Visiting the Louvre museum is a must for anybody traveling to Paris, it is the biggest museum in the world, and the most visited as well. Although the most famous piece among the Louvre artworks is our one and only Mona Lisa, the museum houses amazing pieces, among them paintings and sculptures, with a heavy historical value that you definitely must see in the Louvre.
If you have time, do visit it room by room, as there are amazing artworks that are not mentioned in this list of top things to see at the Louvre that can end up being more interesting for you than the Louvre masterpieces listed here.
But if you have just a few hours to visit it, don’t worry, I just broke down a list of Louvre highlights for you, covering what to see in the Louvre for first-timers, including the Louvre museum’s most famous paintings and statues.
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Louvre Museum Masterpieces: 20 Must-See Louvre Artworks
Visiting the Louvre Museum
The Louvre Museum is the biggest museum in the world. It houses more than 380,000 objects and displays 35,000 works of art. Now imagine visiting the Louvre museum completely, you would probably need two or three days to see it all.
You will definitely not be able to visit it fully if you have just a few days in Paris, and I do not recommend doing so as you will do it in a rush and you will not be able to appreciate the highlights of the Louvre.
But if you don’t have much time or patience to visit museums, you better check out this list of must-see artworks in the Louvre, to make sure you won’t forget any of them and will be able to plan your days to make the most of your time there.
🎫Top Tip: Although the Louvre Museum is definitely the most famous and visited museum in Paris, the city has over 130 museums, so even though I super recommend a visit to the Louvre Museum, it is interesting for you to check the other options as well before planning your visit, especially if you have only a few days in the capital. Different museums offer different styles of art, it is up to you to choose the ones that interest you the most. Plus, with the time you spend inside the Louvre, you can easily visit more than one museum. Check the list of the best museums to visit in Paris.
Louvre Museum History
The building that now houses the Louvre Museum was originally built as a fortress in the late 12th century under Philip II. In the 16th century, it was reconstructed to serve as a royal palace. The royal family used to live there until 1682 when Louis XIV decided to move to the Palace of Versailles.
During the time it was used as a royal palace, the Louvre Palace was extended much time before assuming the form we have today. It covers a total area of 652,300 square feet.
When Louis XIV finally moved the royal residence to the Palace of Versailles in 1682, Louvre became the house of many art academies.
When Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were imprisoned during the French Revolution, they were moved to the Tuileries Palace, a palace adjacent to the Louvre.
The building was turned into a museum in 1793 and is now divided into eight curatorial departments. There are five floors to visit, so be prepared!
Must-see artworks in the Louvre
Again, this is a huge museum, and if I were to recommend countless pieces to see, I would definitely write a very long post that you would be bored with reading. There are many famous paintings and sculptures, but seeing them all at once may sound tiring and boring, I will not lie.
But for those that don’t have that much time to visit everything, or that don’t want to get museum bored, I made this shortlist of Louvre masterpieces.
There are many famous paintings and sculptures, but seeing them all at once may sound tiring and boring, I will not lie.
Feel free to add or remove, or personalize your list, and if you feel like giving us some tips, do share your favorite Louvre artworks in the comments!
Law Code of Hammurabi
A Babylonian law code carved in stone dates back to 1754 BC. The Law Code of Hammurabi is the longest Babylonian text to have survived and one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in the world.
But what is the Hamurabi Code? It is a set of laws, consisting of a total of 282 laws, and includes punishment for each of the crimes. The laws are presented in the code each as a precept, or “story”, which serves as an example for similar situations that happen. It is believed to have been written by the sixth Babylonian king, named Hammurabi, who reigned for 42 years.
For those curious, here is an example of a law registered in the Hammurabi Code:
If any one break a hole into a house (break in to steal), he shall be put to death before that hole and be buried.
The laws written in the code are based on the Law of Talion, that is, the punishments applied to the criminal led to be similar to the crime he committed, that is “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”.
The interesting thing is that, although it was written many centuries ago, several of the laws in the Hamurabi Code are still in use today, such as fines for monetary violations, and binding laws on how private and taxed property or divided.
Location: Ground floor, room 3, Richelieu wing.
Winged Human-Headed Bulls
Ok, not so mainstream, but this is one of my favorite pieces in the museum. These huge bulls represent Lamassus an Assyrian god, and they are represented by the winged tour body and the head of a man, many believe that he represented the strength of the bull, the freedom of the eagle, and the intelligence of man.
