Paris: Top Ten Tips for Mona Lisa and the Louvre
DO NOT DRIVE in PARIS!
This first tip applies to Paris in general: DO NOT DRIVE in PARIS!
We abandoned the rental car at a train station outside Paris. Of course, we had to remember where we ditched the car so that we could find it again in 3 days. I took lots of pictures. Who remembers what their rental car looks like? Who remembers where they parked it? I did not post any of those photos here. They could be important in finding the car, but do not make great pics in a travel blog!
This scheme of parking outside Paris worked out really well. The train system is great; we didn’t need a car in Paris; and this story has a happy ending: we found the car 3 days later.
These 10 tips are not ranked.
The best tip is the one that makes your experience at the Louvre easier and more enjoyable.
Paris is a World Heritage City
The Louvre is the “backbone of the right bank” on the Seine, a World Heritage Site
Paris, Banks of the Seine
From the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, from the Place de la Concorde to the Grand and Petit Palais, the evolution of Paris and its history can be seen from the River Seine.
Take in the unobstructed view of the “Historical Axis” from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile.
Stand with your back to the pyramid at the Louvre. The arch in front of you is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.
Through the middle of the Arch, across the Tuileries Gardens, you can see the Egyptian obelisk at the Place de la Concorde where the guillotine stood during the French Revolution. From there, the Champs-Élysées leads you to the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile.
The Two Arcs: Me and Mini-Me
The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel is the Mini-Me to its more famous younger cousin, Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. Mini-me is half the size. It was built to commemorate Napoleon’s military victories, modeled after triumphal arches of the Roman Empire.
The Arc du Carrousel inspired the design of Marble Arch in London.
The quadriga (a four-horse carriage used for chariot racing) on top of Mini-Me is a replica of the famous Horses of Saint Mark in St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. The real Horses once sat on top of Mini-Me after Napoleon looted them from the Basilica. The originals were returned to Venice after Napoleon’s defeat.
The Magnificent Horses of Saint Mark
This is a photo of the Horses of Saint Mark that I took in Venice. Originally, the horses were prominently showcased on the facade of Saint Mark’s Basilica but have been moved inside for their conservation. Replicas prance outside in the original position.
Ride the Ferris wheel to enjoy the view stretching from the Arc de Triumphe to the Louvre.
The “Grande Roue” is a temporary Ferris Wheel that was slated to be dismantled last November. Its visitor’s visa has been extended until the end of September to promote the European soccer Championship. France is the host country. Each capsule in the Grande Rue is decorated with faces of soccer stars.
Would you erect a Ferris wheel in the middle of the Historical Axis?
This galloping horse seems to be enjoying his ride on the Ferris wheel.
The Louvre is open late on Wednesdays and Fridays, until 9:45
The Louvre attracts 10 million visitors a year. There are horror stories of long waits just to get in.
We took advantage of the late opening for our visit. There were no line-ups and parts of the museum were actually deserted.
As long as you have energy for a lot of walking, the evening is a great time to visit.
The main entrance to the Louvre is through the pyramid.
The pyramid was built in 1989 because the original entrance could not handle the crushing number of visitors. Since then, the number of visitors has doubled. Now, the pyramid cannot handle the crushing number of visitors. The floor plan beneath the pyramid is undergoing a re-design.
There are other entrances where the line-ups may be shorter. Try the entrance through Mini-Me.
The pyramid was very controversial when it was unveiled. There were four camps of criticisms: [from Wikipedia]
(1) the modernist style was inconsistent with the classic French Renaissance style;
(2) the pyramid is an unsuitable symbol of death from ancient Egypt;
(3) the project is an immodest, pretentious, megalomaniacal folly imposed by then-President Francois Mitterrand; and
(4) Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei was insufficiently French to be entrusted with the task of updating the treasured Parisian landmark.
There is an urban legend that the pyramid contains exactly 666 panes of glass, the number associated with Satan. This myth was perpetuated by Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code, when he writes:
This pyramid has been constructed of exactly 666 panes of glass
In fact, the pyramid contains exactly 673 panes
Well, you don’t want to use your precious time at the Louvre counting panes of glass….just go on in.
You can take art classes in the Louvre
This is not an artist in residence at the Louvre.
This is an artist in residence at Galeries Lafayette, a beautiful up-scale department store in Paris.
Art is everywhere in Paris
The Louvre is the largest museum in the world. Enjoy areas that are deserted.
This atrium in the Richelieu Wing displays the Marly Horses, ancient Roman statues of Castor and Pollux trying to tame their horses
Louvre Napoleon III Grand Salon
In the Versailles Palace it is almost impossible to enjoy the opulent royal furnishings because of the crushing crowds.
In the Louvre, this area was so deserted, I almost felt like I could get away with sitting on that settee and enjoying a royal drink
Service for Two?
This looked like a perfect Parisian dining location for our evening visit to the Louvre.
The Mona Lisa is the Crown Jewel of the Louvre.
More than 80% of visitors go to the Louvre just to see that Mona Lisa smile.
