lead photo credit : The Louvre. Photo: Denis McLaughlin/ Flickr

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Claudine Hemingway had a deep love of Paris instilled in her at an early age from her beloved grandparents. Following in their footsteps, she is happiest strolling the historic cobblestones soaking in the architecture, art and history. Highly sought after to plan your Parisian adventure that ventures off the beaten path and digs deeper into the historic and secret Paris. Contact her at [email protected] to plan your trip. You can follow her adventure and daily Paris history lesson on Instagram @claudinebleublonderouge


  • Claudine Hemingway
    2019-08-30 18:40:37
    Claudine Hemingway
    Thank you so much Ellen! I popped in on one of the free Saturday nights and oh boy was it busy. I am sure in the high season it is pretty bad. They do close off a lot of the museum. The entire Sully wing was closed as was much of Richelieu, but that may be changed now since Mona Lisa moved there until October


  • Ellen A.
    2019-08-30 02:10:57
    Ellen A.
    Excellent content as always from Ms. Hemingway. We did not know the Louvre had a Vermeer! Have to get back soon. I wonder how crowded those first Saturday of the month free entry nights are?