Each of the bulls presented here at the Louvre Museum was sculpted from monolithic stone, measuring 4 m high x 4 m wide x 4 m thick, its size really impresses and imposes certain respect. It is no wonder that they used to protect the entrance to temples and palaces in ancient Assyria, around 3000 BC.
This pair of Winged Bulls specifically guarded the gates of the Mesopotamian capital of Sargon II (today Khorsabad, Iraq).
An interesting detail of these pieces is that if you notice, each bull actually has five legs instead of four, which gives different impressions, depending on how you look at the statue. For those who look at them from the front, it seems that they are at rest, but if they look in profile, it seems that they are walking slowly.
Location: Ground floor, room 4, Richelieu wing.
Salle Philippe Pot Tomb
Maybe you can consider this as one of the most bizarre works too, or obscure from the Louvre Museum, but it sure is quite impressive. For each side and each figure that you look at in this work, you will discover new and unique details, so it is certainly a work that deserves attention.
The tomb belongs to Philippe Pot, a French diplomat, and politician who lived between 1428 and 1493, the grandson of a Knight Crusader.
The realism in this set of statues is impressive, even standing still, it seems that you can perceive the life-size black hooded and mantle mourners, walking solemnly at a slow pace during the funeral procession.
At Phillippe Pot’s feet is an animal, which according to the Louvre is supposed to be a lion. The lion represents monarchy and supremacy.
Location: Ground floor, room 10, Richelieu wing.
👉 Top Tip: If you have more time to appreciate the artworks of the Louvre and to learn more about the history of each piece, I suggest you buy the guided tour ticket for the Louvre Museum here, you will get a more immersive visit this way, accompanied by a professional guide who will be able to answer your questions and give you insights. This tour includes the skip-the-line pass.
Venus de Milo
It is not known for certain who this statue represents, but it is believed that it could be Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of love and beauty. In Roman mythology, she corresponds to the Goddess Venus. Aphrodite was considered to be the ideal beauty standard of the time.
The Venus de Milo statue is a work from Ancient Greece, and was discovered in 1820 on the island of Milo, in Greece, hence the name, today it is one of the most important works in the Louvre Museum’s collection.
When it was discovered, its arms were already missing, so no one really knows what the statue’s original position was like when it was sculpted. Several positions have already been suggested, however, unfortunately, the statue’s right hand is still an enigma for everyone. Some believe that, initially, the statue was adorned with metal jewelry, such as earrings, tiara, and necklaces, but these objects were never found.
Location: Ground floor, room 7, Sully wing.
The Dying Slave and the Rebellious Slave – Michelangelo
It wouldn’t be fair not to put Michelangelo on this list! Since these are one of the most important statues in the Louvre collection. Michelangelo, one of the most brilliant artists of the Italian Renaissance, was famous for his fantastic realism in sculpting human form and emotions, and these statues are good examples of this.
The two slaves were originally sculpted to be part of the tomb of Pope Julius II, who also requested Michelangelo to paint the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Initially, Michelangelo intends to make twelve sculptures of slaves to place in the tomb, however, the Moribundo Slave and the Rebel Slave are the only works that are almost finished.
The tomb of Pope Julius II was supposed to be the largest monument built after the Egyptian pyramids, however, after many delays and cost cuts, the finished tomb was much smaller than planned, and most of Michelangelo’s works were placed in other private collections.
While the Dying Slave is represented as a calm expression of acceptance, the Rebellious Slave, with his face still unpolished, resists death.
Location: Ground floor, room 4, Denon wing.
Considered one of the oldest and most influential marble statues in the world, Winged Victory was discovered in 1863 on the island of Samothrace by Charles Champoiseau, French vice-consul in Turkey, and an amateur archaeologist. Charles had received a request from Napoleon III to bring as many old works as possible to embellish the Louvre collection.
Charles Champoiseau then went on a mission through the Aegean Sea towards an ancient sanctuary dedicated to the “Great Gods of Greece”, which was in ruins, and there he found what is today, one of the most famous statues in the world, and one of three main most important pieces of the Louvre.
The meaning behind this statue is still a mystery and the author is unknown, however, some believe it was erected by a Macedonian general after a naval victory and represents the Nike Goddess or Goddess of Victory. The Goddess Nike was the envoy of Zeus to announce victory to the winners on battlefields, both land and sea.
The sensation of movement in this statue is what impresses anyone, you do not need much imagination to see, almost feel, the wind blowing on your thin dress that seems to be wet, as she walks forward on the bow of a ship.
