As one of the world’s most famous museums, The Louvre is a bucket list destination for visitors to Paris.
Part art gallery and part archaeology museum, the Louvre is an awe-inspiring place.
But spread across 400 rooms and three massive wings, it can be overwhelming! It can also be tiring, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes.
The Louvre has countless beautiful objects, but not everyone has three days to explore.
When you’re on a tighter timeline, here are the must-see objects and paintings in the Louvre that everyone should visit.
Remember – the Louvre is massive and can be confusing to navigate. Also, the lines to get in without a pre-booked slot are really long!
Therefore, I recommend that you book a guided tour with skip-the-line access.
Trust me – it makes your experience a lot smoother and really removes the stress. Check out the best guided tours of the Louvre, which all include the entry fee.
IM Pei’s Pyramid
We have to start our tour from the outside in – with the Glass Pyramid added to the Louvre in 1984.
Designed by Chinese American architect IM Pei, it instantly became a ‘love it or hate it’ addition to the museum.
This modernist steel and glass pyramid is a brilliant juxtaposition with the older buildings and the palace around it.
Yet, to this day, it's one of the world's most divisive pieces of architecture.
Of course, Pei did not just design the Pyramid, which is equally beautiful when viewed from inside the museum.
He also designed a complex underground complex and new entrances so that the Louvre could enter the 21st century and better accommodate millions of visitors each year.
Love it or hate it, it’s our introduction to the museum and well worth a good look.
The Great Sphinx of Tanis
Location: Entrance to the Department of Egyptian Antiquities
Now that we’re inside, let’s start with the object often called the “guardian of the Louvre Museum.” This is one of the largest sphinxes outside of Egypt!
It was discovered in 1825 in the Temple of Amun in Tanis, which was the Egyptian capital during the 21st and 23rd Dynasties.
Be sure to notice its outstretched claws – though its face looks serene, this is no resting kitty.
It can be difficult to date because different Pharaohs scratched out their predecessors’ names and replaced them with their own! Very cheeky.
Therefore, Egyptologists can only date it between the 4th (2613 to 2494 BC) to the 12th Dynasty (1991BC- 1783BC).
The Louvre acquired this statue through the estate of Henry Salt – and he purchased it from Egypt on the advice of Jean-Francois Champollion.
Who is he? The translator of the Rosetta Stone, the first head of the Louvre’s Egyptian Department, and the reason we can understand these hieroglyphics.
The Louvre’s Mummy
While the Louvre has a large collection of mummy coffins and sarcophagi, it only has one actual mummy, and curious visitors always surround him. He really is the highlight of the
Louvre’s Department of Egyptian Antiquities’ 50,000+ pieces. The collection spans more than four millennia, from 4,000 BCE to the 4th century CE.
Of course, if you’re like me, you’ll be drawn to the mummy.
It is unlike any other on display in the world, with an intricate head wrapping.
The face and skull are encased in woven strips of linen, creating a geometric twisted square pattern.
The Louvre has X-rayed him and found that he probably lived between 305 BC to 30 BC, which was the Ptolemaic Period of Ancient Egypt.
He may have been named Nenu or Pachery.
He was almost certainly upper middle-class, as this form of mummification was only for the elite.
Most of his abdominal organs were preserved in jars, and his brain and heart were kept intact in his body.
He was dried out with salt and then covered with resin and aromatic oils before being wrapped, and he survives now, more than 2000 years later.
The Code of Hammurabi
Location: The Richelieu Wing, Room 227
Heading to a completely different part of the museum, let’s go and have a look at a piece of legalese dating to 1754 BCE.
The Code of Hammurabi is a well-preserved code of law from ancient Mesopotamia.
It was enacted by King Hammurabi, the sixth King of Babylon, who ruled from 1792 – 1750 BCE, making this even older than the biblical laws of Christianity.
The impressive stone stele is 2.5 metres tall (7.5 feet) and chronicles 280 laws covering the most common problems someone in Ancient Babylon would face.
At the top of the stele, you can see the God Shamash – he is gifting this ‘divine’ code directly to King Hammurabi.
The Code of Hammurabi was discovered in 1901 and was soon translated from its original Akkadian language, using cuneiform script.
The first two sections praise Hammurabi and call him the protector of the “weak and oppressed,” while the third section details the actual laws.
