Tuesday, May 19th, 2020 | Written by Blanca
*Disclaimer: This story takes place in February before the travel restrictions and shelter in place mandates.*
In 2018, Beyoncé and Jay-Z shocked the world by dropping a collaborative music video, a portion of which was filmed at the Louvre in Paris, in an extravagant, stunning visual experience lasting just over 6 minutes. The music video follows the Carters in various locations in the museum; first they are seen leaning nonchalantly on the stanchion in front of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, then they stand regally at the top of one of the Louvre’s many marble staircases, overseeing a battalion of writhing dancers on the steps.
In actuality, neither of these actions are allowed for typical Louvre visitors; in fact, there’s usually an attendant who curtly reminds you to keep the line moving if you take too long in front of the Mona Lisa, much less if you dare place your weight on the barrier keeping her many admirers at bay, and group entry to the museum is stated to be capped at 25 people. Then again, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, and the millions of dollars they share, are by no means typical, so it made sense to me at the time that they were granted the privilege to film all around the Louvre. Now, after visiting, I, myself, am beginning to think that perhaps they just got lost. I did, anyway.
Believe it or not, outside of arriving at/departing from the Charles de Gaulle airport, I was only in Paris once during all my time abroad (crazy, I know—but then again, I also thought I’d have so much more time than I actually did). What’s more, I only had a few hours to spare on that day, so of course I decided to spend the bulk of the day at the Louvre Museum. If it wasn’t pretty obvious by now, going to art museums is one of my favorite pastimes! I have waxed lyrical about them in the past, I am bona fide gushing right now, and I will probably continue to sing their praises until the day I die—it’s what I do. Naturally, I was excited to see the largest art museum in the world. While I’ve been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, the largest art museum in America and the fourth largest in the world, and have gotten slightly disoriented there (which was by no means an unpleasant experience, as I was wandering around period rooms the entire time), I’ll admit I was a little unprepared for the vastness of the Louvre.
Entryways into the museum are numerous, with the most prominent probably being that at the iconic I. M. Pei glass pyramid. This entrance is also the most crowded, though, so I elected instead to enter directly off the metro, which meant weaving my way through the maze of stores of the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall before finally seeing the refracted light (of the inverted glass pyramid) at the end of the tunnel. After storing my coat in a locker in the museum’s cloakroom—the lock on the locker later malfunctioned, and I had to wait for it to be manually opened, which is apparently a common occurence—I entered the exhibition hall.
Pro tip! Entry to the Louvre (and many other museums) is actually free for International Student Identity Card (ISIC) holders, as long as you show security the ISIC card and perk that allows for free entry, so be sure to download the ISIC app if you plan to visit.
The Louvre museum itself is well over 700,000 square feet—it was a royal palace, after all, and you know how the French absolutists liked their castles—built rectangularly around the expansive Napoleon Courtyard in the center. The close to 38,000 objects it houses are arranged in winding galleries that follow this odd shape. In short, can you even blame me for getting lost multiple times?
Fortunately, as the adage goes, [museum-going] is a journey, not a destination. In addition to seeing tons of amazing art during my meanderings, I learned a lot about the history of not only the pieces within the museum but the museum itself. Initially, I spent a considerable amount of time on the museum’s basement level, which primarily showcases the actual remnants of the fortress that made up the origins of the Louvre Palace. As I ascended to the ground floor, I gazed out of the windows across the Napoleon Courtyard. Though the western end of the space remains unenclosed today, open to the Tuileries Garden beyond, it was almost easy to imagine the now demolished Tuileries Palace that once stood there. What was harder to imagine was the significance the area held: the Tuileries Palace was the place to which Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were relegated during the French Revolution, but now, like the Place de la Concorde where they were executed a few years later, the square was simply filled with ambling tourists and plenty more pigeons.
The Louvre held more sculptures and stone masonry than I’d ever seen in one place, much to my delight, but my favorite pieces of my visit were the French crown jewels, on display in the Galerie d’Apollon, or Apollo Gallery. While I will never get tired of looking at paintings, sculptures, and artifacts, I simply cannot resist sparkly things. These jewels were on an entirely different level of grand, with geometrically pleasing arrangements of colorful gems that scintillated in the light. Then again, the opulently decorated Apollo Gallery, with its vaulted, muraled ceilings and ornately gilded mouldings made for an immersively splendid experience. I’d seen my fair share of impressively painted ceilings at this point (remember the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice?), but the vivid colors and soft Rococo brushstrokes on this ceiling, coupled with the light streaming through the windows and glinting off the golden woodwork, created an airy splendor like no other.
After departing the Louvre (read: finding my way out of the Louvre), I had lunch in the area neighboring the famed Arc de Triomphe. This area was surprisingly calm and quiet, perhaps because it was beginning to rain, but afterwards I walked off my meal with a stroll down the Champs-Élysées, where I met significantly more people. I then decided to stop by the flagship Ladurée bakery, where, for the experience, I picked up half a dozen overpriced macarons. Later, after ambling my way through Avenue Montaigne, home to iconic establishments like the flagship Dior store and Hotel Plaza Athénée, I sat down on a bench in the park near the base of the Eiffel Tower and munched on the macarons, which I found to be largely overrated. Seriously—I do not recommend the Marie Antoinette-flavored macaron (frankly, I thought it tasted quite foul).
The phrase “let them eat cake” is commonly attributed to Marie Antoinette, however unreliably, but I do not recommend the Marie Antoinette macaron (second from right).
As you’d probably imagine, I didn’t get through the entirety of the Louvre, even though it was where I spent the bulk of my day. While I’d thought at the time that I would be able to return in a few weeks to see the undiscovered gallery corners, even more art museums (come on, it’s Paris), and all the sights and eats that the City of Lights has to offer, this turned out not to be the case. For now, though, I can hold on to the memory of being lost in the Louvre.