Averaging 8 to 9 million visitors a year, the Louvre Museum is often the most frequently visited art museum in the world. Although the Louvre collection consists of some 38,000 objects from prehistory through the 19th century, visitors primarily come to see the renowned collection of Louvre Museum paintings in this 100 acre (40 hectare) art museum.
Enough facts and figures.
I’m thinking about your feet; the limited timeframe most art museum visitors have; and choosing which Louvre paintings are must-see.
Here are 20 of the most famous paintings in the Louvre (according to Masterpiece Cards‘ research).
1. Paolo Uccello. The Battle of San Romano, ca. 1435 – 1440. One of the most famous Renaissance paintings ever made, The Battle of San Romano was long believed to have been commissioned by the de Medicis. Recent research, though, suggests that it was actually commissioned by Lionardo Bartolini Salimbeni, who helped instigate the battle portrayed here. This panel is one of three about the Battle of San Romano, which commemorates the 1432 victory of Florence over Siena; the other panels are in the National Gallery, London and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
2. Enguerrand Quarton. Pieta de Villeneuve d’ Avignon, ca. 1450. One of the most significant works in religious art, Quarton’s Pieta is a standard Christian scene that seems to embody all human and spiritual grief. This Pieta is not the typical idealized scene but instead features angular figures with abstracted faces highlighted against a luminous background.
3. Leonardo da Vinci. The Virgin of the Rocks, ca. 1483-86. The largest painting Leonardo da Vinci ever finished, The Virgin is one of two versions of this theme; the other is in the National Gallery in London. In this enigmatic Leonardo painting, the Virgin sits between the infants Christ and Saint John the Baptist in the care of an angel.
4. Leonardo da Vinci. The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, ca. 1503-1506. Although underpainting shows in this unfinished work, Virgin and Child demonstrates three pictorial techniques either created or perfected by Leonardo.
Additionally, the enigmatic smile of Saint Anne is reminiscent of that of Mona Lisa. Explore two more famous paintings by Leonardo, the Benois Madonna and the Madonna Litta.
5. Leonardo da Vinci. The Mona Lisa, ca. 1505. The calm, wistful countenance of Lisa di Antonio Maria Gherardini, a/k/a Mona Lisa, is the most famous and mocked portrait in the entirety of Western history of art. Read about an alleged newly discovered Leonardo painting that might be Mona Lisa’s sister!
6. Titian. Le Conceret Champetre (Pastoral Concert), ca. 1509-1510. A group of four are gathered in a verdant landscape, and are stumbled upon by a shepherd and his flock. Despite extensive art history research, no literary reference has been found for Pastoral Concert. Centuries later, its meaning remains uncertain, as does any record of its early ownership: its existence was first documents in 1671 when it was purchased by Louix XIV.
7. School of Fontainebleau. Diana the Huntress, mid-16th century. The first School of Fontainebleau consisted of mainly unidentifiable artists. Diana the Huntress was created around the same time that a Hellenistic scuipture of Diana, goddess of the hunt, arrived in France as a gift from Pope Paul IV Carafa to Henri II. Many art historians believe that this Diana is the king’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, known for supporting the arts — and dominating Henri II.
8. Peter Paul Rubens. The Disembarkation of Maria de’ Medici at the Port of Marseilles on November 3, 1600. One of a series of 21 Rubens paintings commissioned by and about the life of the Queen of France, wife of Henry IV. Completed between 1621 and 1625, these Rubens paintings all hang in the Louvre. Learn about Rubens’ Venus and Adonis.
9. Jusepe de Ribera. The Club-Footed Boy, 1642. A Spaniard who worked all his life in Naples, Ribera introduced social realism in painting and the influence of Caravaggio to France.
10. Hyacinthe Rigaud. Portrait of Louis XIV. 1701. This larger-than-life-sized portrait (it’s 9′ 2″ tall) draws attention to the king’s legs — of which he was quite proud – and makes no effort to camoflage the red built-up heels he work to compensate for his short stature.
