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Millennial Museum Guide: The Louvre
You’ll need to cover a casual 60,600 square meters to see them all...
Art Stuff 19 Oct 2018

As far as world museums go, the Louvre is an obvious must-see. Even though you’ll have to brave hours-long lines and no small dose of obnoxious tourists (thank god selfie sticks were banned…) to make it to the Mona Lisa, no self-respecting art lover should pass up the chance to see so many masterpieces in one fell swoop. And now that Queen Bey and Jay-Z filmed the APESHIT video in those hallowed halls, the Louvre has been even more poppin’ than usual. You can even take the official Jay-Z and Beyoncé tour of the Louvre—what a time to be alive. In the meantime, enjoy our Millennial gaze tour of the Louvre, a fresh yung take on the masterpieces and the hidden gems.
1) Aphrodite, a.k.a. Venus de Milo (c. 100 BC)
Ground floor; Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities; Room 16
 
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Next time you catch yourself cursing Western beauty standards (personally, I make it a daily practice to curse Western beauty standards, right between my sun salutations and my first cup of coffee), you can blame the unknown sculptor who made the Venus of Milo. With a nose exactly one third of her face and a body that has clearly never met my dear friend spaghetti, Venus (actually, Aphrodite), is a certified Platonic babe who set the bar for all the idealized representations of Western women ever since. But, not everyone agrees that the Venus de Milo is such a treasure; her popularity actually traces back to an old marketing scheme. When the French gave back the Medici Venus to the Italians in 1815 (after Napoleon stole it), they schemed to make Venus de Milo the new Medici Venus. We can argue about which is the greater work of art, but as body icons go, Venus of Milo is Gigi Hadid (who kills you by making you believe that you, too, can look like her when really, you can’t, not in a million years) and Medici Venus is Jennifer Lawrence before she lost all that weight. Enough said.

2) Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a.k.a. Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1503-19)
First floor; Paintings; Room 6
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You might already know that the Mona Lisa didn’t become the Mona Lisa until pretty recently, the twentieth century. In fact, like so many It Girls, she’s more notorious for her jet-setting ways than for her innate beauty (or Da Vinci’s skill). When three overly patriotic Italians made off with this little-known work, the world didn’t bat an eyelash for more than a day. But when the story broke in the news, indignant French protesters mobbed the Louvre (it’s a national lifestyle, folks) for not keeping a closer look on its Da Vincis. Before the real culprits were caught, the public accused everyone from J.P. Morgan to Picasso to the Kaiser of Germany. Turns out fake news goes way back.
 

3) Grande Odalisque, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1814)
First floor; Paintings; Room 75
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As you probably know, the situation isn’t great when it comes to female artists’ work and great museums—the Guerilla Girls famously asked if a woman has to be naked to get into the Met Museum, but they just as well couldn’t picked the Louvre (which has still never had a female director). This is the painting that inspired their famous spoof: one French painter’s wet dream about the exotic creatures he would find in an “oriental” harem… if he actually went. The gold standard of all unrealistic standards of beauty, the Grande Odalisque has about three extra vertebrae, a floating boob and a left leg growing out of the middle of her stomach—but at least she’s hot. On the other hand, the story goes that Picasso was inspired by the way Ingres blatantly rearranged the human form to suit his purposes, so we’ll let Ingres be… even if we don’t exactly agree with his purposes.

4) Cupid and Psyche, Antonio Canova (1797)
Ground floor; Michelangelo Gallery; Room 403

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Finally, a rare work of art where the dude is nude and the woman is… well, less nude than him, at least. Canova tackled the technical challenge of sculpting two figures into one work by making the famous mythical couple look like one figure made of two, each literally leaning on the other. A true visionary, he even made the guy shorter than the girl, but Cupid’s perfectly toned booty more than makes up for any other shortcomings. The butterfly in Psyche’s hand is a symbol for her soul, which she’s handing over to him as a symbol of her love. It’s a beautiful, idealistic gesture that makes you wonder: what would a sculpture representing modern romance look like? The girl handing over her debit card pin number? Her wifi password? A monthly parking pass? The guy handing over his unlocked phone? Or maybe his juul? Or maybe it’s just a sculpture of two people asleep in their retainers in front of a Netflix “Are you still watching?” screen.