The statue was originally found in pieces and took years to be reassembled, as many pieces were missing and were found only many years after its discovery.
Location: Ground floor, staircase, Denon wing.
Virgin of the Rocks – Leonardo da Vinci
Those who read the Da Vinci Code will recognize this painting. There are two versions of this same work.
The work was commissioned by the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, who requested Leonardo Da Vinci to paint the Virgin Mary, the Baby Jesus, Saint John the Baptist as a baby, and the angel Uriel sheltered in a cave. Although this is exactly what Da Vinci did, the painting was rejected by the client who found the painting disturbing.
Currently, what did not please were details and hand positions that Da Vinci took the liberty to add, which in fact passed many times, unnoticed in the eyes of many. The picture shows the baby Jesus next to the angel Uriel, this one points to another baby who is being blessed by Jesus, this second baby represents Saint John the Baptist.
With her hands wrapped around Saint John the Baptist and in a posture that seems to protect the Baby Jesus, there is the Virgin Mary.
After the client’s refusal, Da Vinci ended up painting a second version of the painting, this one, which is softer, is now on display at the National Gallery in London.
Location: First floor, room 5, Denon wing.
Mona Lisa – Leonardo da Vinci
There it is! Probably the most famous painting in the world, surrounded by mysteries: Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa! The whole puzzle behind this face without eyebrows makes it worth a visit, but be prepared, the room where it is exposed is always crowded, and the picture is not too big to be seen from afar. You will have to have a little patience and sneak through the tourist groups to get a good photo.
Mona Lisa caught everyone’s attention after it was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 and disappeared for two years. During that time, even the French poet Apollinaire and Picasso were suspected before Vincenzo Peruggia was finally caught.
Also Read: Mona Lisa: History and Curiosities.
It is reported that Da Vinci liked this painting so much that he used to take it with him during his travels, even arriving at Château d’Amboise after being hired by François I in 1516, where he died three years later.
The true story behind this picture, nobody really knows, but one of the theories says that the work was commissioned by a very wealthy silk merchant who lived in Florence, named Francesco del Giocondo, a widower twice, he would have married in 1495 to a young woman named Lisa.
Another theory says that the young woman represented in the painting is the favorite of Giuliano di Medici, leader of the Florentine Republic.
Location: First floor, room 6, Denon wing.
The Wedding at Cana – Paolo Veronese
Often forgotten on the wall on the other side of the room, due to the attention given to the star of the house, Mona Lisa, is the largest painting in the Louvre collection, The Wedding at Cana, is one of the most impressive paintings ever made, by the artist Paolo Veronese.
With a monumental size, about 6m high by 9m long, resulting in a total of 54m2 of the painted area, the painting takes up almost the entire wall, however, the scene is so full of characters and details, that the painting even looks small.
In the center of the table, there is the banquet table with the central figure being Jesus, surrounded by an aura.
The picture represents a famous biblical passage, described in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus and Mary were invited to a wedding in Cana. In this passage, at the end of the banquet, Maria realizes that the wine was running out and comments with Jesus. Mary then asks helpers to bring jugs filled with water and to place them before Jesus, that water in wine, this being the first of the seven miracles.
Location: First floor, room 6, Denon wing.
The Coronation of Napoleon – Jacques-Louis David
Painted in 1807, as the name says, the painting represents the moment of Napoleon’s coronation. Its size, as well as the details, are very impressive, it is 10 meters wide and 6 meters high, and it is one of the largest paintings in the Louvre.
The painting was commissioned by Napoleon himself, which perhaps explains the extravagance.
Napoleon was crowned in 1804, in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris, thus breaking the custom that had to crown kings in the Cathedral of Reims, with that Napoleon wanted to symbolize the rupture of the old regime. Another milestone in his coronation was the moment when Napoleon took the crown for himself and placed it on his own head, indicating independence from the Church, an affront at the time.
In this work, we see Pope Pius VII, sitting almost helplessly while Napoleon himself, with his back to the Pope, crowned his wife, Josephine.
The quality of the painting is so great that when we look at the clothes of the characters in the painting, we can almost feel the texture of the fabrics used. The cover that the Empress uses, for example, we can imagine, from the image, the velvety texture and the weight of the cover.
Location: First floor, room 75, Denon wing.
The Great Odalisque – Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
Made for Napoleon’s sister, Queen Caroline Murat, this is probably the most criticized nude woman you will ever find in any museum, and this criticism is given by the FACT THAT THIS WOMAN HAS AT LEAST THREE VERTEBRAS MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE! Finally, due to a distortion in the anatomical proportions made by the artist in order to give a more elongated silhouette to the model.
