Corridors, halls and galleries filled with the works of great masters: the Louvre is one of the largest museums in the world. To see the entire collection would take you at least a week. However, most visitors come mainly for the three famous ladies: the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and the Nike of Samothrace.
The Louvre was originally built in the twelfth century as a fortress. In the mid-sixteenth century it became a royal palace and since 1793 has officially been a museum. The Louvre showcases art from the Middle Ages up to around 1848. The collection has grown to some 35,000 objects, spread over three wings. Treasures from the Greek, Egyptian and Roman epochs have their own galleries, while the main attractions from the Renaissance hang in the Grande Galerie.
Although the extensive collection is its greatest asset, many visitors also come to the Louvre to see its particular mix of modern and classic architecture. The glass pyramid in the courtyard was added to the classic palace in 1989. It marks the central foyer from which visitors can reach all wings of the museum. The great pyramid is flanked by 3 smaller ones. In the evenings, the buildings are reflected beautifully in the adjacent basins. The Louvre has become even more popular since it played an important role in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (published in 2003) and subsequent film.
The story surrounding the Mona Lisa is as mysterious as the model’s famous smile. For one thing, we do not know for certain who the lady is or how much time Leonardo da Vinci spent painting her. What we do know is that the portrait was a major turning point in 16th-century art. For instance, the Mona Lisa is a three-quarter portrait in a sitting position with a landscape seen from above in the background. Until this time, such portrait settings had been reserved for saints. The portrait is still being investigated.
The Nike of Samothrace is located in a monumental stairwell near the main entrance of the Louvre. This masterpiece of Greek sculpture dates from the Hellenistic period (320-30 BC) and depicts the winged goddess of victory standing on the bow of a ship – she was originally commissioned to celebrate a naval victory. The sculpture is 5.57 metres tall in total.
The Venus de Milo represents Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. According to the myth, she was born from the foam of the sea. The sculpture, which dates from around 100 BC, has since had enormous influence on how Western sculptors have depicted the female nude. Although she has now lost both arms, the Venus still exudes an unmistakable elegance and femininity.