5) St. Mary Magdalene, Gregor Erhart (c. 1515-1520)

Lower ground floor; Late Gothic; Room 169
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Legend has it that Mary Magdalene, our favorite disciple, lived out the end of her saintly life as a naked, longhaired mystic, alone in a cave except for the angels that lifted her up to heaven for daily concerts. This life-sized sculpture was originally placed in a German church, which seems more than a bit weird, especially considering that it was finished right as the Protestant Reformation was kicking off not too far away. I wonder what the stern and pious Martin Luther would’ve thought of Mary Magdalene’s sensual curves and dreamy, ecstatic expression. It’s probably taking it too far to call this work an early Christian example of body posi, but it does seem to challenge the typical Medieval attitude toward the female body—evil, seductive, sinful and best hidden under layers and layers of fabric.
6) Portrait of a Black Woman, Marie-Guillemine Benoist (1800)
Second floor; French painting; Room 935
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A French neoclassical painter who studied under Jacques-Louis David, Marie-Guillemine Benoist made one of the era’s few paintings of a black woman (before she was forced to give up painting because it was too scandalous for a woman, that is). At the time, learning to paint dark skin was considered a waste of time, so this painting displays Benoist’s progressive thinking as well as her technical skill. The woman’s dignified expression and graceful pose suggest an allegory—perhaps a political statement about recently abolished slavery. By choosing not to enhance the black woman’s “primitivism” (ahem, Gaugin and Delacroix) but positioning her in a way traditionally reserved for white figures, Benoist’s painting predicts Kehinde Wiley’s project of painting black bodies into the white art history canon (see Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps, 2005). No wonder Beyoncé and Jay-Z included this overlooked work in the APESHIT video.
7) The Ghosts of Paolo and Francesca Appear to Dante and Virgil, Ary Scheffer (1835)
First floor; Denon wing; Room 700
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Nothing like a case of remarkable historical horniness to shake things up when the museum day starts to get monotonous. Ary Scheffer, a Dutch-French Romantic painter, plucked this scene straight out of Dante’s Inferno: the beautiful Francesca married the deformed Giovanni for political reasons but fell in love with his brother, Paolo. Ugh, classic. But when the lovers finally kissed, who should burst through the door but… Giovanni, who may have been deformed but wasn’t blind or stupid so, naturally, he killed them both on the spot. But the lurkers in the corner of the painting aren’t Giovanni but Dante and Virgil, giving the happy couple a warm welcome to hell (the second circle, to be precise). Don’t be fooled by these lithe and sexy bodies, folks—the moral of the story is to keep it in your pants.
8) Anthropoid sarcophagus with lid (c. 470 BCE)
Ground floor; Sully wing; Room 311
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This Phoenician sarcophagus made the list for one main reason: they remind us of the beautiful possibilities of multiculturalism at a time when the world clearly needs a little refresher. Created when the Persians ruled Phoenicia, the work is a mash-up of Egyptian and Greek styles. The Egyptians invented the sarcophagus, but when Phoenician troops helped the Persian army conquer (and loot) Egypt, they probably brought home some arty goodies—and started making their own. But while the inspiration was Egyptian, the style and material (white marble) clearly show Greek influence. This isn’t exactly a huge shocker: scholars know that Phoenicia—modern-day Israel and Lebanon, for those of you who need to brush up on your geography—was a major melting pot at that time.
9) The Wedding Feast at Cana, Veronese (1563)
First floor; Denon wing; Room 711
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Did you know that Christ’s first miracle was helping people proceed to get drunk at a party? Yep, I’m talking about the water-into-wine story, which, to be fair, is usually explained a bit differently. This painting reminds us, in a very big way, of the whole rowdy affair: at a poor couple’s wedding feast in Cana, Galilee, Jesus saved the day when the wine ran out by transforming some water into… take a guess. Would’ve been a handy trick for New Year’s Eve festivities, right? In Veronese’ version, commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in Venice, the wedding feast gets a Renaissance makeover: Biblical figures get down with modern-looking Italians in luscious costumes. The recently restored colors and the incredible detail could keep you studying this painting for hours—but not without getting elbowed and trampled. Unfortunately for Veronese (and for us), it hangs in the same room as the Mona Lisa.
10) Winged Victory of Samothrace (c. 190 BCE)
Ground floor; Denon Wing; Victory of Samothrace staircase; Room 703
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Next time you bust out your Nikes (or listen to Nikes by Frank Ocean), don’t forget to think of the O.G. Nike, which means victory in Greek. Nope, this lovely lady isn’t history’s first Victoria’s Secret angel, though she is, in fact, a goddess. (Although, hmm, Victory, Victoria… maybe there’s something there. Conspiracy theorists of Reddit, help me out.) This Hellenistic sculpture was originally placed on rocky hill overlooking the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, a theater on the island of Samothrace in the Aegean Sea. It was made to commemorate a naval victory, hence the ship. Originally found shattered into a million pieces (psst, the right wing didn’t make it; it’s a plaster copy of the left), this gorgeous work now wows tourists from its prime location on the ground floor, and if you don’t feel like standing in line for four hours, you can even peep it from the street above.

Text by Katya Lopatko
Photos via Wikipedia, WikiArt, Wikimedia, Louvre, The Ancient Home

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