Some of the laws are about nurses’ duties, marriage, divorce, adoption, inheritance, and engagement.
If you or a loved one are in a legal profession, this is a highlight of the Louvre.
Location: The Richlieu Wing, Room 229
Let’s stay in the Richlieu Wing to see another impressive collection of sculptures – a number of Lamassu.
These protective spirits and guards stood sentry at palace and city entrances in ancient Assyria.
You can find them in the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but I think they’re most impressive at the Louvre.
They have recreated a landscape so we can see what they would have looked like in Khorsabad, in what is today Northern Iraq.
The Lamassu, which is Akkadian for ‘protector,’ guarded the Palace of King Sargon II, who ruled from 721 – 705 BCE, and they have five legs each.
This is so they could ‘kick’ away evil and make them look active and 3D. They tower over you at 4 metres (12 feet) tall!
These are both art and artefact – do not miss them.
Michelangelo’s Dying Slave and Rebellious Slave
Location: Italian Sculpture Hall, Ground Floor Denon Wing
We’re heading towards some of the most famous objects in the Louvre now.
Of course, when the doors open in the morning, everyone runs towards the Mona Lisa, but I recommend giving these remarkable statues your full attention.
The sculptures were created by one of the most iconic Renaissance artists, Michelangelo, between 1513 and 1516.
Along with four others, they flanked the tomb of Pope Julius II before the Louvre purchased them in 1794.
They are every bit as fascinating and complex as Michelangelo’s David (which is in Florence), depicting agony, ecstasy, life, and death.
The artist and genius had just finished the Sistine Chapel ceilings – he was truly on a roll.
These are my favourite objects in the Louvre – don’t miss them.
The Venus De Milo
Sully Wing, Floor 1, Room 346
Now, here is an object that you truly cannot miss – The Venus de Milo, one of the world’s most famous sculptures.
This armless beauty was unearthed on the Greek island of Melos in 1820 and likely dates to 100 BCE.
Upon her discovery by a farmer in his field, she was immediately referred to as “Venus,” as Roman mythology was very popular at the time.
However, there’s a significant error with this name. Venus is a Roman goddess of sex and love, not a Greek goddess!
This would be much more likely to be Aphrodite de Milo, not Venus.
But wait – she’s probably not even Aphrodite. She is much more likely to be Amphitrite, a goddess beloved in Melos.
It could have been sculpted by Praxiteles, but it’s equally likely to be by Alexandros of Antioch.
There is speculation that she would have been holding an appe, and would have been draped in elaborate metal jewellery.
She was originally painted in bright colours.
We’re extremely lucky that 19th-century sculptors didn’t try to replace her arms, as they did with many other damaged sculptures.
I think her imperfection is what makes her so special.
The Mona Lisa
Location: Denon Wing, Room 711
The most famous painting in the world - the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, painted between 1503 – 1506.
Called La Giaconda in Italian, it depicts Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo.
Da Vinci was meant to give this painting to his patron, but instead, he brought it with him to France.
The painting is famous for two main reasons – her enigmatic smile, and the fact it was stolen!
Let’s start with her facial expression – from some angles, she looks like she is smirking; from some angles, she looks like she is smiling, and from others, her mouth is downturned. It is impossible to determine her mood.
However, the Mona Lisa shot to worldwide fame when it was stolen in 1911 – it was a huge news story at the time and helped this become the most famous painting on earth.
Be warned – you’ll only have a few moments with the Mona Lisa. The crowd control is very strict, and the queues are long.
You can try to come here first thing in the morning or be one of the last people in the gallery at closing time.
The Raft of The Medusa
Location: Denon Wing, 1st floor, Room 700
Now, let’s look at some monumental paintings that will take your breath away.
Honestly, if you only see one painting in the Louvre, I personally think it should be The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault.
He details the devastating aftermath of a shipwreck that occurred on July 2nd, 1816.
The crew were shipwrecked off the coast of what is now Mauritania in Northwest Africa.
One hundred forty-seven men had been aboard the Medusa, and they quickly constructed a raft.
However, within 13 days, all but 15 of the men would die. They were suffering from extreme dehydration and had only been able to survive through murder and cannibalism.
This painting depicts the horrific moment when a French military ship passed by the raft but neglected to save the men.
This moment, as well as the incompetence of the Medusa’s captain, became an international scandal.
