During my trip to France, I knew that I needed to visit the Louvre while in Paris, simply because it is arguably the greatest repository of cultural artifacts and treasures in the world. From the very beginning, I had my heart set on viewing its extensive collection of artifacts from the ancient Greco-Roman world, particularly the Hellenistic-era Winged Victory statue; in addition, I also hoped to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa and some of the other famous Renaissance works.
Before entering the Louvre, I already knew that it was a large museum, housed in a beautiful old palace of some sort. I knew that it was quite a famous place and that therefore it would certainly have many tourists within it. I expected it to possess many different exhibits and collections filled with fascinating items from around the world.
All these things are true of the Louvre, but these characteristics have been magnified, intensified, and brought to a extreme level of “greatness”–not greatness in the sense of being the “best” museum or the most enjoyable, but of being a place where everything exists in an state of sheer enormity.
The unimaginable number of different collections within the Louvre (in addition to the Greco-Roman world and the European Renaissance, there are also exhibits on ancient Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt, as well as medieval Europe, the Islamic world, etc.), the size and extensive nature of the exhibits (they take up dozens of rooms each!), the great and enduring cultural impact of the items within… All this has granted the Louvre an enormous, world-wide fame that causes hundreds or even thousands of tourists from around the world to descend upon it everyday.
Maybe you can guess where I’m going with this. The greatness of the Louvre, what makes it so famous, is a mixed blessing: the size, scale, and number of its collections, but in particular the enduring cultural impact of the pieces held within, tell us that it most definitely deserves a visit from anyone claiming to appreciate culture.
At the same time, the Louvre’s fame is such that it seems to be eternally filled with an uncomfortable number of people, all squeezing together in an effort just to earn a glimpse of this or that famous painting or sculpture. This problem of crowding is so severe that the museum is littered with signs warning visitors to beware of pickpockets.
Here’s an example… The famous Venus de Milo statue is beautiful, representing the clean aesthetics of classical Greek sculpture with its subtle sense of balance and movement (in a later post, I will discuss the details of what I saw in the exhibit of Greek antiquities). But as you can see it is surrounded by a swarm of people, snapping pictures of it, craning their necks just to see it. The same is true of the Mona Lisa.
It is true that the exhibits for the less famous works are not as crowded. It is occasionally possible to find a quieter, emptier room: a perfect opportunity to collect your thoughts and to recharge for the next, more crowded room. Even so, but there is always a continuous flow of people throughout the museum. It is, in the end, possible to navigate through these crowds; it simply takes some planning and mental preparation.
So, in respect to the power and beauty of the items within, as well as the thoroughness and size of its collection, I found the Louvre to be an amazing place, but the enjoyment of the experience was lessened by the number of people inside it. The Louvre was not exactly a relaxing, quiet environment in which I could really contemplate the great works of art and culture around me.
What I have said about the sheer scale of the Louvre is also true in respect to its architecture: to house its large collections, the museum requires a massive building. The Louvre is so large that it a visitor will have to walk great distances just to get from one place to another.
This would not ordinarily be a big problem, but the issue comes from the fact that the Louvre is a renovated medieval palace, not a brand-new modern building. Its layout has not been designed with modern sensibilities in mind. Rather, it is an old historical structure that is almost like a giant maze.
What this means is that if you decide to visit the Louvre, you will be walking quite a bit, but may also have a bit of trouble figuring out how to get to particular exhibits in the museum. I started off trying to reach the exhibit of Greek antiquities, but I found myself going back and forth along different hallways and through various exhibits searching for the right elevator.
I ended up having to ride over four different elevators and spending several hours just to get to the collection that I wanted to. Granted, most people can take the stairs, but the point is that it will require most visitors quite a bit of time and effort just to figure out how to get to around within the Louvre.
It is true that the aesthetic design of the museum is excellent: the medieval architecture of these old palace halls is quite beautiful, and the famous glass pyramid adds a nice touch of modernity to the overall image of the Louvre. However, I must say that the Louvre’s design falls short in the functional sense simply because of how hard it was to get around and find the exhibits that I wanted to see.
The function design of the Louvre has another flaw: the glass pyramid. It is beautiful, yes, but beneath the summer sun, it acts essentially as a giant greenhouse, so that visitors entering through the pyramid are subjected to an intense, scorching heat.
So, in regard to the cultural power of the items within it and the extensive size of its collections, as well as the beauty of its architecture, the Louvre is an impressive place that definitely deserves a visit. However, the crowding issue as well as weaknesses in the functional design of the building may reduce one’s enjoyment of the museum.
One more thing: although some signs are in English, many of the detailed descriptions of particular items are in French. Make sure to read up on the certain famous items you wish to see beforehand, to avoid language issues and to provide a bit of context when you finally reach the room containing, for example, the Mona Lisa.
For those of you who want to visit the Louvre, plan ahead. Know from the start what items and exhibits you want to see. Obtain a map and carefully follow it to get to where you want to go. Pace yourself and take plenty of breaks to maintain your energy. Remain calm, even when stuck in what seems to be a sea of people. If you can manage to do these things, you will be able to make the most of your visit.
Stay tuned. I will soon make several new posts containing image galleries for my visit to the Louvre, as well as my thoughts on what I saw while I was there.