Of course, the work was the target of much criticism when it was first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1819 since the artist hurt natural proportions. In addition, critics also noticed very elongated limbs and a very small head in the image, not to mention the not-at-all-comfortable pose, lying on the left side, with the back to the viewer, with the left leg over the right. This twist is practically impossible to be seen anatomically.
The figure also shows the orientalist trend of the time. During the Romantic Era, when Orientalism was a trend, young women, often naked, dancing, or lying on the sultans’ beds, were often painted as a symbol of exoticism and eroticism.
Painting women looking over their shoulders also seemed to be a trend at that time and that same posture can be seen in different paintings and statues of the time.
Location: First floor, room 75, Denon wing.
The Intervention of the Sabine Women – Jacques-Louis David
The dramatic painting represents a legendary episode of the origin of Rome, which tells the story of the formation of the Roman population.
According to the records, Romulus, the founder of Rome and his first ruler, had made diplomatic contact with the neighboring cities, so that women could be made available for marriage to Roman men. However, all contacts were in vain.
Apparently, the only way out would be to use force, since, without women, the Roman men would not leave descendants, leaving Rome in a situation of risk. According to the writer Tito Lívio, an old biographer who recorded the history of Rome since its foundation. Romulus decided to organize a festival, called Consualia, in honor of the god Neptune Equestrian, and to invite his closest neighbors, the Sabines.
During the celebration of the festival, however, at the command of Romulus, Roman men launched themselves in the capture of women.
Revolted by the event, the Sabines returned to their city and planned several invasions of Rome, the first was defeated, but with the betrayal of a Roman, the Sabine army managed to invade the city, and in the middle of the battle, something unexpected It happened. The Sabine women, who had been kidnapped, interceded because they did not accept the fight between their husbands and relatives.
The picture represents the moment when Hersilia, daughter of the leader Sabine Tito Tácio, and Romulus’s wife, places herself in the middle of her father and her husband, with the children at her feet.
With the intervention, the Sabinos ended up joining the Romans, doubling the population of the city of Romulus.
Location: First floor, room 75, Denon wing.
The Young Martyr – Paul Delaroche
Although a little disturbing, The Young Martyr is an extremely beautiful painting and one of my favorites at the Louvre. The lighting of the image draws a lot of attention.
The painting depicts a young Christian martyr, associated with the persecution suffered by the Christians at the time of Emperor Diocletian’s reign (284-305). The feeling that the painting gives is that the young woman has just spoken, and the play of colors, the mixture of light and dark helps to give an air of sadness to the work.
In the background, in the dark part of the figure, in contrast to the sunset, there is the figure of a couple, who watches the dead young woman floating in the Tiber River.
The painting’s main source of light comes from the divine halo on top of the young woman’s head.
Location: First floor, room 76, Denon wing.
Liberty Leading the People – Eugène Delacroix
The painting is a commemoration of the French Revolution of July 1830, an important event in the history of France, marked by the replacement of King Bourbon Charles X by Louis Felipe, Duke of Orléans.
It was painted in the same year as the Revolt and depicts the exact moment when the rebels break the barricade. The woman in the center of the image, carrying the French flag, is known as Marianne (the personification of Liberty) and is a national figure who represents the French Republic’s triumph over the monarchy.
In the painting, it is also possible to observe other figures, such as soldiers, and students, and it is believed that even Delacroix himself is represented in the painting as the man in a top hat. The painter once said:
and although I may not have fought for my country, at least I shall have painted for her.
In the background, we can also see the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral.
Location: First floor, room 77, Denon wing.
The Seated Scribe
The sitting slave was found in a tomb along a corridor in Serapeum, a temple dedicated to the god Serapis, at the archaeological site of Sacará. The discovery was made by the French archaeologist Auguste Mariette in 1850.
It is believed that the work was created in the 4th or 5th dynasty (2600 – 2350 BC), but it is difficult to know exactly, since there is no record of exactly where the piece was found, and the work to it has no inscription detailing the name of the character or title, something rare in Egyptian works, so historians believe that a second base containing such information should exist in advance.
The state of conservation of the figure is impressive, as well as its realism, see the eyes, for example, the technique used in the eyes of the figure gives the impression that the man sitting there is able to give us a deep look.
This is possible thanks to the use of a white magnesite block with natural red veins, while in its pupil, a polished crystal was used, which gives the same appearance as the real eyes.
