At the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France, there are over 35,000 works of art on display in eight curatorial departments spread out over 72,735 square meters. It would take you 200 days to see all the works of this visual overload—provided you spend only 30 seconds admiring each piece.
Should you find yourself at the Louvre someday, make sure to allot a little more time and attention to these five works— timeless masterpieces with major visual appeal and intriguing backstories. (Read: The Hidden Meaning Behind the Pope’s Accessories)
Musée du Louvre: Mona Lisa (1503)
Otherwise known as La Gioconda, the Louvre’s most famous painting (in oil on poplar wood panel) by Leonardo da Vinci has fascinated art historians for centuries. Some say she Lisa Gheradini, wife of Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo; others say she may be a self-portrait of Da Vinci himself. And what triggered that enigmatic smile?
This 30-inch x 21-inch masterpiece merits its own room at the Louvre and is kept in a bulletproof glass casing with a controlled temperature of 43F (6.11C).
Musée du Louvre: Venus de Milo (c 100 BC)
Discovered in 1820 among the ruins of an ancient city in Milos by the farmer Yorgos Kentrotas, the 80-inch (6-foot) marble statue was presented to Louis XVIII, who then gifted it to the Louvre. (Read: A Peek Inside the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican)
No one knows what became of her missing arms and it continues to be a subject of debate. Scholars have speculated that she may have been hand-spinning or holding an apple.
Musée du Louvre: The Wedding at Cana (1563)
Paolo Veronese’s oil on canvas of the biblical event where Jesus turns water into wine features about 130 personalities. Historical figures include Emperor Charles V, Eleanor of Austria, Francis I of France, and Mary 1 of England. Painters are depicted as musicians: That’s Jacopo Bassano on the flute, Tintoretto on the violin, Titian (in red, on the violoncello), and Veronese himself (in white, playing the viola de gamba).
Note too, the slaughtering of a lamb above Jesus, a portent of things to come for the Lamb of God. And although it is a wedding banquet, the bride and groom are seated at the lower left-hand side of the work. It is Jesus who sits at the center of the painting and is the only character in the work looking directly at the viewer.
Musée du Louvre: Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss (1793)
Romantics will swoon over the dramatic display of love between these two mythological characters, carved in marble by Italian artist Antonio Canova. Warned by Venus not to open a jar that supposedly contains a scrap of beauty, Psyche lets her curiosity get the better of her and takes a peek. But the jar contains “sleep of the innermost darkness,” prompting her to fall into deep slumber. As Cupid attempts to kiss her, she awakens and it is this passionate moment that Canova captures.
Given its exceptional carving, the sculpture is best appreciated from all angles. As critic Carl Ludwig Fernow said, “You must run around it, look at it from high and low, up and down, look at it again and keep getting lost.”
Musée du Louvre: St. Joseph the Carpenter (c.1645)
Though not as popular as the previously mentioned works, this oil on canvas by French painter Georges de la Tours is still a sight to behold. It depicts the little boy Jesus holding up a lighted candle, as St. Joseph drills a piece of wood with an augur. (Read: A Look Into the Pope’s Most Favorite Painting)
The task creates a crucifix shape that hints at Jesus’ fate. The work beautifully captures the contrast of light and shadow, as well as a touching moment between the foster father and his son, born to be the Light of the World.