11. Jean-Baptiste Greuze. Betrothal in the Village, 1761. From 1759 until the 1770s, Greuze’s paintings of everyday life (genre scenes) were stars of the Paris Salons. Betrothal in the Village, shown in the Salon of 1761, received rave reviews for its authenticity.
12. Jacques-Louis David. The Oath of the Horatii, ca. 1784. David rejected the extravagance and opulence of the Baroque and Rococo eras, and with fellow 18th century painters, promoted Neoclassicism; now, painting was dominated by subject matter from ancient Greece and Rome, and by unadorned line and color. Later, David paintings became political propaganda about the French Revolution. Explore other Jacques-Louis David paintings not in the Louvre.
13. Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun. Self Portrait with Daughter, 1789. After her talent was discovered at an early age, Vigee-Brun became a popular portraitist for members of the aristocracy. After she was summoned to Versailles to paint Queen Marie Antoinette, Vigee-Lebrun was commissioned to paint over 20 portraits of the Queen and her family.
14. Marie Benoist. Portrait of a Negress, 1800. A student of both Jacques-Louis David and Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun, Benoist sealed her reputation with this Portrait when it was shown in the Salon of 1800, six years after slavery had been abolished in France. After earning commissions from Napoleon and a gold medal in 1804, Benoist had to stop exhibiting when her husband was appointed to a public, high position of state.
15. Antoine-Jean Gros. Napoleon Bonaparte Visiting the Victims of the Plague at Jaffa, 1804. Twenty-three feet long, this painting is pure political propaganda, commissioned to showcase Napoleon’s brave and humanitarian sides as he compassionately touches the sore of a plague victim. What is ignored here is that Napoleon poisoned these same men in his earlier retreat from Jaffa.
16. Pierre-Paul Prud’Hon. Empress Josephine, 1805. This portrait, commissioned by Napoleon, shows his beautiful and melancholic wife shortly after their coronation. It seems as if Empress Josephine is contemplating her bleak future: she has failed to produce any heirs after sixteen years of marriage. As a consequence, Napoleon declared their union null and void, and remarried.
17. Ingres. Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1808. At the age of 20, Ingres was the pupil of, and aide to, Jacques-Louis David. While Ingres portrays here the Greek myth about Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx, he also introduces distinctly unclassical elements, like Oedipus’ muscled torso.
18. Ingres. Valpincon Bather, 1808. Ingres has a reputation of painting a woman’s back as he feels it ought to be, rather than anatomically correctly; this is demonstrated by the extra vertebrae of Valpincon Bather and in his controversial Grande Odalisque, also in the Louvre.
19. Theodore Gericault. Raft of the Medusa, 1819. After the French frigate Medusa hit a reef, its captain, selected passengers and senior officers comandeered all available lifeboats for themselves. The remaining 149 passengers and crew were crammed onto a wooden raft which the captain cut loose from a lifeboat. Only 15 of the 149 survived. Through Raft of the Medusa, Gericault become instrumental in publicizing this scandal.
20. Eugene Delacroix. Dante and Virgil, 1822. Delacroix captures the Romantic revival of interest in Dante’s Inferno. In this Delacroix masterpiece, Dante and his guide, Virgil, are in a listing bark near the internal city of Dis;its burning towers are visible in the background. The viewers sees the backside of Charon, Hades’ boatman, and the writhing bodies of damned souls grasping onto and biting the bark. Explore another Delacroix work, Liberty Leading the People.
Although these twenty Louvre paintings are an infinitesimal part of the Louvre collection, they nonetheless survey over 400 years of art history, showing works by some of the most renowned painters, then and now.
Like famous paintings?
Thought so! Think “Famous Paintings in a Box”. Masterpiece Cards are a set of 250 Cards that survey the history of painting. Almost 600 years of it, from Renaissance art to Pop Art. Each Card has:
- a museum-approved reproduction;
- an art historian’s introductory essay about the work; and
- key facts about the painting.
There’s nothing like them anywhere, we promise!