Location: First floor, room 22, Sully wing.
Gabrielle d’Estrés and One of Her Sisters – Unknown Author
Although the author of this work is anonymous, it is known that it came from the Fontainebleau School. Gabriele d’Estrées was a duchess and the most famous lover of King Henry IV of France.
The girl was actually the niece of another king’s lover, (it is believed that the young woman’s mother was also the king’s lover) and was introduced to him by his own aunt, after meeting her, the king who fell in love with young, and later gave him the titles of Duchess and Marquise.
The scene in the painting shows Gabrielle on the right in the painting and her sister, the two of them are showering together, the sister touches Gabrielle’s nipple, while the girl holds a ring in her left hand.
This is an enigmatic picture and full of symbolism. Unfortunately, we are not sure what it all means, but according to the Louvre Museum itself, the painting could announce that Gabrielle was pregnant with King Henry IV. It is believed that the ring she holds is the crowning ring of the king, given to her as a symbol of his commitment to his mistress.
Location: Second floor, room 10, Richelieu wing.
The Lacemaker – Johannes Vermeer
Johannes Vermeer was famous for the simple everyday scenes shown in his works. And here we have another case like that. Protestant principles, as well as those of other religious strands, also understood that women should dedicate their lives to their families and work in the home. Textile works were seen as feminine and knowing how to weave and sew was seen as a great virtue for women.
Here we see the young lacemaker working oblivious to the outside world, focused on her work, and seems distracted, unaware that she is being watched.
This is one of Vermeer’s most famous works and draws attention due to the simplicity of the scene, however, rich in details and lighting that pleased the impressionists of the time.
The works were considered by Renoir the most beautiful painting in the world.
Location: Second floor, room 36, Richelieu Wing.
How to get to the Louvre Museum
Louvre Museum is located in the 1st arrondissement, the very central area of Paris, and can be easily accessed by bus or metro. The closest metro stations are Louvre Rivoli and Palais Royal Musée du Louvre, both on Line 1 (yellow line).
You can take a look at the metro map of Paris here.
If you prefer the bus, there are many lines that pass nearby: 21, 24, 27, 39, 48, 68, 69, 72, 81 e 95. All of them leave you right in front of the building.
But if you get the Hop On Hop Off bus ticket here, it stops in front of the Louvre Museum, as well as in front of the main attractions in Paris, it is a good option if you are visiting other touristy posts in the capital.
Hours: The museum is open from 9 am to 6 pm, on Wednesday and Friday it is open until 9:45 pm, on Tuesdays, it is closed.
Entrances and Ticket
There are a total of six entrances to the Louvre Museum, however, the main entrance is located in the famous Pyramid, and the line to get in can be pretty long especially in high seasons, like during the Summer, so try to get the earliest you can. The best to do is to arrive before the museum opens, so you are one of the first ones to get inside.
If you decided to go by metro, you can go to the entrance inside the Carrousel du Louvre, which is a small underground mall. It will take you to the main hall of the Louvre Museum.
You can buy the tickets right at the entrance, however, for this, you will have to wait in line to buy them, then wait in another line to enter the museum. It is important to bear in mind that the lines at Louvre can get pretty long, depending on the time of the year you visit the museum. The waiting period can go up to one or two hours, so make sure to add it to your itinerary.
Of course, you have the option of buying your skip-the-line ticket in advance by clicking here, this ticket also includes an audio guide so that you can learn more about the masterpieces.
Or even better, you can book a private guided tour of the Louvre, with this ticket you will be able to enter the museum without running into a queue and still have the experience of a guided tour just for you. The tour covers the most important works of the Louvre museum and takes around two hours.
Now, if you’re out of time, and prefer a quick guided tour of the Louvre, you have the option of skipping the lines and heading straight to the Mona Lisa, it’s only a 30-minute tour, so you have the chance to see the most famous work of the Louvre, without having to spend a lot of time in a museum, if it’s not something you like very much. Secure your quick guided tour here.
It is also worth remembering that the Paris City Pass already includes a ticket for the Louvre Museum, so for those who have the Paris City Pass, the entrance is already guaranteed and completely FREE!
👌Top Tip: If you plan to visit several tourist spots in Paris, I highly recommend this pass, as it guarantees entry to more than 60 museums and attractions, including the Louvre, Musée du Orsay, and Versailles Palace, among others. Learn more about the Paris City Pass here.
This text was originally written and posted in June 2017 and updated in April 2021. New information has been added and links have been updated so that it could offer a better experience to the reader.