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Masterpieces of the Louvre (Besides the Mona Lisa)

by Akhil Kalepu

Dec 18, 2014

Winged Victory of Samothrace, The Louvre, Paris © Nikmd | Dreamstime

History

The most popular museum in the world draws more than 9 million visitors a year, many of whom come to see the world famous Mona Lisa. Unfortunately, the uninitiated will be greeted by a tourist trap that rivals Disneyland, where large crowds and flashing cameras drown out the painting’s mysterious beauty. For a more enjoyable trip to the Louvre, check out these lesser-known masterpieces.

 

Winged Victory of Samothrace

Winged Victory has been called “the greatest masterpiece of Hellenistic sculpture,” immortalizing the Greek goddess Nike in Thasian and Parian marble. Pythokritos’ work dates back to the 2nd century BC, but was only discovered in 1863 as part of Samothrace’s Sanctuary of the Gods. The sculpture is meant to honor the goddess and commemorate a sea battle, possibly the Battle of Cos when Antigonas II Gonatas of Macedonia defeated Ptolemy II of Egypt. In addition to being a masterpiece of form and movement in sculpture, Winged Victory is seen as a symbol of the triumphant human spirit.

 

Liberty Leading the People

Eugène Delacroix’s most influential work commemorates France’s July Revolution of 1830, overthrowing King Charles X. The revolution is personified in Marianne, the French goddess of Liberty, clutching a bayonet and the flag of the French Republic. The painting is a symbolic milestone, marking the end of the Age of Enlightenment. Delacroix eschewed the controlled precision of academic art, instead opting for the freely brushed color of Romanticism.

 

The Raft of Medusa

Théodore Géricault’s oil painting, considered to be an icon of French Romanticism, was completed in 1819 at the age of 27. It depicts a French naval frigate, the Medusa running aground on the coast of Mauritania, of which only 15 survived before being rescued. Géricault achieved fame and controversy with his seminal painting, retaining the grandeur of classical history painting, while emphasizing the emotion and tragedy of the event.

 

The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of the Empress Josephine

Jacques-Louis David’s imposing painting was completed in 1807, and stands at six meters tall and ten meters wide. Napoleon commissioned the work, which is firmly entrenched in the realm of neoclassism. One can spot up to sixteen historical figures that attended the coronation of Napoleon and his wife Josephine, ranging from the Ottoman ambassador Halet Efendi to Joachim Murat, the King of Naples Pope Pius VII, who can be seen in the center-right, was happy to bless the coronation in order to maintain the relationship between the Church and the new French State. Even Jacques-Louis David can be seen sitting in the stands.

 

Venus de Milo

The ancient Greek sculpture ofAphrodite (Venus for the Romans) is believed to be completed by Alexandros of Antioch sometime between 130 and 100 BC. The marble piece is considered to be the pinnacle of feminine grace, and has had a profound influence on modern culture. It achieved its fame in the early 19th century, after France had to return the Medici Venus to Italy after Napoleon Bonaparte looted it from the country. The French in turn led a propaganda effort to promote the Venus de Milo as an even greater masterpiece.

 

Virgin on the Rocks

Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, also known as Madonna on the Rocks, is considered to be a close rival of the Mona Lisa. It is one of two paintings with the same subject, along with two more works depicting angels playing music. The Louvre version is considered to be the prime version, privately sold by da Vinci before he made the second version to fulfill a commission. The two works are nearly the same, only differing in color, lighting, flora and sfumato technique.

 

Musée du Louvre, Paris, France © Mirceax | Dreamstime

Musée du Louvre, Paris, France © Mirceax | Dreamstime

 

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