10 Must-see Masterpieces at the Louvre

Home to half a million works of art spanning from ancient civilisations to the mid-19th century, the Louvre is a masterpiece in and of itself. Renovated, rebuilt, altered and expanded over the years, this historic building retains parts of its original structure dating all the way back to the late 12th century. 

This marvel was originally built as a fortress by Philip II, who commissioned its construction as a defence against Northern invasions. The fortress eventually lost its defensive function and, in 1546, was converted by Francis I into a primary residence for the French Kings. 

Over the centuries, almost every monarch contributed to its expansion, including Louis XIII and Louis XIV, who were both avid art collectors during their rule.

The idea of turning the building into a public museum originated in 1783 when the National Assembly decided the Louvre should be a place to display France’s most treasured masterpieces. 

Although there is so much beauty to behold at the Louvre, here are the 10 must-see artworks based on its most popular pieces.

  1. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio – Death of the Virgin, c.1605-6

Caravaggio was quite the revolutionary in his day. Where many of his peers depicted the saints as models of human perfection, Caravaggio’s saints represented the agonies and ugliness of reality. In Death of a Virgin, we see the emotions of grief and despair, creating a masterpiece of deep emotional truth that still has a profound impact today. 

Caravaggio, ‘Death of the Virgin’, Oil on Canvas, 369cm x 245cm, 1606 | © Public Domain/WikiCommons
  1. Jacques-Louis David – The Consecration of Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine on December 2, 1804, 1806

Jacques-Louis David was the artist of the French Revolution and became a court painter of the Second French Empire under Napoleon. For those wishing to know more about French history, this piece is a must-see as it shows one of the pivotal events from the beginning of the Revolution. 

  1. Eugène Delacroix – Liberty Leading the People, 1830

One of the most famous paintings at the Louvre, Liberty Leading the People has inspired everything from the Statue of Liberty, Les Miserables to the cover of Coldplay album.  The piece is one of the most potent depictions of freedom and revolution ever painted and is an image that modern-day France takes much of its identity. 

Eugène Delacroix, ‘Liberty Leading the People’, Oil on Canvas, 260cm x 325cm, 1830 | © Public Domain/WikiCommons
  1. Anthony van Dyck – Charles I of England, c. 1635

Portraying a monarch of unquestionable elegance and authority, Charles I of England is one of the most well-known portraits of its time. Van Dyck’s ability to depict the King’s air of aristocracy as well as his more human side, explains why he was so in demand as a court painter in Britain. 

Théodore Géricault, ‘The Raft of the Medusa’, Oil on Canvas, 491cm x 716cm, 1818-9 | © Public Domain/WikiCommons
  1. Théodore Géricault – The Raft of the Medusa, 1818-9

Measuring an epic 5 metres by 7 meters, The Raft of the Medusa is a must-see at the Louvre and shows a convincing depiction of a men’s savagery under pressure. The sinking of the Medusa was an international scandal where all but 15 died. Those that survived did so through cannibalism. 

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, ‘The Valpinçon Bather’, Oil on Canvas, 146cm x 97.5cm, 1808 | © Public Domain/WikiCommons 
  1. Jean Auguste Ingres – The Valpinçon Bather, 1808

Ingres was a Neoclassical painter famous for depicting nude bodies and was one of the greatest painters of the female form.  This particular painting has influenced anyone with an interest in the human body and his influence can be seen in how women’s bodies are painted even today.

  1. Leonardo da Vinci – Mona Lisa, c.1503-6

Even though you have to fight through a mob of selfie stick users to even get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa, this masterpiece stands to be the Louvre’s most famous painting and is an absolute must-see.  Mona Lisa has been described by the Independent as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.” 

Michelangelo, ‘The Dying Slave’, Marble, 215cm x 82 cm x 82 cm, 1513-6 | © Public Domain/WikiCommons
  1. Michelangelo – The Dying Slave, c.1513-6

A genius of the Renaissance period, Michelangelo was a fan of depicting slaves. The Dying Slave represents a complex mix of agony and erotism that characterises the artist’s work. Producing this masterpiece immediately after completing the Sistine Chapel shows you the genius he really was. 

  1. Unknown, Monument of King Naramsin, c.2270 BCE

Made in Mesopotamia, 2000 years before the birth of Christ, the Monument of King Narasin depicts a king crossing steep slopes to enemy territory. This work marked the beginning of a long-standing tradition of depictions of royal power that can be seen in thousands of the museum’s pieces. 

Alexandros of Antioch, ‘Aphrodite of Milos’, Marble, 203cm x 40cm x 40cm, c. 130-00 BCE | © Public Domain/WikiCommons
  1. Alexandros of Antioch, Aphrodite of Milos, c.130-100 BCE

The Louvre’s second most visited work after the Mona Lisa, Aphrodite of Milos or better known as Venus de Milo, is one of the greatest examples of female beauty and grace to ever be created. Although many adjustments to the statue have been made over the years, much about this work has remained a mystery.