The Mona Lisa is the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.
The great Renaissance Man, Leonardo da Vinci, began painting the Mona Lisa in 1503 in Florence, Italy. He worked on it for 15 years. Leonardo left Italy when he was invited to France by King François. The only painting he took with him was the Mona Lisa. Leonardo did not return to Italy. Upon his death, his pupil inherited his works and sold the Mona Lisa to King François.
Leonardo was one of the first artists to use aerial perspective that shows the effect of the atmosphere on the Mona Lisa. She is seated in front of a vast imaginary landscape that recedes to snowy mountains in the distance.
Even with the crowds, it was not long before I had a turn to snap a pic of that famous smile.
The Mona Lisa has been stolen once and vandalized four times
The Mona Lisa was stolen in 1911. An employee of the Louvre hid in a broom closet until the museum closed. He removed the painting, hid it under his coat and simply walked out of the museum when it re-opened. He hid it in his apartment for two years. Millions mourned the loss as if Mona Lisa were a person. The thief was caught when he tried to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.
The lower part of the painting was severely damaged when a vandal threw acid on the Mona Lisa in 1956. Later that year, the painting was slightly damaged when someone threw a rock at it.
In 1974, a woman sprayed red paint on it. In 2009, a woman threw a teacup at it. Since it was already encased in glass, these incidents did not cause any damage.
The Mona Lisa is behind bullet-proof glass to protect it from thieves and vandals.
Mona Lisa has a twin sister
Mona Lisa’s twin in the Prado Museum in Madrid
Mona Lisa’s twin was painted by one of Leonardo da Vinci’s pupils at the same time and in the same studio. The twins are the same size. The lesser-known twin looks younger because the painting has been better preserved.
In 2012, the twins had a family reunion in the Louvre and both were displayed together.
Mona Lisa was rescued in World War II
Saviour of France’s art: how the Mona Lisa was spirited away from the Nazis
Secret operation by Louvre staff on eve of war is revealed in new documentary on forgotten hero Jacques Jaujard
Jacques Jaujard, deputy head of the Louvre, hid the Mona Lisa, all the Louvre’s contents and France’s entire public art collection just 10 days before the second world war broke out, in a masterful, highly secret operation. No one asked him to do it; he just did, helped by hundreds of loyal employees scattered across the country.
On 25 August 1939, Jaujard closed the Louvre for three days, officially for repair work. For three days and nights, hundreds of staff, art students and employees of the Grands Magasins du Louvre department store carefully placed treasures in white wooden cases.
Masterpieces were categorised in order of importance: a yellow circle for very valuable art pieces, green for major works and red for world treasures. The white case containing the Mona Lisa was marked with three red circles.
Private cars, ambulances, trucks, delivery vans and taxis were requisitioned. A convoy of 203 vehicles transporting 1,862 wooden cases set out one August morning to hundreds of inconspicuous castles in France where they could lie, anonymous and secure.
Throughout the war, Jaujard had to clandestinely organise the removal of pieces such as the Mona Lisa from chateau to chateau.
Gerald Van der Kemp was entrusted with protecting the Mona Lisa throughout the war as she was moved from chateau to chateau. He often kept the Mona Lisa in his bedroom.
Van der Kemp had a narrow escape from death when a German commander threatened to shoot him and burn the building with its treasures.
But Mr. Van der Kemp managed to save his own life and the ”Mona Lisa” by convincing the officer that Hitler would never forgive him for such an act of cultural barbarism.
After Paris was liberated, Van der Kemp personally carried the Mona Lisa up the steps to the Louvre
I stumbled upon this extraordinary story of Gerald Van der Kemp when I connected through Instagram with a California artist who was commissioned to paint a portrait of Gerald Van der Kemp. I updated the post on Giverny to include this remarkable story.
Some people have remarkable lives!
Read more about Gerald Van der Kemp in last week’s revised post on Giverny
This is a photo of the Mona Lisa being returned to her home in the Louvre in 1947.
If you are interested in the race to save art treasures during World War II, The Monuments Men is a wonderful movie from 2014, directed by George Clooney, The film stars Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Cate Blanchett.
Based on the true story of the greatest treasure hunt in history, The Monuments Men focuses on an unlikely World War II platoon, tasked by FDR with going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. It would be an impossible mission: with the art trapped behind enemy lines, and with the German army under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell, how could these guys – seven museum directors, curators, and art historians, all more familiar with Michelangelo than the M-1 – possibly hope to succeed? But as the Monuments Men, as they were called, found themselves in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1000 years of culture, they would risk their lives to protect and defend mankind’s greatest achievements.
If I remove my finger, will the Louvre Pyramid collapse?
After a fabulous evening at the Louvre, we were ready for a late night dinner in true Parisian style.
We strolled across the Seine to the Left Bank to Le Relais de l’Entrecote.
Even at that late hour, there was still a line-up out the door. There are no reservations. There are no menus. They serve one thing: Steak Frites with salad. The only question is how you want your steak done.
What a wonderful end to our first evening in Paris.