Géricault interviewed two survivors of the horror and even asked them to re-enact their traumatic experiences.
The result is chilling but compelling and realistic.
The Coronation of Napoleon
Location: Denon Wing, 1st floor, Room 702
Our next massive painting shows us the coronation of Napoleon, which occurred in Notre Dame cathedral.
Napoleon had led several victorious military campaigns in Egypt and Italy, and he was crowned leader of the French Empire on December 2nd, 1804.
He managed to persuade Pope Pius VII, who rarely travelled, to come to Paris from Rome and give him his blessing!
Napoleon was all about trying to evoke the previous grandeur of Charlemagne’s coronation 1000 years earlier.
Painter Jacques-Louis David did not have a ton of artistic leeway – Napoleon was a stickler about the details of this painting, and he dictated exactly who should be in it and where they should be situated.
Therefore, this isn’t exactly an accurate depiction of the event but is instead an idealised version of what Napoleon wanted to have happened.
For instance, though his mother, Letizia Bonaparte, is depicted prominently, she was against the coronation and did not attend! His brother, who also did not attend, is also in the painting.
On the day, Napoleon had grabbed the crown from the Pope and placed it on his own head, which was considered quite rude, to say the least.
This removed the symbolic approval that God was placing the crown on his head, and it was humiliating to the Pope.
Afterwards, he probably realised that this moment had not painted him, no pun intended, in the best light.
So, he has David portray him placing the crown on Empress Josephine’s head, a much more courteous and gracious gesture.
The painting was a huge success, and Napoleon loved it. He said, “it is not a painting. There are people walking in this picture. Life is everywhere. David, I salute you. You have made me a French knight.”
Liberty Leading the People
Location: Denon Wing, 1st floor, Room 700
Now for our final huge painting – Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix. Along with Géricault, he is considered the greatest French Romantic painter.
This painting depicts an allegory of the 1830 French Revolution.
Liberty is shown as the bare-breasted centrepiece, and she is holding the French flag, known as le Tricolore, which the militia had worn when they stormed the Bastille.
Before this time, the French flag had been a gold fleur-de-lis.
Of course, you might recognise Liberty here – the French gifted a monumental statue of this Ancient Greek icon to the United States in 1884.
All of the people in the painting are working together, despite being from different classes. You can see a man in a top hat, a member of the French upper class.
Then, you can also see a factory worker, a student, and other professions, all elbow to elbow and working together for liberty, fraternity, and egalitarianism.
Before working on this painting, Delacroix was working for King Charles X, and he was conflicted about working for his ‘enemy.’ He felt much better about painting this subject matter.
He wrote, “I have undertaken a modern subject, a barricade, and although I may not have fought for my country, at least I shall have painted for her. It has restored my good spirits.”
The Winged Victory of Samothrace
Location: Denon Wing, Room 703 (Daru Staircase)
We’ve saved one of the best pieces for last, in my opinion, with the Winged Victory of Samothrace.
You’ll find it as the focal point of the massive Daru Staircase, where it has resided since 1866, and the cavernous space adds to its presence and energy.
It’s considered the finest example of Hellenistic art and will take your breath away.
The sculpture depicts Nike, the ancient Greek goddess of victory, and dates to around the 2nd century BCE.
The sculpture consists of two parts, which together rise more than 6 metres (18 feet) tall.
On her own, Nike is 3 metres (9 feet) tall! She is atop a ship’s bow, which is made from grey marble, though she is white marble.
She has dramatic wings, and the wind blows her draped clothing, pressing it into her body.
This is incredibly difficult to sculpt! We can see the outline of her very feminine form beneath the folds of her clothing.
When you come to see this statue, make sure you move around and try to see it from many different angles.
Like the Mona Lisa, it really is a different experience every time you move, even slightly.
Unlike the Venus de Milo, this statue has been partially restored – the right wing is a modern replica.
Thankfully, her head, feet, and arms have not been recreated. If you want to have a look at her original hand, you can see it in a glass case to the left of the statue, in an alcove.
It was only discovered in 1950!
Visiting the Louvre
There you have it – just 12 of the must-see objects at the Louvre.
Of course, seeing all of these can be overwhelming on your own. It’s much better to book a ‘skip the line’ tour and get ahead of the crowds.
See the museum with an expert and get the most out of your visit. Check out the best Louvre tours to find your perfect guide.